Message from PRCC Executive Director José E. López

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I want to express my deepest gratitude to all the staff, volunteers, and supporters that have helped the Puerto Rican Cultural Center realize a year full of achievements. In 2014, we successfully confronted many challenges with creative and principled resolve.

We began the year, as did the rest of the city, with a frigid cold that forced us to cancel-for the first time-our annual Three Kings Day celebration. All the toys, which we wrapped last year and those we have collected this year, will be distributed at the upcoming Three Kings Day Parade and Winter Fest to be held on Tuesday, January 6th, 2015.

Our year took a turn for the better with the 100X35X6 open house. On March 3rd, 2014, we showcased the exciting work of our first housing initiative, El Rescate. This initiative provides a home for two-dozen LGBT Latino/a youth.

During the summer, the PRCC and its programs were extremely active. On June 14th, we held the 2nd Unified Puerto Rican Peoples’ Day Parade. Governor Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel led the parade alongside Alderman Roberto Maldonado, State Representative Cynthia Soto, and Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez.

During the week of August 30-31st, we celebrated our 21st Annual Fiesta Boricua. As a key part of this celebration of Puerto Rican culture, artisanry, and food, we honored the municipality of San Lorenzo as the year’s “Lo Mejor de Nuestros Pueblos.” A representative delegation headed by Mayor José R. Román Abreu, participated actively in every aspect of Fiesta, including the “Noche Jibara,” “Misa Jibara,” and Fiesta Boricua itself. An exciting addition to this annual festival was a contingent from the Bronx, New York, which joined us with the legendary salseros Herman Olivera and Yova Rodríguez, and the Latino political pioneer, NY State Assemblyman José Rivera. The Bronx was selected to represent a new feature of Fiesta Boricua, “Lo Mejor de Nuestros Barrios”-in honor of the Puerto Rican diaspora. The celebration was capped with an improvised musical performance dedicated to Puerto Rican political prisoner, Oscar López Rivera, by Herman Olivera, Yova Rodriguez, and the new expression of salsa, Pirulo y La Tribu joined by the MacArthur genius award winner, the Latin Jazz virtuoso, Miguel Zenon.

Our successful 21st Fiesta Boricua was followed by the reopening of the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture (formerly known as the Institute for Puerto Rican Arts and Culture). A spectacular gala, which was featured on WGN-Channel 9 on September 6th, 2014, was hosted in honor of the reopening. Following this, on September 19th and 20th, Roberto Clemente Community Academy celebrated its 40th anniversary. The anniversary events included an open house, a symposium, and gala. The symposium featured presentations by prominent intellectuals and educators such as Dr. Stovall (University of Illinois-Chicago), Dr. Nilda Flores-Gonzalez (University of Illinois-Chicago), Dr. Orlando Hernández (Hostos College, New York), Dr. Jonathan Rosa (University of Massachusetts-Amherst), among others. The PRCC played an important role in this historic community celebration.

  During October and November, the PRCC, was active in commemorating the 40th Anniversary of two more immensely important organizations- the Latino(a)-Latin American Studies Program (LALS) of the University of Illinois at Chicago with an opening event held at the Mexican National Museum of Fine Arts and a closing event held at the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture- symbolizing the beginnings of the Pan-Latino solidarity that began in Chicago with the Mexican and Puerto Rican communities. In November, the Puerto Rican Cultural Center also co-sponsored the 40th Celebration of the Alternative Schools Network (ASN) at the Garfield Park Conservatory, which highlighted the work of that incredible organization – one that continues to service disenfranchised youth and communities. Also in November, and in partnership with the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture and Urban Theater, organized the “Jornada Centenario Julia de Burgos,” which featured a performance of the play “Julia de Burgos: Child of Water,” which opened with the play’s author, Carmen Rivera; a series of readings for children by author Georgina Lazaro, from her book, Julia de Burgos, and an exhibit of images of Julia de Burgos.

In terms of our programs, 2014 was also one of the growth and development (download report by Sandra Candelaria). A timeline prepared by the National Boricua Human Rights Network for an account of last year’s efforts to free my brother, Oscar will be published in next weeks e-newsletter.

This past year we have also confronted campaigns seeking to drive our community from the greater Humboldt Park community through the process of gentrification. An article that appeared in Chicago Magazine drew attention to some of our work to combat the racist displacement of our people. This article generated a major debate particularly among new residents, who, in some cases, have used a disguised racist discourse to legitimize their quest to erase the Puerto Rican community from this area. In this campaign, these gentrifying forces have tried to coopt the language of “community-building” and “self-determination” that we have used to address historical inequalities and marginality.

