HUMBOLDT PARK — This year’s Puerto Rican Festival has been canceled but that hasn’t stopped Humboldt Park’s Puerto Rican community from celebrating.
Over the weekend, many participated in unofficial caravan celebrations along the Division Street stretch known as “Paseo Boricua.” On both Saturday and Sunday, drivers waved Puerto Rican flags and honked their horns as people on the street cheered.
“It’s a matter of pride,” Humboldt Park resident Charlie Billups said. “People wanted to share that the community is important and that this time of year is very important.”
Last Friday, the Daniel Ramos Puerto Rican Festival Committee formally canceled the annual event, which has a decades-long history in the neighborhood.
The group was considering hosting a virtual festival to keep people safe amid the coronavirus pandemic, but ultimately decided against that idea in solidarity with protests against police brutality and racial injustice.
“Because this is not a time to be festive, we decided to cancel the Virtual Puerto Rican Festival to focus on what matters, and that’s Black lives,” Carlos Jiménez Flores, executive director of the Daniel Ramos committee, said in a written statement.
Zoraida Tanon, longtime owner of the Puerto Rican restaurant La Bruquena at 2726 W. Division St., said she didn’t expect celebrations to take over Division Street with the Puerto Rican Festival canceled.
“For me it was surreal, completely surreal,” Tanon said.
Tanon, who is of Puerto Rican descent, said she wasn’t surprised, however, that Humboldt Park’s Puerto Rican community felt compelled to unite given everything going on in Puerto Rico, which is suffering from devastating natural disasters, an economic crisis and now COVID-19. She also noted that Humboldt Park has been “hit hard” by gentrification.
“It feels like a rollercoaster. … we are really resilient. Our people are really resilient. We celebrate in the good and in the bad,” she said.
Tanon said it’s important the Puerto Rican community come together amid the unrest.
“It lets people know we are present in the city,” she said. “You know we are still here. No matter what, Humboldt Park is the center of our community.”
The Puerto Rican People’s Day Parade, which is now in its 42nd year, does have plans for a virtual celebration, however. The parade, organized by the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, is set for 2-3 p.m. Saturday and will be live-streamed on the center’s website.
The virtual event will honor a number of culturally significant anniversaries, including the 25th anniversary of the Puerto Rican flags that bookend “Paseo Boricua” and the 20th anniversary of the National Museum of Puerto Rican Art & Culture, according to a flier.
The parade is separate from the festival for the first time in 40 years, according to Flores.
The changes come after a shakeup in leadership. Last year, Flores’ group replaced the Puerto Rican Parade Committee, which was ousted after years of controversy and financial mismanagement.
The Puerto Rican Parade Committee filed for bankruptcy in 2017 and set out to sell its largest asset, the building that housed beloved Puerto Rican community center Casa Puertorriqueña at 1237 N. California Ave., claiming it owed $900,000 in debt to various creditors.
State and city officials launched an investigation into the group in July 2018 after receiving complaints about alleged financial misconduct, including “hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable spending.”
In March, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office announced a settlement in the bankruptcy case, marking the end of a nearly two-year-long investigation into the financial dealings of the embattled group.
The settlement stipulated that the Puerto Rican Parade Committee’s remaining assets go to the Daniel Ramos Puerto Rican Festival Committee.
Also under the settlement, Carmen Martinez, wife of Angel “Tito” Medina, former president of the parade committee, was banned from acting as a charitable fiduciary in the state and and from serving as a trustee or board member for another nonprofit organization.
Flores said canceling this year’s festival was a “very difficult” decision given how much the festival means to the community, but he noted that celebrations have continued.
“You see that this past weekend, there were droves of Puerto Ricans driving around the park and Division Street waving their flags, honking their horns and playing music,” he said. “This is what the community is used to. In essence, they are still celebrating our culture even if the festival and parade are canceled.”
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