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Heart Of Humboldt Park’s Puerto Rican Community Will Become ‘Puerto Rico Town’ Under State Bill

Ald. Roberto Maldonado said the state-designated cultural district is a meaningful step in "the fight against the forces of gentrification."

The steel flags have served as the gateway to Humboldt Park's Paseo Boricua since 1995.
Richie Diesterheft/Flickr
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HUMBOLDT PARK — Gov. JB Pritzker visited Humboldt Park Thursday to celebrate the passage of a bill that will create designated cultural districts across the state, including “Puerto Rico Town” on Division Street.

Pritkzer was joined by the bill’s chief sponsor State Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas, as well as State Sen. Omar Aquino, National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture president and former 26th Ward alderman Billy Ocasio and Puerto Rican Agenda leader Jessie Fuentes, at Thursday’s news conference, held at Ocasio’s museum at 3015 W. Division St.

Under the bill named SB1833, which Pritzker signed in late August, the Humboldt Park stretch of Division Street long known as Paseo Boricua will become a state-designated cultural district called “Puerto Rico Town.” Signs declaring the area as such are expected to go up next year, Maldonado said in a video posted to Instagram.

The bill, an extension of Maldonado’s “Puerto Rico Town” ordinance from 2019, aims to preserve the cultural identity of the Humboldt Park stretch, and other cultural communities across Illinois, by providing resources to small businesses and promoting the district through state channels, according to Pritzker’s office.

Maldonado said the bill will help “transform our Division Street to a Latin American restaurant district and cultural [hub] that will be here … for generations to come,” and is a meaningful step in “the fight against the forces of gentrification.”

Pacione-Zayas crafted the bill with help from Humboldt Park leaders like Jose Lopez, the executive director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center. She said the bill protects Humboldt Park’s Puerto Rican “legacy, our right to stay in our community that we helped to create.”

Division Street between Western and California avenues was dubbed Paseo Boricua the same day the iconic steel flags went up in 1995. Lopez previously said “Puerto Rico Town” won’t replace the Paseo Boricua moniker — it will formalize it.

Humboldt Park is home to the largest Puerto Rican population in the city and the center of Puerto Rican culture throughout the Midwest. In recent years, home prices in Humboldt Park have skyrocketed as the neighborhood has gentrified, in part because of The 606’s Bloomingdale Trail.

The bill’s “essence speaks to anyone and everyone who has experienced being pushed out, being erased, ignored,” Pacione-Zayas said.

“Puerto Rico Town” is just one cultural district being established under the state bill. The state is establishing districts in communities impacted by gentrification and the pandemic, as well as those that have a history of economic disinvestment, the news release said.

“Illinois’ strength lies in our diversity and this legislation helps protect the rich history of cultural communities across the state while providing them with the tools they need to grow and thrive,” Pritzker said in the release.

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