Around noon on Saturday, the cavalcade of Jeeps arrived at Western and Madison.
They were on their way to the starting point of the Puerto Rican People’s Parade at Western and Division. Dozens of the doorless vehicles flew past, decked out with one, sometimes two, massive Puerto Rican flags, as plena and bomba rhythms gushed from their speakers.
The sense of Puerto Rican pride in the air was infectious.
The People’s Parade takes place every June in Humboldt Park, along Division Street — an unmistakably Puerto Rican thoroughfare thanks to two sculptures of Puerto Rican flags creating a welcoming archway above the street. While there’s a Puerto Rican parade downtown on the same day, many consider the People’s Parade to be the more authentic.
It featured floats bedecked in red, white and blue, children twirling huge Puerto Rican flags twice their size, a rainbow pastel array of women dancing in traditional dress — and that caravan of roaring motorcycles and the aforementioned Jeeps.
And no parade would be complete without music. The Lorain (Ohio) High School marching band added some surprising dance moves as they made their way down Division, and the parade was kicked off with Leró Martínez performing his song “Diaspora.”
Martínez said “Diaspora” was a traditional plena song dedicated to Puerto Ricans who wanted to live on the island but couldn’t; the generations who have made a little slice of Puerto Rico wherever they live.
Martínez, who lives on the island, was in Chicago the day before the hurricane hit. He could have stayed, but chose to go home; eight hours after he arrived, his city of Mayagüez — like, eventually, the whole island — lost power.
“A couple of people told me, ‘Why didn’t you stay in Chicago?’” he said. “I said no, I die and live with my country. I’m not going to abandon my country because of a hurricane. I’m gonna be there with my people and my family.”
The Chicago Puerto Rican community has continued its efforts to provide aid to those still without power on the island. Omar Torres-Kortright, director of the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center, said the center raised $56,000 the Friday after the storm hit, and was the first community-based project that landed a plane with supplies in Puerto Rico.
Many of the parade-goers felt a strong need to celebrate all things Puerto Rican given the current political climate. Elena Delgado, who has attended the parade every year since its inception 40 years ago, said she continues to feel discrimination because of her background.
“A lot of people don’t think we belong here, but we do belong here,” she said. “I was born and raised here, and all my life I’ve known we were considered not part of the United States, and we are. We pay taxes just like (everyone else) pays taxes.”
She said the parade was a great way for Chicago’s Puerto Rican community express support for each other.
Sidney Avila said there was a sense of unity as well — and patriotism.
“I’m proud to be a Puerto Rican, I’m proud to be an American, too, he said.” “I represent both countries as one, cause that’s what we want to feel like. We just want to feel that we’re all one.”