‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Puerto Rican Festival Kicks Off in Humboldt Park

“Chicago Tonight” hits the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders.

It’s now officially summer as the annual Puerto Rican Festival kicked off Thursday in the heart of Humboldt Park.

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Despite facing gentrification, the Humboldt Park community is home to the largest Puerto Rican population in the city.

Fiestas Patronales Puertorriqueñas is a four-day event featuring live music, games and food all celebrating Puerto Rican culture.

“It’s the excitement of all our people coming together. It’s unbelievable,” said neighborhood resident Edras Andugar. “There’s more of us that fit in that little island, and it’s unbelievable how many people are out here.”

This year’s festivities will include musical guests from Puerto Rico and local social media influencers like Rebeca Nieves Huffman.

“I was born and raised in this community and grew up with the Puerto Rican parade being a thing. You dusted off that flag. You were ready to represent your culture,” Huffman said. “For me to be involved with the parade as an ambassador is so fulfilling in so many ways.” 

Huffman, along with two other social media ambassadors, will be hosting a meet and greet, plátano cook-off and a fashion show. 

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Humboldt Park wasn’t always the vibrant community it is today. In the 1950s, the neighborhood was plagued by poverty and crime, said Ricardo Jiménez, associate director of public health initiatives for the Puerto Rican Cultural Center.

“If you would’ve come here 50 years ago and seen the slums that Puerto Ricans lived,” Jiménez said. “Infested with roaches and rats and see what we have done in 50 years. It’s an incredible achievement.” 

The work was done by local community organizations like the Puerto Rican Cultural Center. This year, the parade will honor the 50th anniversary of the community grassroots initiative that has grown to offer multiple programs throughout the neighborhood. 

“When you go down Paseo Boricua we can see how many programs we got from HIV programs, from mental health, the violence program for teens and we are also part of the CHRC program workforce,” Jiménez said.

The center was also at the forefront of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Humboldt Park. For Jiménez, his Puerto Rican pride is expressed through his human rights activism: from advocating for the independence of the island to LGBTQ rights. 

“I know what I went through as a gay Puerto Rican man and being accepted to wait until my 40s to be who I am,” Jiménez said. “I don’t want kids to go through that agony.” 

For more than 10 years, the parade has hosted an LGBTQ coronation. These individuals represent the festival as the queen and king of the parade. A move Jiménez said helps dismantle the stigmas surrounding LGBTQ people in Latino culture. 

“The cacica today is a trans woman and the cacique is a gay man,” Jiménez said. “So nowhere in the United States does an ethnic parade do that.” 

Despite the gentrification facing the neighborhood, the community has fought to keep the culture thriving. Last year, the Puerto Rican flags on Division Street, also known as Paseo Boricua, became city landmarks.

“Even if you’re not Puerto Rican we want you to come out and experience the culture the fun, food the music,” Huffman said.

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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