PILSEN — Despite the wind and the clouds, residents took to 18th Street Friday for the first day of the neighborhood’s annual Mole de Mayo festival, the first in-person edition in three years.
The Economic Strategies Development Corporation, a nonprofit that serves Pilsen businesses, has staged Mole de Mayo since 2009 and it is their biggest fundraiser of the year. With its signature mole cook-off, live music and lucha libre wrestling, the fest takes over a stretch of 18th Street from Blue Island to Ashland from Friday to Sunday.
The festival went virtual in 2020 and was scaled back in 2021 as restaurants offered mole specials throughout the weekend. With the neighborhood tradition back in full swing, people cheerfully milled about the festival, noshing on mole dishes, slurping agua frescas and buying goodies from local vendors Friday.
The lead up to this year’s festival was contentious, with Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) and other community members asking for the festival to be relocated or be significantly reorganized.
The alderman said he’d heard enough from residents and business owners fed up with the street closures, parking headaches, rowdiness and noise it brings. Sigcho-Lopez’s office held a meeting last month where community residents — both for and against the festival’s location on 18th Street — could speak with festival organizers and members from relevant city departments.
While many said they wanted the festival moved, several people spoke in support of the business opportunity it gives local owners and said they enjoyed a chance to show off neighborhood pride.
Alex Esparza, ESDC executive director, said he was unlikely to move the festival but agreed to work on compromising with residents.
Esparza said previously after hearing from business owners that the festival fencing blocked their entrances, vendors would be back-to-back in the middle of the street to encourage people to also visit the brick-and-mortar businesses that line 18th Street.
That layout was on display Friday, and patrons could be seen walking in and out of businesses along the strip while visiting the festival.
At the April meeting, a CDOT representative said the department would review the fest’s traffic plans to address neighbors’ concerns, and a Streets and Sanitation leader suggested closed trash containers to ensure trash wouldn’t blow around the area and better placement of portable toilets to ensure they aren’t located directly in front of people’s homes.
On Friday, portable toilets were located at intersections of 18th Street and side streets, not in front of people’s homes.
But resident Victoria Romero, who’s been vocal in her criticism of the festival logistics, said it doesn’t seem like anything’s changed for her or her neighbors.
“We’re going through the same hell we go through every year,” she said Friday.
Romero said she and others will continue to advocate for their voices to be heard in the festival planning process.
The festival continues Saturday noon – 10 p.m. and Sunday noon – 9 p.m.
See more photos from the opening day of Mole de Mayo:
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