I’ve lived in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood for eight months and only recently learned about one of its treasures.
An up-and-coming neighborhood on the city’s southwest side, before moving here from Michigan I was told the area was predominately Latino, with a splash of college hipsters and artists dropped in for good measure.
Having never lived in a city, I thought it would certainly be a cultural experience – helping me brush up on my Spanish while also trying to figure out the hipster affinity for tight pants and Pabst Blue Ribbon – neither of which has yet become apparent to me.
This is my Chicago home though and my love for the neighborhood grew much more recently upon the discovery of the Fire mural at 16th and Carpenter. Originally created by artist Oscar Romero during the club’s inaugural season in 1998, the mural was updated recently, with the generous donation of BEHR paint, to show the club’s growth over 13 seasons.
Romero was joined yesterday by Pilsen Alderman Danny Solis, BEHR Paint representative Oscar Mendoza and Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos at the unveiling of the restored and updated version of the mural.
“I was excited from the beginning to restore the mural with the help of the Chicago Fire,” said Romero. “Soccer is a great way to bring people of different backgrounds together. The Fire team and it’s fan base are multicultural team: Latino, Mexican, Polish, Caucasian, African-American – I hope this mural serves to unite the different backgrounds in Chicago behind one word – soccer.”
When Romero painted the mural in 1998, he featured the Fire’s Mexican goalkeeper Jorge Campos and Polish striker Roman Kosecki playing on the Soldier Field pitch. The addition now features the likes of Fire Original C.J. Brown, Dasan Robinson, Patrick Nyarko and Mike Banner.
Carlos de los Cobos was pleased with the connection Romero made between the old mural featuring former Fire players to today’s which feature some from his current team.
“Soccer is more than just a game,” said de los Cobos. “It is an expression of self. This mural is beautiful and not only connects the past and present history of the club, it connects the Fire with the members of the community here in Pilsen.”
Danny Solis, the four-term Alderman of the 25th Ward was proud to have the mural based in Pilsen and suggested that it would become the forbearer of similar mural projects along 16th Street from Damen to Canal.
“The Chicago Fire mural is an important part of our community’s heritage because of our passion and commitment to soccer and the club,” said Alderman Solis. “I think this can serve as a starting point for the city’s other teams and organizations to do similar projects – the White Sox have already expressed interest in doing something like this and I think it’s a good tool in tying together the cultural and artistic aspects of our neighborhood here in Pilsen.”
The project works great in partnership with the club’s planned Hispanic Heritage Night this Saturday, where the Fire will honor 11 local Hispanic heroes at halftime of their match with Seattle Sounders FC at Toyota Park.
Jeff Crandall is the Team Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter @JefeCrandall.