Paseo Boricua: Discovering Our Own Division

byAndrea F. Kulas


While the mid 1960's featured race riots on both coasts Harlem (East) and Watts (West), Humboldt Park was thought of as just another neighborhood in Chicago. Written about one week before The Division Street Riots, a Chicago Police Department intelligence report referred to Humboldt Park as "'a tough, but quiet neighborhood. No signs of any trouble there." 1

Articles from The Chicago Sun-Times and The Chicago Tribune explain that what started as a minor incident, in which two policemen were called in to break up a fight at the corner of Division and Damen, turned into a three day battle between the Chicago Police Department and the Puerto Rican community. All of the reports have vague details, but what is known is that 20 year-old Arcelius Cruz was dead. Police claimed that Cruz had pulled a gun, but many of the crowd claimed that he was unarmed. Nevertheless, Arcelius lay on the street dying while a crowd quickly gathered. As the crowd multiplied the officers called the incident in and asked for more officers and police dogs. After three days of fighting 400 police officers were brought in, 30 people were arrested, seven people were shot, three police cars set on fire, and one, Arcelius Cruz, was dead. June 5 th – 12 th was the first time Chicago's mayor Richard J. Daley acknowledged Puerto Rican Chicago. Many people gathered in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood for a weeklong calendar of events. No one would have guessed that it would end in tragedy and more poignant bring forth a tension that had been buried since 1493.

Currently, high above the intersection of Division and Western on Chicago's Westside (Humboldt Park) stands a large metal Puerto Rican bandera (flag). Another of these flags appears directly six blocks west of Western at the intersection of Division and California. Together these two banderas represent the geographic boundaries of the Puerto Rican neighborhood of Chicago. Erected in 1996, the 30 th anniversary of The Division Street Riots, these two flags and the space between them were renamed the Paseo Boricua. Not only does this area represent a physical presence of Puerto Rican pride, but it is also a cultural mecca of heritage in regards to the Taino Indians (the original inhabitants of Puerto Rico) and Puerto Rican culture. While my students understand the physical layout of the Paseo, many don't know the history and importance of the Paseo. Before students set out on their post-secondary career I want them to journey through a rich history that is right across the street from their school.

By using original and gathered artifacts, students will examine the history of Chicago's Paseo Boricua by engaging students of both Puerto Rican and non-Puerto Rican heritage to participate in the concept of otherness, while examining the access and agency that is available to the Humboldt Park region of Chicago. Students will be using the Paseo, as well as Italo Calvino's mystical book Invisible Cities and segments of theorist Michel de Certeau's essays from The Practice of Everyday Life as a backdrop to their own visible and invisible histories.

School Background

Replacing Tulley high school in 1974, the school originally opened its doors to the Humboldt Park community as Roberto Clemente High School. Named after Pittsburg Pirates centerfielder and humanitarian Roberto Clemente, the high school has remained a part of Chicago Public Schools for 40 years. During this time the school has withstood FBI investigations and the coming and going of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. This year marks a particular new historical shift in that the campus has been selected by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel as one of the first schools in the world to use the International Baccalaureate candidate model of "wall to wall" education. This means that Clemente will be recognized as one of the first urban, public schools to offer International Baccalaureate candidate curriculum to all neighborhood students.


I just recently viewed a TED Talk 2 that originally was designed three years ago, but still is very poignant. It was of creativity expert, Sir Ken Robinson, discussing the current reformation of public education. In it he states that:

  • every country on earth is trying to figure out how do we educate our children so that they have a sense of cultural identity and so that we can pass on the cultural genes of our communities while being part of the process of
  • globalization. 3

Which begs the question how do we create inquiring detectives in a world that is filled with so many distractors?

The answer: we place them in workable outdoor labs that are full of organized cultural exhibits and local natives. We give them the opportunity to use the world as their classroom. More specifically, we take something that is usually compartmentalized out of safety (into books, desks, classrooms, lockers) and expose them to the frontiers of glass, concrete, and earth.

This unit is specifically designed for a high school senior seminar class. It will be used as an introduction to discovery and self. Using different lab settings students will be taken out of the classroom to work on their reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. This unit is not the typical high school class setting in that it will be seminar driven and inquiry based. It will also allow students to discover and discuss their own cultural identity and create they can share with others.


For this unit we will be using Chicago Public Schools' Literacy Content Framework for Grade 12. Built upon the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) Content Framework, this is the foundation used in my district.

During this 10 week unit students will be reading a variety of short texts and using extended sections Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities and essays of Michel de Certeau's to create a context of how discuss the visible versus the invisible. Using these texts they will also be completing response writings daily as a way to develop and convey understanding of our short and extended texts. As a way to synthesize these thoughts they will be required to write 4-6 analyses that are written with an argument of explanation based on the ideas and facts gathered in both our short and extended texts. Additionally, students will be asked to cite evidence, analyze content, study and apply grammar, conduct discussions, and report findings. 4

Using these readings and various responses students will eventually write either a narrative or a research paper that explains their journey through the Paseo Boricua. Students will be asked to answer the question how does your passage through the Paseo compare or contrast your own history? ** By using original and gathered artifacts, students will examine the history of Chicago's Paseo Boricua by engaging students of both Puerto Rican and non-Puerto Rican heritage to participate in the concept of otherness, while examining the access and agency that is available to the Humboldt Park region of Chicago. Students will be using the Paseo, as well as Italo Calvino's mystical book Invisible Cities and theorist Michel deCerteau's essays from The Practice of Everyday Life as a backdrop to their own visible and invisible histories. Using these readings and various responses students will eventually write either a narrative or a research paper that explains their journey through the Paseo Boricua. Students will be asked to answer the question how does your passage through the Paseo compare or contrast your own history? Or, more simply, how does learning about other cultures help illuminate our own personal histories.