This debate, in which I and the Puerto Rican Agenda were accused of reverse racism and separatism, represents the most recent manifestation of overt attacks on our community-the opposition to the Borinqueneers Veteran’s Housing Development by Hispanic Housing. Our quick response and massive mobilization on Wednesday, September 17th sent a clear message that we as a community are willing to wage the good fight. We cannot tell anyone where to live. The flags that encase Paseo Boricua were erected as welcoming portals to anyone who wants to experience the Puerto Rican presence and persistence in this area for the past 60 years.

We must continue to remind people about the origins of our community, how slum landlords benefitted from the misery of “La Division,” profitting from arson, while pursuing a suburban life made possible due to “white flight.” This “La Division” is where we have developed schools, created cultural projects, such as the Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, and founded our own faith-based initiatives, two of which demarcate the Paseo Boricua community-Rebaño Church with landholdings of nearly a city block and New Life, on the other side, with a landholding of five acres.

On Paseo Boricua, we have developed two aesthetically innovative affordable housing complexes, La Estancia and Teresa Roldan apartments, which caters to our community’s elderly population. Additionally, Paseo Boricua boasts the greatest concentration of PuertoRican restaurants and food services of any commercial strip in the United States. Moreover, an annual calendar of cultural events take place on Paseo Boricua sponsored by Puerto Rican organizations, such as the Three Kings Winter Festival, the Fiesta Patronales, the United Puerto Rican People’s Day Parade, and Haunted Paseo Boricua. In addition, Paseo Boricua and its adjacent streets have one of the largest collections of public art in the city of Chicago, from dozens of murals to wrought iron banners of Puerto Rican images hanging on the light posts to nearly 60 painted planters, which are annually cultivated and maintained by the youth of the Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School and Roberto Clemente High School.

During the past several years, the PRCC in partnership with dozens of community based and faith based institutions have begun to implement one of the most holistic educational reform processes anywhere in the country. The “Community as a Campus” initiative seeks to harness the social capital of the whole community with a well-planned vision that includes the creation of three institutes: a parent popular education institute; a youth leadership institute; and a teacher leadership institute. With the goal of aligning a vertical curriculum from preschool to college, this effort promotes a culture of educational excellence rooted in the International Baccalaureate (IB) framework. Already, the impact of

this initiative is beginning to be felt. In 2015, Clemente will become an IB wall-to-wall school. Moos and de Diego elementary schools have already become IB candidate schools. Plans are being developed to transform Von Humboldt and Du Prey elementary schools into an educational center that has a teachers’ village as its centerpiece, a development being undertaken in a partnership with the IFF and other partners. Additionally, the child-parent center of the old Von Humboldt School will be transformed into a preschool program, which will house the PRCC’s Centro Infantil.

 

In short, the PRCC is continuing to invest in the development of an economically, culturally, and socially diverse community with a Puerto Rican accent. We hope to build a community that can serve as a microcosm for the city of the 21st century-a city in which linguistic, cultural, religious, ethnic, racial, and social and sexual difference are accepted and welcomed. It is within this context that I want to ask all of our friends and supporters to be vigilant, particularly as we near the upcoming election. There are elements that they would like to use in the election to further divide us. We cannot allow this to happen.

To conclude, I wish to make a personal appeal to each and everyone of you who believes in our work. I would like to ask for your support and participation in the following:

 

* Multiply your efforts to stave off the negative impacts of gentrification-buy on Paseo Boricua, invest in our community, rent in the area, purchase your future homes here, support our businesses. Help us make the Paseo Boricua Arts Building a reality. We have already purchased the old Ashland Sausage building with the help of Alderman Maldonado and Belmont Bank. We need to put together a comprehensive plan to make this come to fruition. Please join this effort!

  • Keep up your support for the international campaign to free Puerto Rican political prisoner, Oscar López Rivera. Even though we have built a powerful and impactful movement, we still need each and every one of you to help us get 100,000 petitions signed that demand that U.S. President Obama immediately release Oscar. The campaign is seeking to amass this number of petitions by May 29th, 2015, which marks the 34th year of Oscar’s imprisonment.
  • Become involved in our programs, such as El Rescate LGBT Independent Living Program, the National Boricua Human Rights Network, and the Greater Humboldt Park Community of Wellness.
  • And most singularly, I want all of us to keep Dr. Steve Whitman’s legacy alive by joining a special effort to support the Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School (PACHS) and its greenhouse. PACHS has made great strides towards educational excellence and has maintained its deep-rooted commitment to our community. We need to raise $36,000 by May 19th, 2015-Steve Whitman’s birthday. Through the diligence of Nancy Kurshan, Steve’s partner and member of the PACHS Board of Directors, and Dr. David Ansell, from the Rush Medical Center, $20,000 has already been raised. I have personally made a $1,000 donation, which I hope we can multiply. Every donation made to the high school is tax deductible.
May the New Year be filled with new visions, new hope, and new commitment to struggle for all that is just