Chicago’s Puerto Rican Community Emphasizes Solidarity in COVID-19 Fight

The number of COVID-19 cases in Chicago’s Latino communities has skyrocketed in recent weeks, according to city data released Wednesday. 

The greater Humboldt Park area, the nucleus of Chicago’s large Puerto Rican community, has not been excluded. The 60651 zip code that contains the western portion of the neighborhood has seen at least 898 coronavirus cases as of Thursday afternoon.

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Cristina Pacione-Zayas, co-chair of the Puerto Rican Agenda of Chicago, says the pandemic has caused a “huge scare” in the neighborhood. 

Interactive: More from our series, COVID-19 Across Chicago.

“Particularly for those families that have recently come to Chicago because of the displacement they’ve experienced from the hurricane and then the earthquakes, [they are experiencing] multiple layers of trauma,” Pacione-Zayas said. 

In response, the Puerto Rican Agenda, a nonprofit collective of community leaders, launched a mutual aid campaign in March to provide relief to struggling residents. 

Efforts have included partnering with local restaurants to deliver meals to seniors and other vulnerable populations, as well as providing cash assistance to families to help offset some expenses. The group is also helping coordinate meals for residents at El Rescate, a shelter on Division Street for homeless LGBTQ youth. 

“People are really in survival mode,” Pacione-Zayas said. “A lot of our community members are essential workers. They’re working in grocery stores, they might be in the health care industry, or public transportation, or public safety. So there is an increased risk not only with the underlying health conditions, but the fact that they have increased exposure.” 

Like other neighborhoods across the city, Pacione-Zayas says Humboldt Park urgently needs expanded testing and more protective equipment. And she says it’s vital that community members get involved in drafting the policies being rolled out at the city and state levels to fight COVID-19. 

“It’s incredibly important to have trusted community leadership at the table, to co-create those plans, and to execute those plans,” Pacione-Zayas said. “Sometimes when we’re operating at a 30,000-foot level, we think an idea might be great, but if we don’t really test it and vet it through those that actually have to live it, then we can have unintended consequences.” 

Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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