Anyone who’s from Chicago knows it’s possible to travel to Puerto Rico without ever boarding a plane or a ship or even crossing the ocean.
I’m talking of course about Humboldt Park, specifically, el Paseo Boricua.
This past Sunday marked the 19th anniversary of Fiesta Boricua, the Division Street festival celebrating the best of the fatherland and the neighborhood that represents it with pride. “From flag to flag,” the event was an ocean of people dancing to Antillean sounds, kids and grandparents savoring every morsel of Puerto Rican street fare, and 20-somethings enjoying as much sunshine as they see on the enchanted island.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Congressman Luis Gutiérrez were even on hand to see the Puerto Rican rap-rock band Calle 13 receive a medallion on the Paseo Boricua Walk of Fame. Afterward, Emanuel and Gutiérrez chatted over a late lunch at upscale Coco. Sitting at a table closest to the street, a large crowd quickly gathered to gawk and snap pictures of the two men — two of the most dominant people in the city, if not the country.
After his visit with the mayor, Congressman Gutiérrez was gracious enough to speak with Gozamos and share his thoughts on the festivities, Puerto Rican politics and the upcoming presidential election.
Students from Pedro Albizu Campos High School helped keep the street clean and other members of the community stationed along the avenue to spread awareness on issues ranging from diabetes and AIDS to gentrification and the 30-plus-year imprisonment of Oscar López Rivera, a Puerto Rican nationalist and former Humboldt Park resident.
Personally, I thought the event was successful in highlighting the unique cultural wonders the Paseo has to offer.
As I was told by one attendee, there were some residents who fought to keep Fiesta Boricua from happening in the first place. More and more, the movement to shut down the event is becoming a yearly phenomenon as Humboldt Park itself becomes a battleground for people trying to preserve the neighborhood’s personality on one side and those trying to make it a second Wicker Park on the other. (There’s nothing wrong with Wicker Park, but the city doesn’t need another one, especially if means tearing down the flags.)
I hope Fiesta Boricua remains on the calendar for years to come. There’s room enough for people from all walks of life to take in the sights and sounds of the Paseo Boricua and its surrounding community, but the Paseo belongs to its residents, first and foremost. If you’d forgotten that, then the organizers of Fiesta Boricua just reminded you.