Humboldt Park's Division Street retains Puerto Rican culture amid changing demographics

October 4, 2012 (CHICAGO)

The area is home to new businesses and filled with a number of upscale stores for the changing community, including new shops, galleries and restaurants.

But as it grows, it has managed to retain its heritage.

"Division has been taken over by people wanting to change the neighborhood. It is so close to the loop, an ideal location. There are people here for 40, 50 years who want to keep the identity as the heart of the Puerto Rican Chicago," said Bill Zayas, historian and Humboldt Park resident.

Take Humboldt Park for example. Visitors immediately look at the looming, 59-feet Puerto Rican flags cast in steel. Popular restaurants, like La Bruquena, boast Puerto Rican cuisine. And Lilly's Record Shop has been present for years, along with the barber shop Jauaua.

"People like to come over and get a haircut, and they feel like they are in Puerto Rico here," said Kerly Figueroa, barber shop employee.

"We decided to open up a Harvest Fresh Market to accommodate the demographics," said John Loues, Harvest Fresh Market owner.

Zenaida Lopes has been on Division Street for more than 50 years as a business owner and health activist.

"We may lose gentrification to the North and to the South, but Divison Street is the heart and soul of the Puerto Rican community and we will fight to keep this a Puerto Rican community," said Lopes.

Zayas says the community will only get bigger. He describes Division Street as a point of unity in Humboldt Park.

"The people who are the old pioneers in the neighborhood are entrenching. They are not moving out and that creates a wonderful energy."

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