The Humboldt Park community is one of the 77 residential neighborhoods located in Chicago’s Westside. Since the 1960’s, Humboldt Park has been the home of a large Hispanic/Latino population, with a vibrant Puerto Rican presence. Various street art can be found along “El Paseo Boricua”. El Paseo Boricua is the name given to the section of Division Street that is west of Western Avenue, and East of California Avenue. For many locals the beginning and end of the strip is marked by the large iron and steel flags, that pay homage to their native island of Puerto Rico. Along El Paseo Boricua, are a series of local businesses ranging from groceries, beauty supplies, convenient stores, and restaurants. Also located on the strip is the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, and just a few blocks away is The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture. The appropriation of space in the city of Chicago was earned through withstanding racial prejudices, political activism, and a strong community presence that has spanned generations.
Historically the Humboldt Park community was predominantly white (Alicea). In the 1940’s, white European immigrants settled in the areas that present day Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Wicker Park, and Bucktown occupy. During the 1950’s Puerto Ricans were spread out in different parts of the city(Alicea). Puerto Rican migrants were concerned with finding a living space close to their place of work (Mumm). Many of the first wave of Puerto Ricans lived near the steel factories on Chicago's southside. Unlike the Puerto Ricans, the large Polish population had settled with the goal of establishing a community that embodied their culture and give birth to their diaspora. With the deindustrialization of Chicago in the late 1960’s, Puerto Ricans began moving northward towards the Humboldt Park area, where few Puerto Ricans had already lived. The new influx of Puerto Ricans and other hispanic people did not go uncontested by the already established white residents. Puerto Ricans were subject to “overt and direct discrimination” by the whites (Marixsa). European residents were described as entitled people due to their tenure and viewed the incoming flight of Puerto Ricans as inferior people (Mumm). Puerto Ricans played a huge part in slowing down the deindustrialization process in Chicago because of their willingness to work for lower wages compared to their white counterparts. The role that Puerto Ricans played resulted in them being seen as harbingers of deterioration and blamed as the cause for “disinvestment”( Mumm). Landowners in the European communities had already begun to ignore buildings and dis-invest in Humboldt Park even as whites were still occupying the residence. Consequently, the white European residents began to see incoming “brown” people as the cause for the disinvestment. While the disinvestment in Humboldt Park was taking place, new developing suburbs began to dominate the housing markets. This was made possible by legislation passed by the federal government, state government, and private real estate interests that preyed on racial tensions or at the very least capitalized on them. White suburbia was marketed as the new “white enclave” that would allow whites to form a hetero-normative middle class community (Mumm). The mass of exodus of the white population from Humboldt park and other areas in inner cities throughout the United States became known as “White Flight”. White flight only increased the disinvestment by landowners in Humboldt Park homes adding to the harsh conditions that Puerto Ricans faced with their lack of economic resources. As a result of the exiting “white residents”, Puerto Ricans began to occupy the Humboldt Park area and establish a diaspora of their own.
The Division street riots sparked the beginning of social-political activism in Humboldt Park. In 1966, Puerto Ricans took to the streets to protest the unjust treatment by the city of Chicago. In 1966, Aracelis Cruz was shot and killed by police on the corner of Damen and Division. This caused the outrage of the residents to manifest and address the marginalization they had been facing by the city and its officials. Deteriorating housing, underemployment, police violence, and few economic resources were all motives for the violence that ensued during the Division riots. Following those series of protests, Puerto Ricans began to advocate for community resources .The biggest concern was the establishment of schools that would cater to the needs of the community children and provide role models they can relate to. The activists who sought to improve the education of the Puerto Rican people in the city of Chicago came to be known as “Los Nacionalistas” by residents, and by city and state governments (Ramos-Zayas, 15). “Los Nationalists” goals of elevating the Puerto Rican residents social withstanding, and legal rights were labeled as anti-american terrorist by Chicago media (Ramos-Zayas, 16). Through the legal marginalization, and social stigmatization of their political efforts, Puerto Ricans in the city of Chicago push forward with their community agendas.. Throughout the years Puerto Ricans managed to achieve legal victories that would require the city to no longer ignore the necessities of the people living in Humboldt Park.
In 1995 El Paseo Boricua was established. It is a strip along Division Avenue in the heart of the Humboldt Park community. Marked by two 45 ton flags. Those flags are the largest non cloth tributes to a flag that does not have fifty stars in the United States. They pay homage to the first two waves of Puerto Rican Migrants that came to the United States. They are constructed of Iron and steel. The Steel represents the First generation that came to work in Chicago industrialized southside, while the iron represents the Puerto Ricans that worked the pipelines and other infrastructure projects throughout Chicago.
“El Paseo Boricua” is still a cultural hub of Puerto Rican culture. Alderman Roberto Maldonado has pushed for the renaming of “El Paseo Boricua” to Puerto Rico town. The area along Division st, between Western Ave. and Grand Ave. This mandate will lead for the area along Division to be designated as a “Special Purpose District” that would establish a “Cultural Sanctuary”(La Voz). Municipal investments will be focused on existing and new businesses preserving the communities identity. City Council adopted Alderman Roberto Maldonado’s resolution on October 31st, 2018.
Ramos-Zayas, Ana Y. 2003. “National Performances: the politics of class, race, and space in Puerto Rican Chicago. The University of Chicago Press Chicago and London. 2003.
Mumm, Jesse. “Gentrification in Color and Time: White and Puerto Rican Racial Histories at Work in Humboldt Park.” CENTRO: Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, no. 2 (2016): 88.
Valentin, Javier, 2018. "City Council Adopts Ald. Maldonado's Resolution Designating Puerto Rico Town". La Voz Del Paseo Boricua. November/December 2018.
Alicea, Marixsa. “Cuando Nosotros Vivíamos…: Stories of Displacement and Settlement in Puerto Rican Chicago.” Centro Journal 13, no. 2 (Fall 2001): 167–95.