The Puerto Rican Diaspora has been in effect since the middle of the 20th century. The promise of new work in new industries and the prospect of leaving the failing agricultural, rural lifestyle prompted massive migrations to the United States. Here in Chicago, Puerto Ricans first established themselves in Humboldt Park, and later established areas in Lincoln Park, Woodlawn, and Kenwood. However, due to gentrification, economic struggles and the changes life brings, only Humboldt Park and Lincoln Park retain a large Puerto Rican presence. However, the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, or PRCC, has helped build up not just the Puerto Rican community, but the general area of Humboldt Park.
The PRCC provides multiple programs. It offers 5 festivities year-round that celebrate Puerto Rican culture, such as the Three Kings Winterfest on January 6, an annual celebration since 1995 that has been brought from the island that has become tradition within the community. Another of the annual festivities PRCC hosts is the Puerto Rican People’s Day Parade on Division Street that is a celebration of artistic expression for the Puerto Rican populace, as well as providing inspiration in their endeavors. On the educational front, PRCC has multiple initiatives such as their Community as a Campus Initiative, which aims to strengthen the numerous opportunities students receive by offering a strong STEM and artistic foundation, as well as the Humboldt Park Youth Employment Program which is dedicated to teaching students and out-of-school youth business trades by enrolling them in a paid apprenticeship for a span of three months. In terms of health and social wellness, the PRCC offers programs such as VIDA/SIDA, which is an HIV and AIDS prevention group for queer youth. The PRCC also offers the El Rescate Transitional Living Program which seeks to aid homeless LGBTQ and HIV positive youth to give them lasting solutions to make the most of their education and health. These examples are just a taste of the variety of programs the PRCC offers.
The PRCC’s most recent project is a housing project for local artists. This project, the Nancy Franco-Maldonado Paseo Boricua Arts Building, aims to reform vacant buildings into a vibrant community for budding artists to socialize, develop their work and sell it in stores or in the downstairs lobby, the latter of which serves as a commercial center for the artists as well as a social hub. The architectural plans include the installation of features such as a theater in the lobby and rooftop gardens. The plans demonstrate the PRCC’s ambition to create a “sustainable, thriving catalyst for creativity and artistic exchange,” as well as facilitating the continued education in the arts.
Despite the massive projects, the PRCC has run into some problems. Aside from the need for more donors, the PRCC has had to face massive gentrification within Humboldt Park. According to PRCC’s Executive Director, José Elias López, this is the main issue, “Humboldt Park is prime real estate. It’s not that far off from downtown, and due to being once settled in by a majority minority community it became a prime target for ‘renovations.’ Before we knew it, property owners had their premiums and rent skyrocket, and were forced out of their business and homes.” However, the PRCC has developed a plan to combat gentrification. “We are declaring a good portion of West Division Street as a historic Puerto Rican town,” López said. “The local alderman Roberto Maldonado will be presenting our case.” Through these efforts PRCC would secure two miles of territory dedicated to the Puerto Rican community and fight back against gentrification tactics.
Puerto Ricans in Chicago have a history of fighting back against oppression and looking forward to the future. The PRCC carries that legacy with its incredible projects. The Puerto Ricans within Chicago serve as one of the most forward thinking groups, as their aid to the queer and impoverished groups suggests. This is why the PRCC’s motto, “To live and help to live,” resonates so strongly: they are committed to their words through effective action.
Call to action:
If you are interested in the PRCC, would like to volunteer or seek work opportunities, or would like to donate to their organization, go to their website.
General website: https://prcc-chgo.org/
For Donations: https://prcc-chgo.org/donate-now/
Community as Campus: https://prcc-chgo.org/initiatives/community-as-campus/
Bohio Housing: https://prcc-chgo.org/bohio/housing