WTTW online series celebrates Pilsen

Elvira Arellano and her son attend mass at Lincoln United Methodist Church in the WTTW short doc, "Inside a Church at the Forefront of Chicago’s Santuary Movement"

Elvira Arellano and her son attend mass at Lincoln United Methodist Church in the WTTW short doc, “Inside a Church at the Forefront of Chicago’s Santuary Movement”

The latest short documentary in WTTW’s online series, My Neighborhood Pilsen, focuses on Lincoln United Methodist Church’s role in providing sanctuary for international asylum seekers.

Opening with footage of a speech by US Representative Louis Guitierrez, Inside a Church at the Forefront of Chicago’s Santuary Movement highlights the deeply personal struggles intensified by the Trump administration’s reversal of the Dream Act.

“We have 1.2 million people who are legally in this country today,” the 12-term Congressman declares from the altar of the church on W. 22nd Pl. “And what are they gonna do? With a snap of their fingers, they’re going to take them from being documented in this country, and legal in this country, to being undocumented.”

Interviews with leaders and members of the community — including two asylum seekers — further enhance the story’s personal touch.

Esaú Meléndez
Esaú Meléndez

Written and directed by Chicago-based filmmaker Esaú Meléndez, Inside a Church exemplifies a condition that has spread throughout Pilsen.

“A lot of people are afraid to go out,” he explains. “A lot of local businesses are closing.”

Meléndez’ experience with immigration began when he and his mother arrived in Chicago from Mexico City. At the time, he was a fifteen-year-old kid who did not speak English.

While becoming fluent in the language, he earned a degree from Columbia College and, later, went on to achieve national recognition for his 2010 award-winning film Immigrant Nation! The Battle For The Dream.

Immigrant Nation is the story of Elvira Arellano, an asylum seeker who spent a year living in Humboldt Park’s Adalberto United Methodist Church while fighting a US deportation order.

Inside Lincoln United Methodist Church
Inside Lincoln United Methodist Church

Although the mother of an American-born son eventually lost that particular battle, Arellano has returned to the U.S. with official, albeit conditional, permission. She is one of the people featured in Meléndez’ new short.

Other church members in the film include current Pastor Walter Coleman, who offered asylum to Arellano when he was with the Humboldt Park church seven years ago, and his wife, Pastor Emma Lozano.

“We’re going to fight Donald Trump and we’re going to win,” says Lozano. “We’re preparing ourselves for the fight of our lives.”

The other films in the series celebrate the culture of Pilsen, a thriving dynamic of art, cuisine, and music created largely by immigrants and later generations from Mexico.

WTTW’s My Neighborhood Pilsen online series
Written and directed by Esaú Meléndez
      Jumping Bean Café
      Can Mariachi Save a School?
      Hector Duarte, Muralist

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