Going to Pilsen, where the pulse is measured by its public art, is a true cultural experience for your kids.
"[Murals are] a form of education, a form of pride and in some cases, a form of social protest," says Cesario Moreno, the visual arts director and curator at the Mexican Fine Art Center Museum.
Those murals voice concerns, hopes and dreams of the community. For example, all of Pilsen contributed to the colorful mosaic of Mexican-American heroes at Cooper School, 1624 W. 19th St.
Students helped art teacher Francisco Mendoza create the mural and people on the street offered suggestions. Even the youngest children helped sort the tiles.
Art is so intertwined with the community that it bleeds onto the buildings. Start your tour at Nuevo León, 1515 W. 18th St., which is decorated with green, yellow and red boxes. The food is spicy and flavorful, with large portions. Ask to sit in the back room, which has pueblo decorations and bright colors.
At Jumping Bean Café, 1439 W. 18th St., abstract art on the tables, black-and-white photographs on the walls and stained glass windows near the ceiling point to its identity as an artist hub.
Grab a divine miniature pastry at BomBon, 1508 W. 18th St. The best ones are decorated with chocolate shavings and fruit. Or try Panadería Nuevo León, 1634 W. 18th St., for the real Mexican deal, with more than 50 varieties of pan dulce, Mexican sweet bread.
Don’t miss the Mexican Fine Art Center Museum, 1852 W. 19th St. Even the walls are art—hot pink, gold, sage green and deep blue surround the paintings.
Garth Liebhaber, an art teacher at Hammond School in Little Village and a dad, says it’s important for his sixth and seventh grade students to visit Pilsen, particularly the museum.
"Even though they grew up in an all-Mexican neighborhood, cultural identity can be a very elusive thing," he says. "I want them to see the magnitude of the Mexican culture to help them form a positive identity."