Background Information – Visible History

The next few sections will be used as historical intersections that I will use in the class room to give context for the investigations we will hold. It will also provide a basis of understanding and an entry point to create inquiry based projects. Below you will find a brief outline of important events in Puerto Rican and Chicago history.


As Columbus travelled to the New World in 1492, he stumbled along the islands that are located in what now call the Caribbean Sea. There were several different tribes that lived in these areas, but the two dominant were the Caribe and the Taino. The Taino's were inhabitants of the island of Boricua. Living in several well-developed cities they are documented as being quite open to the European settlements. In a 2011, Smithsonian article it quotes Columbus's notes in that "upon meeting them in the Bahamas in 1492 [,] '[t]hey were very well built, with very handsome bodies and very good faces…They do not carry arms or know them…They should be good servants.'" This new cohabitation didn't last very long once the Spaniards enslaved Taino men to work in the various gold mines and plantations. This allowed little time for the Taino men to farm and support their families. While many families began to starve, others died from a variety of European diseases, or in battle against the Spaniards. In only a couple of years, over three million Taino were dead. We now regard Boricua as the island and United States Territory Puerto Rico. 5

1898 - Puerto Rico and the United States of America

For 400 years Puerto Rico remained under Spanish rule, until the Treaty of Paris in 1898. Through this treaty the United States was given ownership of Puerto Rico. A couple of years later, during 1900, the US Congress placed a civil government when they passed the Organic Act. 6 Two years later, with its government in place, Puerto Rico was named a territory by the United States. Several years later, 1917, the Jones Act was passed and granted Puerto Ricans limited US citizenship. 7 40 years later Puerto Rico remains a commonwealth of America, but becomes self-governing. While Puerto Rico has remained a commonwealth, 2012 was the first time in which 61% supported statehood, which could happen as early as 2015. 8

There had been many waves of Puerto Rican immigrants to Chicago between the 1940s-1960s. Yet, it wasn't until the early 1950s and 1960s that the largest groups of Puerto Ricans relocated to Chicago. It was at that time that Chicago had established itself as a place that immigrant working class families could live and work. Since then Puerto Ricans have resided primarily along Division Avenue, known as La Division, on Chicago's west side. 9

Simply stated, the relationship the United States has with Puerto Rico is unique. And, if anything, it is particularly confusing to those unaware of Puerto Rico's history. Some of this uniqueness creates some of the modern tension that resides within the identity of Puerto Ricans. While no one is enforcing them to identify with a cultural heritage, there are certain histories that are more prevalent than others represented on the Paseo Boricua.

2013 – Aqui luchamos, aqui nos quedamos – Here we struggle, here we stay

image 10

Just east of Humboldt Park is the first bandera. Weighing in at 45 tons, the 60 foot flag spans across the intersection creating a gateway greeting to Chicago's Puerto Rican neighborhood. Established as a Puerto Rican community throughout the 1950's, the paseo, which stretches down Division St., also has had a long and significant historical relationship to Chicago's Puerto Rican history. The Division Street riots helped spark many community outreach organizations that still exist today: Spanish Action Committee of Chicago (SACC), ASPIRA, and the Escuela Superior Puertorriquena. 11

In addition to the assembly of the flags many other changes were made to La Division. In an effort to remember Puerto Rican history, light posts already adorned with the blinking of blue Chicago Police Department surveillance cameras, now featured placards with traditional Taino Indian symbols. Additionally, 78 painted planters were added to the 5 blocks featuring the 78 towns of Puerto Rico. Capturing significant historical markers, the Paseo also includes a brief Walk of Fame featuring key points and people in Puerto Rican history. 12

Strategies – Making the Invisible Visible

"When I started learning about Puerto Rican history, my view of myself completely changed. I was no longer an object drifting alone. All of a sudden I was a force. I had an identity. And that is extremely important," Enrigue Salgado, executive director of the the Division Street Business Association (DSBA). 13

The key is not to just focus on what has been recorded in history books, but to use this city as our classroom and to investigate and compare the forensic evidence we dig up. Therefore, the deconstruction is where the myths face reality and history faces narrative.

