Welcome to Barrio Borikén: Aqui luchamos Aqui nos Quedamos


    By Xiomara Rodríguez

    On June 1, 2024, at the newly opened Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Affordable Housing Apartments, Chicago’s Puerto Rican community will hold a ceremony to name the first State-Designated Puerto Rican Cultural District in the United States. The name of this Puerto Rican Cultural District, Barrio Borikén, will honor the original name of the island of Puerto Rico (Borikén) given by the Tainos, who are the Indigenous people of Puerto Rico. The dedication ceremony, open to the public, will include hundreds of community members, stakeholders, leaders, and organizers as 20 members of the Concilio Taíno Guatu-Ma-cu A Borikén will hold a special Areyto (Taino ceremonial dance/intellectual communing ceremony) to dedicate Barrio Borikén. The Concilio Taíno Guatu-Ma-cu A Borikén were invited to Chicago to celebrate the National Puerto Rican Museum’s exhibit ¡Taíno Vive! Caribbean Indigenous Resistance, which is a collaboration with the Smithsonian and the Field Museum. While they are in Chicago they will help Chicago Puerto Ricans celebrate this moment of Caribbean resistance as we dedicate Barrio Borikén.

    The Puerto Rican community of Chicago exists today because of the ongoing process of colonialism and spatial deconcentration wherein U.S. occupying forces over centuries have enacted policies that make a living in Puerto Rico nearly impossible while luring Puerto Ricans to the U.S. to fill the need for low-wage laborers. It has only been through decades of struggle that Chicago’s Puerto Rican organizers, particularly from the Puerto Rican Agenda, were able to get Governor J.B. Pritzker to honor the historic contributions Puerto Ricans have made to the State of Illinois with the State Designated Cultural District program, which aims to provide funding to designated cultural districts, many of which
    have faced decades of disinvestment, red-lining, environmental racism, and now gentrification, and the erasure of their struggles/contributions in the City of Chicago. Barrio Borikén honors the Indigenous ancestors of Puerto Ricans, who continue to resist colonialism in all its forms on the island and in the internal colonies of the United States’ Puerto Rican communities.

    In the face of extreme poverty, medical/environmental racism, red-lining, arson for profit, and the countless other struggles faced by Puerto Ricans who first moved to the internal colony that will now become Barrio Borikén, these people found a way to survive by building powerful networks of support grounded in the practice of communal responsibility so fundamental to Boricua culture. Where there was a lack, Chicago Puerto Ricans created community institutions that actually served the community, and now we have Puerto Rican-led institutions that are actively working to remedy the effects of colonialism, like Hispanic Housing, Humboldt Park Health, The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, and so many more. While amazing strides have been made to build this community of resistance, most recently, the effects of gentrification have threatened to erase the powerful history of Puerto Ricans in Chicago. In 1995, when the Paseo Boricua Flags of Steel were built and the vision by then Alderman Billy Ocasio of a Puerto Rican cultural promenade was created to fight the gentrification and displacement of long-term residents (many of whom were Puerto Rican), people said the flags would be torn down and warned that gentrification would ultimately win the neighborhood. Now nearly 30 years later the Paseo Boricua Flags of Steel have become a Chicago historic landmark and Barrio Borikén’s designation as an Illinois State Cultural District stand as testaments to the anti-gentrification slogan local organizers used in the 1990s “aqui luchamos, aqui nos quedamos”. Puerto Ricans in Chicago have had to fight tooth and nail to build a community that affirms their existence and resistance. During this year’s 46th Puerto Rican People’s Day Parade, we celebrate another win in the battle against colonialism and its tools of gentrification and erasure.

    As the Puerto Rican community of Chicago has been celebrating these exciting achievements, Choose Chicago, the official tourism agency of Chicago, has been hard at work documenting all the things that make Barrio Borikén such an important destination for visitors from all over the world. In a new docu-series called The 77: A City of Neighborhoods, you can watch the most beautiful episode highlighting the history of Puerto Ricans in Humboldt Park, the struggles they have faced, the cultural community they have built, and some of the people who make Barrio Borikén so special from small business owners to elected officials, to community organizers, to muralists, and more. If you want to learn more about the dynamic community of Barrio Borikén, you can watch the full episode at: “https://www.choosechicago.com/the77/humboldtpark/”.