Festivals, music, and dance: These are all common characteristics when describing live entertainment; where some will subliminally think of a night out at a nearby carnival. Maybe a few will vouch that Lollapalooza (An annual summer rave, lasting for typically four days. Celebrities are known to partake in the event–inviting a huge crowd of young adults every year in the downtown area of Chicago), it definitely fits the keywords. Or, an elder born in the ’50s will simply call it a “juke-joint” gathering and nothing more. But, all eventful congregations come to an end at one point or another, does it not? And if there was one place in the whole world where such lively moments remained exuberant. What would it look like? And more importantly, where would it be located? From the West Side of Chicago, born and raised in the strong and zestful Puerto Rican community, Humboldt Park is the one place where its rich pride will continue to rise substantially.
From the ’60’s gang rivals to protesting against the current gentrification, Humboldt Park has fought for the rights of the community for decades and suppressed all naysayers who only saw the bad in the area. A bus ride (meeting each other at the California and Division stop) with a local from Humboldt Park confirmed this matter. With a thick and broken Puerto Rican accent, the man bellows in a raspy voice: “Here… Here it was no good.. uh- back in the ’60s, too many violence. ’70s, a little better… but, still very awful for a long time.” The slow and deliberate articulation, assisted with elaborate hand gestures, carefully illustrated what the neighborhood used to represent. In this fashion, one can imagine the quantity of prompted and well-suited individuals required to face such battleships. If there was anything Humboldt Park valued most, it was the community’s innate ability to showcase unification. Even so, the brief interview with an employee (who decided to remain anonymous) of one of Humboldt Park’s record shop spoke on the absence of solidarity and loyalty. “Compared to back then, we don’t have each other back the way we used to,” said the employee.
An (unidentified) barber, who worked at Luquillo’s barbershop for some time now, moved into the neighborhood in ’98. Per the conversation, a response to the question “around what time period would you say some of the vibrant, dynamic and energetic qualities of the community began to decline,” was expressed with such a defeated realization– “…it was mid-‘2000s I would say… wow… But, if it does come back, I don’t think I’d be around for it.” Conversely, Edwin, from the nearby Boy’s and Girl’s Club says otherwise: “I mean, we’ve still got the festival. The boathouse. The park, and lot more stuff. So, it still has it touch of communal traditions, y’know?”
The “communal traditions” comment only captures the entertainment portion most people assume Humboldt Park for. However, The Puerto Rican Cultural Center is committed to keeping Humboldt Park’s history authentic through vigorous advocacy of this common ground. One of the sights, “Urban Theater Company,” focuses on collaborative practices to deliver onto the stage what really matters: Unraveling cultural truths for the sake of perseverance. “The story we tell are relevant and real to what’s going on right on,” Ivan Vega declared with such dignity. “We educate the community to bring cultural perspective. There’s still so much history here and with the continuous rise of the company, we are sure to perverse these aspects through performing Puerto Rican playwrights.” The theater was established 16 years ago and, as one of the people who grew up here, it was the first time hearing about the inspiring contributions Urban Theater Company is making.
In the end, the protective attitudes of members in Humboldt Park hold are still as active and effective to this day. From the peaceful protests to artistic implementations, Humboldt Park’s desire for change is so powerful that even decades later, such notable and respected remarks will transcend for many generations to come.
Written by Jakiria M. Williams
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Jakiria M. Williams – Used With Permission