Chicago celebrates Puerto Rican culture with parade, festival

Chicago celebrates Puerto Rican culture with parade, festival

Salsa, merengue and reggaeton music blasted from cars driving around Humboldt Park Saturday afternoon as red, white and blue flags with a single star blew in the breeze, some out of car windows and sunroofs and others held by people on the sidewalk.

Near the south end of Humboldt Park, on West Division Street and North California Avenue, people lined up along the road, many wearing Puerto Rican flag shirts or dresses as they watched the 44th Annual Puerto Rican People’s Day Parade reach its end. People shouted, waved and danced as cars, bicyclists and people passed by, blasting music and waving more flags.

The Puerto Rican Festival started Thursday and runs through Sunday, with live music and carnival rides in a closed off part of the southeast corner of Humboldt Park. On Saturday afternoon, the parade added to the festivities as Puerto Ricans in Chicago displayed their pride and joy in their heritage.

Vendors sold food like savory and sweet empanadas, papas rellenos — potato balls stuffed with seasoned ground beef — tostones, bichos — grilled pork or chicken skewers with onion, bell pepper and tomato — and jugo de parcha or passion fruit juice. Other vendors along the park sold flags, T-shirts, hats, and other accessories, most with the Puerto Rican flag or its colors.

Dasani Saldana, 13, whose family is from Puerto Rico, wrapped a large Puerto Rican flag around her back like a cape as she watched the parade with her friend, her mom and her mom’s friend. It was her third parade, but the second one she remembers because she was a baby when her mom took her to her first parade, Saldana said.

She said she enjoys the food, hearing her Spanish language and seeing other Puerto Ricans in her community celebrating their culture together at the Puerto Rican Festival and parade.

“We can show where we are from,” Saldana said. “What Puerto Rico is about.”

After the parade, on a residential street south of the park, Edras Andujar grilled pork bicos to sell, as people sat around him on lawn chars, talking and drinking. People danced along to merengue waiting for the food to finish cooking.

Jalesa Trotman took her daughter and nieces to the parade. It was her second time going to the festival, a convenient walking distance from her home, she said.

“We love it because the community just comes out and you see everybody together and having a good time. It’s amazing,” Trotman said. “Compared to all the bad stuff you hear about Chicago, it’s like one big unity event for everybody.”

Trotman’s grandparents are Puerto Rican and Mexican, and while she hasn’t been to the island yet, she hopes to visit Puerto Rico someday. Going to the festival, she said feels welcome into her culture, and sees it as an opportunity to teach her daughter about their heritage and background.

She said having her daughter and nieces come out and see and play with other kids that look like them and share their culture is a great way for them to learn about themselves.

“I feel like kids learn through experience,” she said. “So in order for them to understand what they are and who they’re about and what they can possibly do with their life, they have to be exposed to it.”

Iris Bellido moved to the US from Puerto Rico when she was 1, and was raised in Humboldt Park. She’s gone to the festival almost every year since she was a child, she said.

“Thank God that finally COVID is over and we were able to celebrate it and feel back to normal,” she said. “And celebrate it the way we usually do. So that was a relief.”

As she waited in line to get into the festival, Bellido listed the many things she enjoys about the festival and about her culture — the food, how people dress, the colors, the flag, the music, especially bomba y plena.

Bomba and Plena are traditional music styles that reflect the African heritage of Puerto Rico.

“Puerto Ricans are loud people that they love music and they love to dance,” Bellido said with a giggle. “And…the ladies are known for their big butt and curly hair. And they just love to have fun, listen to music, dance. And eat Puerto Rican food.”

Carmen Malave was at the parade with her youngest daughter, Heather Rodriguez and her three granddaughters, Ruby, 7, Naya, 8, and Sonie, 9. All three girls wore Puerto Rican flag dresses.

Malave said she used to bring her own three kids to the parade when they were younger.

“Growing up in Humboldt Park, being a single mom, raising three kids, it’s not easy,” she said. “But, you know, I did it and even though they’re older I’m still there.”

Now she’s enjoying watching them start their own families and watching them share the culture with their children.

It had been a while since they had participated in the festivities, as they avoided some of the violence in the area, Rodriguez said, as her daughter Ruby hugged her.

“This is her first time here, actually,” Rodriguez said of her daughter. “That’s why I wanted to bring her, just to experience her culture, get a little knowledge of where she comes from. She’s loving it. She can’t stop dancing.”