Melanie Coffee, AP, Feb. 2
CHICAGO — Some residents of Chicago’s largely Hispanic Pilsen section are upset over a new doll in the popular American Girl series because her storyline says the Mexican-American youngster and her family left the “dangerous” neighborhood for a better life in the suburbs.
Many in the West Side neighborhood say the characterization is insulting and inaccurate.
“It’s very offensive and it’s really a slap in the face to the hardworking people of the Pilsen community,” said Alvaro R. Obregon, who lives near where the doll, Marisol, supposedly lived before setting out for suburban Des Plaines.
According to the biography that accompanies the doll, which was introduced just after Christmas, she is the daughter of a transit worker and an accountant. One day her mother tells Marisol the family is leaving their apartment for a house in the suburbs.
The old neighborhood “was no place for me to grow up,” the doll’s story says. “It was dangerous, and there was no place for me to play.”
“I wish that they would not have had Marisol leave her community so that little girls like Marisol living in the inner city can be proud of their neighborhood and not have the perception that they must leave the neighborhood so that they can do better for themselves,” Ibanez said.
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University of Illinois at Chicago Neighborhoods Initiative
Today, Pilsen is Chicago’s largest Latino community. According to Claritas, Inc, of a total 1998 population of 44,133, 93.5% are Latino, predominantly of Mexican heritage. The median age in Pilsen is 18 years the youngest for any Chicago community. More than a third (36%) of the community’s children live below the federal poverty level. Of the 12,340 households in Pilsen, approximately 22% are headed by women, and 31% have incomes of less than $15,000 per year. The 1989 median household income in Pilsen was $20,571, more than 20% lower than the citywide median of $26,301. Between 1979 and 1989, the median income in Pilsen declined 8%, compared to a 1% decline for the city.
In addition to poverty and related social problems, Pilsen residents must cope with high levels of violence. In 1992, the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority named Pilsen one of the “hot spots” in the city for street gang violence. Today, the level of gang-related violence in Pilsen is widely considered to be second only to East Los Angeles.
Education & Unemployment
Children growing up in low-income immigrant families face unique obstacles. Their parents often have little education (70% of Pilsen adults have not completed ninth grade), limited mastery of English, no marketable skills, and few of the basic skills necessary for survival in Chicago. As a result, many children start out behind and are unable to compete in school and subsequently in the workplace. Teen pregnancy and parenthood are alarmingly common, as are gang involvement and substance abuse.
Fully 65% of children in Pilsen drop out of school, according to the Chicago Board of Education, with dire consequences for their future participation in the work force. Pilsen’s main high school, Benito Juarez reports that 94.5% of their students are classified as low income. In 1990, Latino youth (ages 16 to 19) unemployment in Chicago was 27.9%. The 1990 U.S. census reported a 13% unemployment rate for all Pilsen workers, compared to 7% for the city of Chicago. More recent estimates range up to 25%.