The idea for the Pilsen Family Album project was born last summer in the Czech city of Pilsen (from which the Chicago neighborhood take its name). When the Western Bohemian metropolis — a city between four rivers and the cradle of the world famous Pilsner beer — became the 2015 European Capital of Culture, the newly founded DEPO2015 Creative Zone grasped the opportunity to engage the citizens of Pilsen in the celebration of their hometown’s history and culture by inviting them to submit their family photographs to the Pilsen Family Photo Album project.
The curators at DEPO2015 were inspired by the city of Marseille, France — the first cultural capital to organize a series of exhibitions of family photographs chosen from a collection of more than ten thousand images submitted by the citizens of the French port. The originator of that project, Jean-Pierre Moulères, described the curatorial process (the selection of exhibited photographs) as re-creating families regardless of bloodlines or chronology. This notion of re-created families motivated us to introduce the family photo album project to Chicago — the goal of the Pilsen Family Encounter, of which this online photo archive forms a part, is to bring together and celebrate the diverse Chicago Pilsen family.
Our Pilsen was the “capital” of the Bohemian diaspora in the U.S. (1870-1920) and since 1970 has been the cultural and political center of Mexican Chicago. The Czechs baptized this neighborhood with the name of Pilsen in the 1870s, transforming it into the “symbolic space” for their community in the U.S. As their largest and most important neighborhood in the country, Czechs established churches, schools, Sokols (athletic organizations), newspapers and fraternal organizations that linked Pilsen to the broader Bohemian community in the city and the nation. Mexicans settled in Pilsen, a neighborhood with a strong Bohemian aura, in the 1950s. It became the main port of entry for Chicago’s growing Latino/Mexican community from 1950 to 1990. They inherited an ageing and declining neighborhood as Pilsen had lost thousands of residents. They worked hard to improve the neighborhood and, in doing so, transformed it into the “symbolic space” that has tied the Mexican community in the Chicago metropolitan area. Seeking to explain the mural explosion in Chicago of the early 1970s, a famous writer wrote that Pilsen had become the most colorful neighborhood in the city and that this community “was built by the Bohemians and painted by Latins.”
In this spirit of this historical continuity, the goal of the Pilsen Family Encounter is to bridge the gaps separating the Czech and the Mexican communities by creating various learning tools related to the history of Pilsen. It will use history, family stories, comics, photography, and the performing arts to educate Mexicans/Latinos and Czechs on the important historic role that Pilsen and both communities have played in the development of Chicago.
Through this Pilsen Family Album, we seek to preserve Pilsen’s history by creating an archive of photographs that will be available to the general public for years to come.
And we cordially invite you to join the family reunion!