Reflections on a Visit to Paseo Boricua

by Chad White ’19

The first thing you notice when you enter Paseo Boricua is the giant Puerto Rican flag, which is 60 tons of steel and concrete. Señora Sabir’s Spanish III classes took a trip to Paseo Boricua, a Puerto Rican section in Chicago, on Tuesday April 24. On the trip, the students learned about Puerto Rico in general, as well as the section itself. One big part of Paseo Boricua are the two flags, which stand for much more than they appear. First, the giant flags are part steel to pay homage to the first big movement of 1.5 million Puerto Ricans to the United States to work in the steel industry. Pertaining to Paseo Boricua specifically however, the flags were built to represent and establish stability. Due to gentrification, Puerto Ricans for decades were moved from neighborhood to neighborhood. To break the continual movement, a giant concrete and steel flag was built. The Puerto Rican flag itself has a lot of meaning to it, which may not be obvious within first glance. One noticeable thing about the Puerto Rican flag is that it’s actually the inverse of the Cuban flag, which was completely planned. Puerto Rico and Cuba decided to have inverse flags as a way to show solidarity in their fight for independence against Spain. The display of solidarity was so strong that when Puerto Rico became a United States territory in 1898, citizens were not permitted to fly the Puerto Rican flag until 1952 (a whole 54 years). Since Puerto Rico is a United States territory, Puerto Ricans are United States citizens and thus they pay taxes. However, since Puerto Rico is not a state, citizens are not eligible to have any members in Congress, resulting in Puerto Rico citizens having taxation without representation. I found that learning some history of Paseo Boricua and Puerto Rico made the trip more valuable.
Paseo Boricua is very lively with murals, parks and 16 painted doors. My favorite mural depicted a crowd of people in Paseo Boricua. The crowd waved Puerto Rican flags while the giant concrete and steel flag is very evident in the background of the mural. The park we visited was dedicated to Pedro Campos. One fun fact about the park is that the entrance leads to a giant star in the park, and from the entrance to the star there are lines on the ground so it creates a Puerto Rican flag. Pedro Campos was the first person from Puerto Rico to attend Harvard University and was an avid activist for Puerto Rico’s independence. I would highly recommend doing a quick Google search into his story involving the FBI, jail time and unrelenting determination. The 16 painted doors were part of a very special project organized by artist Sam Kirk and the Chicago Cultural Center. Each door was unique with 13 artists working on the project. Kirk wanted to bring in not only Puerto Rican artists for the project, but artists with different kinds of Latin identity, so some of the doors pay homage to other cultures as well. I had two favorite doors from the ones we looked at: one by Kirk herself and one by an artist by the name of Josue Pellot. I really liked Kirk’s piece as she incorporates Puerto Rican culture in most of her work, but also has Aztec symbols in her piece to express her Mexican heritage as well. The piece by Pellot was on a brown door; it looked like mud and clay, and I was very confused at first. However, we were told to take a picture and then turn on “invert colors” on our phones. What we saw was really cool, as the piece was interactive. Getting to see Paseo Boricua’s creative side so open was a very cool experience I don’t see everywhere in Chicago.
At the end of the day we got to take a dance class. Our intro to the class was our instructor informing us that he has taught tens of thousands of people in the space where we took our lessons. We learned the basics of three dances at the studio: Merengue, Bachata and Salsa. I personally liked Salsa the best because I thought it was the easiest to understand. Merengue and Bachata were also really fun, and if I had more time to learn the steps, I’m sure I would have liked them just as much. Overall the trip was very informative, and I got to see a part of Chicago I had no idea existed.
Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.