Last week I got to go down to the city with my boyfriend and I really wanted to go down to Humboldt Park. For those of you who don’t know, Humboldt Park is a park but it’s also the name of a neighborhood on the West side of Chicago. It was originally a German neighborhood, thus named after Alexander von Humboldt, but in the 1940s a massive influx of Puerto Ricans emigrated looking for work and it has been a Puerto Rican neighborhood ever since. Even now, the population is almost 50-50 Black and Hispanic and the Hispanic population is almost 50-50 Mexican and Puerto Rican, but the Puerto Rican culture is still dominant.
Unfortunately, this is an area of extremely low-income, the median income being just over $28,000 which makes it very hard for families with children and the level of violence and gang activity is extremely high, it’s a very dangerous neighborhood to go to so I don’t go alone and I’m not there after 3pm.
Even though it’s a really tough neighborhood, I’ve fallen in love with it. I think its beautiful neighborhood. I love that the culture is still so important. I would love to go to Fiesta Boricua, a celebration of Puerto Rican culture in the summer and other celebrations, like the one they have for Halloween!
I do have a favorite store though, it’s the only place I can get Florecitas, small Puerto Rican cookies that my boyfriend is convinced taste like Lucky Charms, but they don’t, they’re so much better. They also have ajonjolí which literally means sesame seeds but they are a little candy that taste like a burnt tire. My dad loves them though and so does my abuelo, I missed that gene I guess (and the one for coffee too!).
One really cool thing was that my boyfriend took me to a museum that I wanted to go to which is actually located in the park itself. It is called the Institute of Puerto Rican Arts which is in the old Von Humboldt stables which are just massive, beautiful German architecture. My Grandma remembers when the neighborhood was safer and they actually kept horses there. She went on horseback rides in Humboldt Park when she lived in Chicago, that’s such a weird idea to me, seeing horseback rides in the city!
The museum is very small, it only had two exhibits, on of photographs from Ramon Frade Leon from Cayey, Puerto Rico. The other exhibit was a Neo-Rican exhibit from Jaime Carrero. The coolest piece of art was when you walked in the doors. It was called Veveviejo by Antonio Martorell which took pieces from children’s and elderly faces and pieced them together all around the entrance to show the those who are forgotten, the youngest and the oldest in our society, they have the least amount of say. It was really a beautiful.
There is so much more I want to see around the park, like a very small waterfall and just the rest of the park itself and shops and food!! There are some wonderful organizations like Build, Inc. who work with at risk and gang affiliated youth (Visit their Facebook here and their website here). Some people fear neighborhoods like Humboldt Park, you just have to be careful and know the better time to be there and enjoy the beauty of the neighborhood, the art that lines the building sides, the massive Puerto Rican flag that stand for the culture and people who live there and the food! Humboldt Park will always have my heart, I just love it and I want to move there one day and work on making it safer place for the kids to grow up.