Día de Los Niños

photo by Stephen Urchick

photo by Stephen Urchick

There is nothing lonelier than a boulevard before a parade. Last Saturday, the storefronts along 18th Street in Pilsen were ghostly concrete canyons, sharpened by the pre-noon sun and acid-blue sky. I had to walk a good length before encountering the first few knots of eager onlookers. Everyone was clustered around the CPD barricade, waiting for the lead police car to sound its sirens, move ahead, and begin the 14th Annual Día de Los Niños (Children’s Day) festival. Behind the officers came a navy of floats sponsored by local businesses, all of which were celebrating the triumphs of Pilsen’s schools.

photo by Stephen Urchick

photo by Stephen Urchick

Twenty-Fifth Ward Alderman Daniel Solis opened the dike and unleashed the flood, as the crowd surged onto the sidewalks. Younger students on foot were followed by older students sitting on trucks. Flags rippled and flashed. Increasingly loud music drifted down from the parade’s source-spring. Elementary school bands marched in tight formations; youth orchestras fearlessly, expertly, brilliantly leaned into violas, guitars, and cellos. This was their show. I looked up into the motorized risers as the ensembles passed along, their bows at rest, their heads wistfully, heroically fixed forward–middle-schooled monuments to artistic arête.

Rising up off the roar and babble of the crowd, one onlooker remarked, “Those kids are playing violin! That’s badass!”

I couldn’t have put it much better.

Floats bore posters affirming that these kids “Wanted to be Somethin’ Special” (A lawyer! A poet!). The next generation locked steps with present advocates and carried forward the banners of social activist groups (El Valor, Mujeres en Accion). Young boys shouldered picket signs boldly declaring hopes and dreams (There’s a future FBI agent! A college kid in the making!). The streets teemed with people and the kids were absolutely vivified–empowered.

The Pink Line station overlooking 18th Street offered me two vantages. If the parade had come from emptiness, to emptiness the route returned–abandoned again and forlornly littered. On the other side of the tracks, however, I saw the extent of the pulsing masses, the whole congratulatory crowd that had been drawn out to this magnetizing validation of Pilsen’s youth.

It was a vista that made me intensely happy.