Puerto Rican culture, pride rich in Humboldt Park

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Myles Cobb

Steel Puerto Rican flags stand at each end of a portion of Division street called “Paseo Boricua,” which translates to Puerto Rican promenade.

Since the 1950s, Humboldt Park has been a vital center for Puerto Rican culture and life in Chicago. It was named for a German man named Alexander von Humboldt, who visited America once and never made it to Chicago. Since it was annexed by the city in 1989, the neighborhood has been home to various ethnic groups, but by the 1980s Puerto Ricans were by far the largest. The neighborhood is well-known for having been subject to the gradual process of gentrification in the past few decades, but still maintains its strong sense of community and Puerto Rican pride. This sense of pride culminates annually in The Puerto Rican Festival, a four-day event currently on hold due to the pandemic that includes a parade, food vendors and more. 

At the center of the neighborhood is an expansive park where the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture is situated. (Myles Cobb)

The Park:

Humboldt Park is named for the vast expanse of greenery sharing the same name that stretches across the heart of the neighborhood. The park is great for athletics, leisure, events and is a beautiful place for a quick drive. The park is home to both green pastures and several large ponds, as well as the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture (currently closed) which is housed in the park’s former stables. 

 

The Food:

Humboldt Park is home to its very own sandwich: the jibarito. While the contents of the sandwich are pretty basic — your typical meat, sauce, veggies and cheese — smashed, fried plantains hold it all together in place of bread. This sandwich is amazing. Such a simple concept, yet the crisp, fried plantain ties the whole thing together and makes it well worth a trip. The jibarito was invented at the Borinquen Restaurant in Humboldt Park in 1996. The restaurant is now closed, but the sandwich can still be found at many of the neighborhood’s Puerto Rican restaurants, along with a variety of other classic Puerto Rican foods.

 

The Sights:

Alongside the beautiful expanse of greenery at its center, the Humboldt Park neighborhood is decorated with colorful murals and Puerto Rican Flags. Many of the murals have cultural significance or are inspired by historical and political events close to the Humboldt Park community. When driving or walking through the neighborhood, it’s difficult not to notice the two giant, steel sculptures, stylized versions of the Puerto Rican flag which span the ends of a section of Division Street known as “Paseo Boricua.” Since 1995 they have stood as a testament to the strong spirit of the Puerto Rican community in the neighborhood, mirrored in Puerto Rican flags which hang on many houses and storefronts in Humboldt Park.