The Plaza Tenochtitlán is a towering obelisk with a gold eagle situated at the top, located in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago on 1800 South Blue Island Avenue. The monument was established in 1997 and 1998. Some major players in the construction of the obelisk were Alderman Danny Solis as well as Chicago Sister Cities International. It is entirely open to the public and stands as a joint-operation between Mexico City and the city of Chicago.
The Plaza Tenochtitlán was talked about in 1996 with Alderman Solis and finally actualized between 1997 and 1998. The project was drafted by students of architecture at UIC, originally from Mexico, and the name was coined by Adriana Gomez, a student in Pilsen that won a contest. It was designed by Alphonse Guajardo Associates. Tenochtitlán is the name of a city from the time of the Aztecs, which once stood where Mexico City currently is located. This one monument ties the ancient indigenous people to the current state of Mexico as well as the Mexicans in Pilsen. The statue itself resembles the Mexican flag as well as Aztec lore on the city of Tenochtitlán; a golden eagle sits atop the huge obelisk with a snake in its mouth, donated by the mayor of Mexico City during that time.
Alderman Danny Solis has served as an alderman for Chicago since 1996, representing the 25th Ward. While he was born in Mexico, he immigrated to the United States at a young age. His career in Chicago, specifically Pilsen, first started in education. He was very involved in the community, active in organizations such as the Pilsen Neighbors Community Council and the United Neighborhood Association. His career as an alderman can be described as one that prioritizes creating jobs, as well as funding the renovation and creation of public spaces in Pilsen. Some of the public spaces he has worked on are the Ping Tom Memorial Park and the Plaza Tenochtitlán.
The Plaza Tenochtitlán came about in large part due to a program run by Mayor Richard M. Daley, which works towards “civic beautification” to make public spaces “look and work better” (Kamin). This monument was one among many ventures to transform public spaces throughout Chicago, such as creating a theater district and a gay-pride district.
The plaza, being drafted and established between 1996 and 1998, came about during an interesting time for U.S.-Mexico relations. Between 1986 and 1994, Mexico began to open up for trade with the United States, such as reducing trade barriers and entering the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) as well as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). These strengthened the bond between Mexico and the United States greatly, allowing for talks on mutual immigration issues. Between 1994 and 1996, the criminalization of the border began; the Clinton administration pushed for border security as well as the deportation of undocumented immigrants. In 1998, Clinton visited Mexican President Zedillo to form a joint effort against drug trafficking. In this context, the collaboration between Mexico City and Chicago can be seen as a further affirmation of strengthening U.S.-Mexico relations.
The plaza is currently under renovation. Alderman Solis is heading the operation, which has a $3.5 million budget “aimed at connecting two Pilsen plazas before the end of the year” (Peña), specifically the Plaza Tenochtitlán and Plaza de los Heroes. It is also being led by the Chicago Public Art group and the muralist Hector Duarte. Additionally, it is supported by Yollocalli Youth Arts Reach and Jos. Cacciatore and Co. Real Estate.The project’s purpose is to make the public space more friendly to the public through widening sidewalks, adding street furniture, changing it to a one-way street, adding new curbs and trees, and even new street lights.
One description of the plaza is that “Here, too, there have been demonstrations, a sure sign that a public space has worked itself into the life of a community” (Kamin). The Plaza Tenochtitlán has truly become part of Pilsen, as it is often a center and hub for community events. Neighbors gather in the plaza after church, pedestrians walk through, and tourists snap pictures. Marches such as “Carnaval del Barrio”--a march against controversial education policy as well as environmental issues and reductions of public services-- or protests like that held by the National TPS Alliance--an effort to raise awareness of “people from countries experiencing ongoing armed conflict or natural disaster who cannot return home safely” (Dernbach)--have been held at the Plaza Tenochtitlán. Community activists, organizers, and concerned citizens have gathered around the towering obelisk for political reasons, but there are also everyday residents that gather to meet friends, speak with passing neighbors, and even enjoy the weather.
The Plaza Tenochtitlán stands as more than an obelisk with a golden eagle perched on top; it is a hub for community life, a tourist attraction, a gorgeous work of art, a symbol of unity between two nations, a reminder of home, and a project under renovation. Whether one is attracted to the plaza to see how Mexican culture has changed the architecture and landscape of Chicago or to attend a protest against controversial local politics, the Plaza Tenochtitlán has nonetheless become a central point for the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago.