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Pilsen, Little Village, Back of the Yards

Popular ’90s Pilsen Photographs Now In Permanent Collection At Harold Washington Library

Akito Tsuda's photos were in storage for decades before he began posting them on social media. Now, they’re part of a permanent collection open to public viewing.

Akito Tsuda moved to Chicago in the early 90's to attend school at Columbia College. He began exploring and photographing the Pilsen neighborhood for a school assignment.
Akito Tsuda/Provided
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PILSEN — Harold Washington Library is now home to a collection of 88 photos of Pilsen in the early ’90s that were captured by Japanese photographer Akito Tsuda. 

These photos have been hailed by the Pilsen community as an important reminder of the neighborhood’s history as a working class, Mexican-American neighborhood, even in the face of recent gentrification. Tsuda’s snaps include candid shots of children playing in the streets, domestic activities and old storefronts. 

Credit: Akito Tsuda/Provided
Tsuda’s photo’s remained in storage until he began posting them online around 2016 to reconnect with folks he met from the neighborhood.
Credit: Akito Tsuda/Provided
The photos have been praised by the community for capturing the neighborhood’s roots.

The collection is available for public viewing in the Special Collections Reading Room on the ninth floor of Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State St. Appointments are required to view the photos noon-4 p.m. Mondays and Fridays.

Tsuda’s photos had been in storage, relatively unseen, for more than 20 years after he moved back to Japan in 1994 after he finished school at Columbia College. 

Tsuda said he used to not like looking through his old photos, feeling like it was “too sentimental and a setback to move forward to present life.” He said he received a lot of positive feedback after sharing the photos on social media in 2016 and reconnecting with people he used to know in the neighborhood.

After the positive response to the photos, Tsuda decided to print a book in 2017, “Pilsen Days,” filled with his black-and-white snaps of the neighborhood. A community group fundraised in 2017 to fly Tsuda back to Chicago for a book release and photo exhibit.  

Credit: Akito Tsuda/Provided
Tsuda said he had been looking for a place to house his photos permanently.

“Their voices blew away my worry and have taught me recollecting past memory has a lot of bright sides, such as creating a stronger sense of oneself and bringing energy to present life,” Tsuda said. “It was an overwhelming pleasure that made me want to find a permanent place to experience our memory lane.”

Tsuda said he had been looking for a permanent place to hold the photos to give back to the community that supported his art, but he never would’ve imagined such an opportunity as Harold Washington Library

The library “praised not only photos of the everyday life of Pilsen, but also ongoing communication between the people and me,” Tsuda said. Its “receptive mind opened the door to archive Pilsen photos and made them available for public viewing.”

Credit: Akito Tsuda/Provided
The photos are available for public viewing on the 9th floor of the Harold Washington Library.

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