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Pilsen Portal Bilingual News Site, ¿No habla español?

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Mike Doyle

Since 2005 scribe of the local blog, Chicago Carless. I invite you to visit.

pilsenportallogoBilingual neighborhood news in Chicago isn't just for readers of Extra anymore. Last month, the Pilsen Planning Committee launched Pilsen Portal, a self-described bilingual community blog discussing life and happenings in one of the Windy City's primary Latino neighborhoods. It's a site with great promise...if only they were actually translating their content into Spanish.

In July, the Mayor's Office announced the Digital Excellence Initiative, aimed at lessening the "digital divide" in challenged Chicago communities. Under the initiative, approximately $2 million in funding from the MacArthur Foundation, the State of Illinois, and Microsoft Corporation created a "Digital Excellence Demonstration Communities" program.

Taking part in the demonstration program are organizations in the neighborhoods of Auburn Gresham, Chicago Lawn, Englewood, and Pilsen, with The Resurrection Project serving as lead agency in Pilsen through its Pilsen Planning Committee.

For the Pilsen effort, the Planning Committee decided to launch a specifically bilingual (English/Spanish) community news site to give residents a convenient, all-in-one destination for easing onto the Internet. Because it's modest in age, Pilsen Portal doesn't yet have a deep archive of content. However, the breadth of the site is impressive. Features include:

The aim of the site is to be completely bilingual, and there's a prominent button atop every page to choose English and Spanish versions of the content. Yet surprisingly for a site branded as bilingual from its debut, almost all of the content is still English-only. In fact, virtually the only elements of the site actually in Spanish are the navigation bar and other nav links.

Moreover, the photos and videos don't seem to have been created by rank-and-file community members. Those residents, themselves, cannot yet register on Pilsen Portal to post their own stories, even though locally-created content is an intended element of the site. And anyone seeking to contact the site's creators will find little help on a Contact Us page that gives absolutely no method of contact.

All of that is surprising, given Pilsen Portal's genesis as a Digital Excellence Initiative website announced by the mayor's office. Considering the large pot of funding and small number of neighborhoods involved, it seems doubtful the dearth of translated content and real community engagement could stem from a lack of money or staff power.

So what's really going on here? Without apparent community engagement, what's the point of Resurrection Project's Pilsen Portal in the first place? A call to project manager Jaime Guzman seeking clarification on these issue was not immediately returned this morning.

If Pilsen Portal can get its act together and become a truly bilingual source of local news, it could serve as a focal point for a community eager to come into its own on the local blogosphere. Right now, though, the site is still very much a work in progress. There's no doubt the website and community are on the same page.

But at the moment and for unknown reasons, they're not speaking the same language.

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4 Comments

Mike Doyle said:

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[Ed. note: this comment served as the basis for a slight revision of the above article.]

The videos and photos don't look like they were done by actual residents, either. So what is the point of Pilsen Portal in the first place other than to attract grant money for Resurrection Project (unless the site is truly going to be managed as a community-oriented site)?

Jaime Guzman said:

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Mike,

Thanks for the piece. In Pilsen, we are working towards having the Pilsen Portal become a model website for all communities, and learning about things that need to be tweaked is very important. The site went live on July 15, meaning it became available for content to be put in on that day. Community based organizations have been putting content onto it, and we will be having a training on Monday August 17 for people to learn how to post information up (call me at 312.666.1323 for more info).

The lack of Spanish content has been due to a minor glitch in the website that will be rectified soon. As a life-long resident of the PIlsen/Little Village area, I know how important it is to have Spanish content up on the Pilsen Portal. Neither one of my parents speak English, and the first time my father came to Chicago from Mexico he ended up in Pilsen. The Spanish language is essential to show the identity of the community and to ensure that the resources and support for the residents in the community are made available to all. It is that desire for ensuring resources and support for which i have chosen to create some videos for some of the local restaurants and CBO's.

It is important that we amplify the things that go on in the community, and video is another format of doing so. There are many capable videographers in the community, especially young people. ProsArts, a local CBO has video editing programs for teens and many are well capable of producing similar videos as the ones up on the Pilsen Portal. I felt it was important to serve up a couple of videos as examples, so that others could eventually do the same - and YES, I am from the community. I called you this morning, but you didn't pick up. Therefore, I followed your lead and just decided to write this without having had the pleasure to speak to you in advance. Oh well, we'll just have to work with what we've got at the moment. Thanks!

Jaime Guzman said:

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By the way, check out this article that was posted by a high school student and a college freshman from the community (they also took the pictures, and posted it on the Pilsen Portal). http://www.pilsenportal.org/display.aspx?pointer=110

Mike Doyle said:

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Thanks for the response Jaime. It's good to know the Spanish content and community engagement is forthcoming. I've said it before under other circumstances (won't say regarding what website, but follow my eyes--to the header on this page!)--you can't do a soft-launch on the Internet. People will see what's missing and wonder why. I look forward to watching Pilsen Portal develop!

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