Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of La Voz del Paseo Boricua Newspaper and the Renewed Participatory Democracy Project

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    By Xiomara Rodríguez

    In 2024 The Puerto Rican Cultural Center is reviving the initiative that created La Voz del Paseo Boricua Newspaper, started in 2004 called the Participatory Democracy Project. In 2004, the mounting devastation of gentrification in the Humboldt Park community galvanized The Puerto Rican Cultural Center and other community groups (including The Puerto Rican Agenda, the Near Northwest Neighborhood Network, the Division Street Business Development Association, and students from the Union for Puerto Rican Students at NEIU, UIC, and Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School) into taking action against developers and speculators attempting to determine what was to become of Humboldt Park. At the time, the Participatory Democracy project was focused on further engaging residents through door-knocking and posing the question to neighbors: who is to determine our fate in El Barrio? 20 years later, The Puerto Rican Cultural Center is re-engaging our community and residents, particularly during this 2024 election year. Not only is there a Presidential election, but all 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for election! The Latino vote could make a lasting impact on this country so we must get our people to the polls.

    According to the Brennan Center for Justice, “Over the last 20 years, many states have increased the voter suppression efforts, which received a boost when the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act in 2013, and have kept significant numbers of eligible voters from the polls, hitting all Americans, but placing special burdens on racial minorities, poor people, and young and old voters”. It has become abundantly clear that there is a real fear of minorities like Latinos exercising their right to vote and of how the people/policies minorities would vote for could redefine the systems of power in the United States. Especially because in 2020 Latinos became the second largest voting bloc in the United States based on U.S. Census Bureau data. Moreover, many Latinos, in particular, have loved ones who do not have the right to vote because of immigration status, contact with the criminal justice system, or access to culturally competent voter education. Therefore, it is our responsibility as Latino voters to define as much as possible the policies that affect our loved ones who don’t have a say in the electoral process.

    It is for all of these reasons and more that The Puerto Rican Cultural Center has revived our Participatory Democracy Project. Much like the original program, this project will be focused on door-knocking throughout our community of Chicago’s North West Side, and 20 years later, the issue is still housing. Thanks to decades of community organizing, we have been able to fight off gentrification in many ways, but hundreds of families are still experiencing extreme housing insecurity because of gentrification and unfair/ineffective housing policies. In particular, in the past few years, Humboldt Park has seen a rise in our houseless neighbors unlike ever before. With a growing tent encampment in Humboldt Park and in many parks across the city, many Chicago residents are looking for a solution, but luckily this March 19th, there is a ballot referendum question that will ask voters if they support a restructuring of the Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT), “a one-time tax on properties when they are sold to create a substantial and legally dedicated revenue stream to provide permanent affordable housing for people experiencing homelessness”. This referendum will be a huge win for people experiencing housing insecurity in the city and will only affect the sellers of properties sold for more the $1 million, which would mean that for 95% of property sales, their taxes would decrease. As a non-profit organization in the Humboldt Park community, The Puerto Rican Cultural Center has seen the people we serve struggling with housing insecurity for decades. But currently, in the 26th Ward alone, we have 600 youth and 1200 adults experiencing homelessness. This restructuring of the Real Estate Transfer Tax will be a saving grace for thousands of families across Chicago, which is why our Participatory Democracy Project will be taking on the task of educating our neighbors on this referendum question and what it could mean for our community in addition to educating residents on how to vote, and the many support resources they can access through The Puerto Rican Cultural Center.

    On this 20th Anniversary of La Voz del Paseo Boricua Newspaper, it is extremely fitting that the Participatory Democracy Project, which birthed this newspaper, is being resurrected. Beyond the extreme housing insecurity experienced by Humboldt Park residents during the past 20 years, La Voz del Paseo Boricua has been a weapon against censorship and the erasure that usually accompanies gentrification and colonialism. Though many have tried to erase Boricua presence, persistence, and resistance in this community by destroying our murals, rewriting our history, and co-opting our organizing efforts, La Voz newspaper has stood as a testament to Boricua history written for us, and by us. The newspaper is a crucial component of our Participatory Democracy Project, not only because it shares resources and current events important to our community, but also because it educates our readers on issues that affect them in bilingual, culturally relevant, and accessible language. Throughout the past two decades, La Voz has taken on the fight to release Puerto Rican political prisoners, has been a tool used by the Café Teatro Batey Urbano to promote alternatives to violence for the youth in our community, played a major role in promoting the anti-gentrification campaign “Humboldt Park No Se Vende”, has worked to fight the stigmas against people living with HIV and AIDS, has taken on the task of informing Puerto Ricans in the Diaspora about the struggles in Puerto Rico caused by U.S. colonialism, and so much more. Thanks to the dedication of generations of activists who took on the labor of love to produce La Voz newspaper at no cost to the community, this newspaper has been recognized by institutions across the country, including most recently by Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, which included a copy of La Voz newspaper from the 2000s in their exhibit about Puerto Rican Art and Activism in Chicago.

    This year we are honoring La Voz and its contributions to Chicago’s history by honoring the purpose this newspaper was founded on; inspiring the most marginalized communities of this city to think critically about the systems of oppression that affect their lives, to take action against these systemic injustices, and engage in the process of imagining/co-creating new life-affirming systems. In this 20th year of La Voz newspaper, we are reaffirming our commitment to comply with the responsibility of all independent news organizations to speak truth to power and inspire positive change by resurrecting The Puerto Rican Cultural Center’s Participatory Democracy Project. We look forward to coming to a doorstep near you!