We are often deadened by the repetition around us – bus rides, walking routes, etc. This repetition allows us to have more noise penetrate our appreciation of the sameness of items in our world. That isn't true of Enrique, who is of Puerto Rican descent. When he started learning about himself he then gained access to his personal history and therefore gained agency in experiencing his cultural history. As Puerto Rican's claim, "[h]ere we struggle, here we stay," how will the arts and renewable society achieve such a large economic gap? 14 Our classroom solution: discourse through the optics, phonics, mnemonics, kinetics, proxemics, architectics, and poetics of Humboldt Park

Focus Framework

Historically, the seven liberal arts are typically broken down into two groups: the trivium and the quadrivium. The trivium consists of grammar, rhetoric, and logic while the qudrivium contains arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. In the spirit of this unit, I will rely less on the Medieval seven liberal arts and more on Sterling Professor of Theater and English Joseph Roach's 7 'ics': optics, phonics, mnemonics, kinetics, proxemics, architectics, poetics. Below I have created a table combining both descriptors:



The section below describes three examples of activities students will experience during the 10 week unit. I have linked the activities to the different sections of the trivium and the quadrivium in parentheses. All of these activities will act as artifacts that will better enhance their response paper at the end of this unit.

Walking the Paseo (Optics, Phonics, Mnemonics, Kinetics)

The neighborhood of Humboldt Park is actually named after the Chicago Park District 260 acre park that lies within these boundaries. Constructed a few years before the great Chicago Fire, the park consists of various lagoons, park district facilities, and a museum (Institute of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture). The park was named after German geographer Alexander von Humboldt. Ironically, while he did travel to the United States, Von Humboldt never visited Chicago. The park has significance in that it is at entrance to the Paseo Boricua.

Before the banderas construction, Humboldt Park had already been established by alderman and relators by physical boundaries. With its northernmost boundary at 1600 North Avenue it stretches one mile south to 800 Chicago Avenue. Starting at its western boundary at 4000 Pulaski Avenue it then expands east two miles to 2400 Western Avenue. This area will create a two square mile classroom equipped with a variety of labs including Humboldt Park (the park that lies within these boundaries), the Paseo Boricua (descriptor stated above), and Roberto Clemente Community Academy (which lies just on the fringe of the Humboldt Park physical boundaries).

After students are familiar with our areas of interaction students will be required to report out on either the visuals, audio, or facts about the Paseo. This can be achieved through a variety of ways whether it is collected in a small research paper, archived in a journal, recorded and edited, etc. When students finish their assignments they will be asked to write a response in which they compare what they saw, heard, or know about their own experiences of their neighborhoods.

Mapping the Paseo (Kinetics, Proxemics, Architectics)

The Paseo is alive with politics and culture. Through this investigation I would like to have students learn from local historians, institutions (PRAA, PRCCA), political officials (Sen. Soto, Alderman Proco 'Joe' Moreno), and local artists. Using a Google maps/Google earth students will first begin by create a map from the raw data interactions. Next, students will be able to go into the Paseo through a series of field trips. I will also allow for outside investigations where students are welcome to do further studies on their own.

During this time it is encouraged that we are to become wanderers of the Paseo in that we can walk anywhere and see anything. Students will have creative choice in how they choose to share their map, but it must include artifacts that give specifics about how art, politics, health are addressed in this particular area of the city. Along with their map the students will create a small writing assignment in which they compare this area of the city with their own personal maps.

The Paseo Talks (Poetics)

One of the stories that drew me to this unit was the powerful words shared with me by a community member about the riots:

I remember that my father told me we had to stay inside and keep the doors locked. He urged us with wild hand gestures to stay away from the windows and that no matter what we mustn't let our curiosity be sparked by the unknown.

As we huddled under a table we were silent. With eyes darting back and forth we tried to silently create a narrative of the unknown world that lay beyond our heavy wooden door.

Glass was breaking, but from where?

Sirens were blaring, but why?

Why were we rushed inside on that blistering June day?

What made this story so powerful was that it was from someone that experienced the riots and not a glossed newspaper article. Students will be expected use exploratory means of discovering people, places, events, things, and ideas to better enhance their understanding of the Paseo, while questioning their own understanding of personal culture and identity. To achieve this students will record 15 someone of the Paseo telling a story about the neighborhood. Stories can range from personal narrative to the retelling of an event they are familiar with. Students will then write a reflection piece that not only discusses their experience in recording the story, but they will also address how the story applies to their own neighborhoods.

Experiencing the Paseo Through Socratic Seminar (Poetics)

image 16

image 17

1493 (Public Intervention at La Municipal Food and Liquor Market)

Illuminating the windows of Humboldt Park's grocery store reveals a brief snapshot of Puerto Rican colonialism through the eyes of artist Josue Pellot. 1493 (Public Intervention at La Municipal Food and Liquor Market) is the narrative of the violence and struggle the Taino Indians faced when Christopher Columbus arrived to the island in 1493. Additionally, the piece acts as a criticism about the consumption of history. Sold in brief moments that are highlighted, 1493 isn't much different than that of the Mickey's and Coors Light signs that surround it. It is to be illuminated, purchased, and consumed. The presentation almost allows it to be featured and hidden at the same time. Using the images before you, the readings we have done in class, and The Smithsonian article 18 provided as sources: Is Josue Pellot's work is much like a gestalt image it is a unified whole, or does it tell many separate stories? After the Socratic seminar students will analyze and write about their own life ask if their histories/neighborhoods are a unified whole or separate stories.

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