Dr. Guadalupe Arenillas and Dr. Rebecca Ulland led a group of students from SN312 class to Pilsen, the Latino neighborhood in Chicago in November 2011. The following are their short reports and the students' responses.
Dr. Guadalupe Arenillas
I have always had a fascination with the Latino neighborhoods in the United States. The way they repeat and differ in popular or remote cities of this country has always made me wonder about the condition of the foreign. I wanted to share this fascination with my students so I decided to take them to Pilsen, the Latino neighborhood in Chicago.
Dr. Rebecca Ulland and I agreed on incorporating a field trip to our Spanish American Culture and Civilization classes. Thanks to the generosity of Dr. Michael Broadway and the support of Dr. Tim Compton, Dr. Ulland and I took a group of fifteen students to Chicago in November. We walked around the streets of Pilsen, visited The National Museum of Mexican Art and ate in a taquería.
Dr. Rebecca Ulland
I have lived and traveled in Mexico on several occasions and was delighted to help organize and lead Dr. Arenillas’s SN312 class excursion to the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago to reacquaint myself with the sights, sounds and tastes of Mexico. The National Museum of Mexican Art was stunning and I was pleased that students were able to catch a glimpse of the rich colors and textures of traditional Mexican art in addition to viewing the thoughtful and impressive Día de muertos exhibit and altars. It is a pleasure to have such dedicated and eager students with whom I can share my love of Latin America and I’m pleased to report that this excursion was such a success that Dr. Arenillas and I plan to make this fieldtrip a regular part of the Spanish American Culture and Civilization class.
The Trip According to Students
Michele L. Kolin
My favorite exhibit in the National Museum of Mexican Art was the Día de los Muertos exhibit. Día de los Muertos is a holiday celebrated not only in Mexico, but in many other cultures. It is a celebration to remember friends and family who have died. The people decorate graves with flowers, sugar skulls, and favorite foods and beverages. In the exhibit, there were displays dedicated in honor of a past loved one. Families took a lot of time to decorate these displays and you could tell they truly care about this holiday and their departed friends and family. From this exhibit, I learned that it is better to celebrate the life of someone instead of have sorrow for their loss.
When we went to the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, it was as if our years of coffee filled nights had gotten the best of us. As if to be a post cram session dream, the history and imagery we’d spent so much time carefully examining was right at our fingertips in multiple variations that stimulated all of our senses. Everything wasn’t just in front of us, but it had also given us a deeper feeling of the honor, prestige and pain that many Mexicans feel for their country and history today. The art we’d seen not only showed us history about Mexico, but it also allowed us a deeper look beyond what we could find in any of our textbooks. From the pre-Colombian empires to the US’s dependence on Mexican drug smuggling of today, the museum covered a plethora of both major and minor events in the country’s light and dark takes on its history. On the streets outside of the museum, it was as if we were walking along the outskirts of Mexico City. The smells of family run food stands seasoned the air as beautiful murals depicting important historical figures and events glittered on the streets and buildings in rainbows of bright colors. With only Spanish around us, we had to immerse ourselves, be confident in ourselves and our abilities to speak, read and understand that Spanish language if we wanted to eat. The food we did eat tasted like nothing short of authentic. The atmosphere was loud with the excitement of another busy day as plates of food were continuously pushed from the kitchen to the patrons who waited eagerly for another taste of home.
I was very excited to travel with Professor Arenillas and Professor Ulland and my Spanish 312 class to Chicago for a weekend excursion. I enjoy cultural activities, and I knew this one would be a great experience, because even though Chicago is not in a Latin American country, the Pilsen neighborhood has more to offer than the Upper Peninsula. While in the Pilsen neighborhood, we visited a taquería (taco restaurant) called “Taquería Los Comales.” This restaurant served authentic-style tacos, burritos, tortas and other Mexican foods. The wait staff were all Spanish-speaking Latino Americans who were very friendly and welcomed our not-quite-native Spanish speaking skills. They, along with the other customers, gave our class a view into what a true Mexican restaurant looks like. If I'm ever in Pilsen again, I know where to go!
On Saturday, our second day in Chicago, we took the E train to Pilsen, one of the Spanish-speaking areas around Chicago. After a couple hours at a Mexican art museum and a legit Mexican food place, we walked back toward the station, but we got side-tracked as we passed a cute little crafts and souvenirs store. All of the pots, blankets, ornaments, hats, sinks (yes, sinks!) and jewelry were made by hand by people in Mexico. They were all just lovely things. The store owner was a little overwhelmed by our huge group swarming her store, and asked where our group was from. When she heard we had come all the way down from Marquette to practice Spanish and get a little cultural exposure, she insisted on speaking to us in Spanish. She was really nice to speak with, and complemented us on our accents.
I loved visiting the National Museum of Mexican Art. They had one exhibition that showcased the importance of the Virgin of Guadalupe and how she tied together Mexican culture so prominently. Another exhibition had typical artwork for “Día de los Muertos”. It was a great way to show how Mexico values their dead and shows them great respect. They had actual “altares” that people had made for the deceased, and they were beautifully detailed-- it was as though the altarpiece was a timeline of the person's life. I loved the use of bright colors in the paintings, murals, and ceramics; it was so hard to stop looking at all the details of one piece and move onto the next! Even though I don't know too much about the specifics of Mexican art, the museum gave me a great introduction into both the strong values and styles used in that culture.
The National Museum of Mexican Art proved to be an exceptional display of Mexican culture, both past and present. Each exhibit in the museum is beautifully showcased with details, quotes, and other information in both Spanish and English, catering to both those who come to learn and those who come to remember. One area of the museum that I found to be particularly moving was the “Día de Los Muertos” exhibit. The art, the altars, and stories behind each presentation were all beautiful and breath-taking because most items in the exhibit were dedicated to a real person from the Chicago Latin community. It was wonderful to read about the lives of those who had passed and to see the impact they have left on their families and friends who have survived them. Furthermore, I felt as though I got to know each of the departed personally due to the incredible amount of detail put into each alter. I have always had an interest in Mexico’s “Día de Los Muertos,” but the National Museum of Mexican Art only increased my desire to know more about the wonderful, unique celebration.