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Photo courtesy of John Bachtell

Members of the Puerto Rican community march on Division Street during the 2008 Puerto Rican People's Parade.

Pride or prejudice? Puerto Rican festival source of tension in Humboldt Park

by Alison W. Bullock
Jan 13, 2011


Photo courtesy of John Bachtell


Photo courtesy of John Bachtell

A member of the community commands his post during the parade


Photo courtesy of John Bachtell

Puerto Ricans show their pride in Humboldt Park


Photo courtesy of John Bachtell

Community members use the parade as a means to get their message out

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2011 Puerto Rican Parade

 Festival downtown: June 14-20

Downtown Puerto Rican Parade: June 18 - Noon

Humboldt Park People's Parade: June 18 - 2 P.M.

Humboldt Park resident Bruce Burns said that the neighborhood’s namesake park is one of the most beautiful and peaceful in the area. But that all changes, he said, during the neighborhood’s annual Puerto Rican People’s Parade through the park, which will be held this year on June 18.

Burns, 58, who has lived in the community more than 30 years, said violence in connection with the People’s Parade has escalated over the past 10 years. He hopes things will be safer this year.

“Last year the SWAT Team was called and the police had a helicopter overhead to control the crowds,” he said.

The free parade, now in its 33rd year, is sponsored by Humboldt Park’s Puerto Rican Culture Center and is held in conjunction with Chicago’s larger Puerto Rican Festival and Parade downtown.

People’s Parade coordinator Leony Calderón, 37, who is starting to plan for this summer, said the event is intended to celebrate culture and visibility and is meant as a form of resistance to gentrification that pushes some residents out of the neighborhood.

She has worked for the PRCC on the parade for almost 10 years, and said she does not recall any violence connected with the event in previous years.

But last year, The Chicago Tribune reported three gang-related shootings in which four people were injured just blocks from the celebration and parade in Humboldt Park. The parade route begins on Western Avenue, heading west on Division Street to Humboldt Park Boulevard.

Luis Padilla, a 20-year resident, said the People’s Parade is steeped in tradition, but he agrees there have been isolated incidents of violence in the past.

"You will get some violence because it's a large group of people, and there is a gang population in Humboldt Park," he said.

“It definitely heats up in this area in the summer,” said 36-year-old resident Sandro Corona.

But it doesn’t put a damper on the celebratory mood, Padilla said.

Violence also was reported outside last year’s Taste of Chicago, and city officials have since suggested charging for the event to help filter the crowd and increase security.

Barnes said he thinks more police presence at the People’s Parade would help protect the safety of the community.

“The district police commander has been involved in our neighborhood and realizes there are problems here,” he said. “But we need more protection.”

Linda Flores, commander of the 14th District, could not be reached for comment.

“The police district prepares well in advance,” Padilla said. “They work with the alderman’s office, have extra police officers and the surrounding districts are put on notice.”

He said they have done a good job of controlling the crowds over the past few years.

John Bachtell, 54, is district organizer of the Communist Party of Illinois, an organization that actively participates in the event by helping with voter registration and marches in the parade.

Bachtell said a lot of people have been forced out of the area, so the People’s Parade is one day when friends and family come back.

“There may be violence, but the general idea is of bringing the community back,” he said. “It’s like a homecoming of sorts.”