Hispanic Heritage Month: Puerto Ricans make their mark in Chicago
CHICAGO - Hispanic Heritage Month is well underway and if you didn't know, Latinos make up the second-largest ethnic group in Chicago.
FOX 32’s Sylvia Perez has more from Humboldt Park, celebrating her own Puerto Rican heritage.
Chicago's Puerto Rican population isn't the largest Latino community in our city, but Puerto Ricans have definitely made their mark. They started migrating to this area in the 40s and Humboldt Park on the Northwest Side became the hot spot.
Drive along Division Street you see murals, restaurants and storefronts, locals playing dominoes, all showcasing Puerto Rican pride.
Chicago's Puerto Rican community in Humboldt Park sits between designated landmarks. Two large steel Puerto Rican flags that signify the area known as Paseo Boricua or the Puerto Rican Promenade.
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This is homebase for the annual Puerto Rican Parade and the many festivals that celebrate the culture.
The man who helped to bring those markers to this area is former Chicago Alderman Bill Ocasio. He says those flags symbolize the first Puerto Ricans who settled in our area, and it instantly made it known as the Puerto Rican Business District.
"Well before we put up those flags, 83% of the storefronts on Division Street were vacant and five years after putting up those flags, 76% of the storefronts were filled with Puerto Rican businesses and that was our spark to get everything going," Ocasio said.
Ocasio is also responsible for helping to bring and create the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture. It's located in a beautifully restored historic building that was a dilapidated horse stable but now celebrates Puerto Rican culture and identity through permanent and rotating art exhibits and programs. It's the only museum of its kind outside of Puerto Rico.
"Puerto Ricans are made up of 1/3 Taino Indian, 1/3 Spanish and 1/3 African and that sort of makes the person, and so we celebrate all three of these cultures," Ocasio said.
And you can't talk community without talking food — things like Arroz Con Gandules, Lechon, and Mofongo.
Nellies is a neighborhood staple that's been around for 16 years.
"We wanted to honor the community as well as have a restaurant where the Puerto Rican community, as well as others would feel proud of being able to eat everyday dishes," Ocasio said.
One of Nellies exclusive recipes is the Avena De Coco or Coconut Oatmeal with the symbol of the island, the Coqui, or a little frog that makes the sound that is indigenous to Puerto Rico and music to the ears of those in the know.
It's a sound you hear when you pull up to the Puerto Rican Museum as well. A common denominator, symbolic of a community that is proud of their heritage and what they bring to the city of Chicago.