I came up Western Ave. in my little birdshit on a wheels I call a car and made a left onto Division St. where a 70s-modern building houses a school named for a Puerto Rican right fielder. There a 45-ton metal flag ripples over the street marking the entrance to Paseo Boricua, billed as a little slice of San Juan.
I’ve never been to San Juan, but I doubt Division Street looks anything like it. Division Street is a Chicago thing.
Especially in January, when you’re driving through with your windows up and the heat blasting. The few people out bundled up good in this concrete tundra. Dirty snow piles up along the curb like old cigarette butts.
Despite how ugly it sounds, you should see how excited Chicago Puerto Ricans get whenever they talk about this little strip of asphalt. Maybe it’s silly or tribal, but few Puerto Ricans can resist the sense of pride that wells up whenever they see shops and restaurants with Puerto Rican names, when they drive past the offices of Puerto Rican organizations working to improve their asscrack corner of the city.
Even I feel it, and I’m not big on nationalistic pride.
Looking at the faces of the people, you realize that this is where the Puerto Ricans are. And if you’re Puerto Rican, it makes you irrationally happy.
I drove under the other steel flag just past California, this one backwards. (The flags face outward. They’re there for outsiders.) I made a right on Kedzie. I was headed for my grandma’s house when I saw it.
The sign read: “BUILDING A NEW CHICAGO.”
It hung just above a plastic curtain draped across the old and abandoned elevated train tracks that bridge over Kedzie north of Wabansia, the same old abandoned tracks that have stood like ancient ruins — a stone industrial skeleton — since I was a baby, probably longer.
I can still remember the works it displayed, made by aspiring artists who left such thought-provoking slogans as “FUCK” and “SUCK MY DICK.” The cursive was exquisite.
Now the city decided they’re gonna fix it up, transforming it into a lush trail and park where people will ride bikes, jog, play or just take in the greenery. Judging by the mock-ups the planners have released, looks like it’s gonna be freakin’ oasis.
Urban renewal has come knocking on Humboldt Park’s door.
There’s really no “why now” to it. It’s simple.
An online real estate brokerage recently named Humboldt Park one of the 10 “hottest” neighborhoods of 2014. “Consistent price increases in neighboring Wicker Park and Logan Square have caused home buyers to settle in nearby Humboldt Park, where prices are lower and space is more abundant than in the more expensive areas nearby,” their CEO was gracious enough to explain.
Funny that he should mention Wicker Park and Logan Square. When I was a kid those neighborhoods were just as neglected by the city as Humboldt Park was.
That means if the city and the developers have their way, Humboldt Park will become a second Wicker Park, complete with douchebag bars and Millennials earning more than $50,000 a year who buy second-hand stuff to advertise their carefree individuality.
And where will the Puerto Ricans go? You know, the community that has called the neighborhood home since the early ’60s?
They’ll go someplace else, of course. Doesn’t really matter where, so long as it’s to the west or south.
I hear there’s already a bunch of them resettling by the Brickyard.
Defenders of gentrification promote it as just another part of the neutral free market. If a single parent working two minimum-wage jobs can’t afford to pay higher rent or higher property taxes, tough luck, they gotta go. And maybe if some developer or individual buyer has the money to fix up a home or put up a new building, then a stupid thing like preserving a neighborhood’s Puerto Rican flavor shouldn’t stand in their way.
Strange how gentrification, in all its dollar-based fairness, usually allows some white person to find an affordable home while a black or Latino family is often sent packing.
That’s because there’s a big difference between white affordable and non-white affordable, just as there’s a difference between the white unemployment rate and the non-white unemployment rate, between white schools and non-white schools, white Lakeview and non-white Humboldt Park.
A number of groups in Humboldt Park are committed to stemming the tide of gentrification, but I don’t see how they can withstand the will of the Almighty Dollar. In this country, in this city, cash is not only king, it’s God Himself, and it can close a school, build an arena or clear a neighborhood of its darkies with a blast of its nostrils.
Residents are known to chant “Humboldt No Se Vende!” (“Humboldt Park is not for sale”). But that would make it the only thing in this city that isn’t.
The end is at hand for Humboldt Park as we know it. The city is “building a new Chicago.”
Unless Paseo Boricua becomes Chase Bank Presents Little San Juan, it’s gonna go back to being regular ol’ Division Street soon enough.
We’re gonna need hella paint to cover up all those murals. Luis Muñoz Marin Dr. will have to be renamed in honor of a true American icon, like George Washington or Kim Kardashian. Hurry and get one of the last pastelillos de guava from Café Colao before it’s turned into a Starbucks (or worse — a Seattle’s Best).
And we should start picking a new spot for those flags.