Puerto Rican steel flags stand strong in Chicago's Humboldt Park after 25 years

Flags serve as dedication to steel mill workers
CHICAGO (WLS) -- Two giant steel Puerto Rican flags have stood proudly in the heart of Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood since January of 1995.

The community is celebrating 25 years with the flags this year because of the pandemic.

"I had this vision of creating, bringing something to the Puerto Rican Community, something different and for me it was all about let's bring the architecture, let's bring in that element, and what was the best symbol of the Puerto Rican community is the flag, said Billy Ocasio, Director of the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture.

Ocasio, was the 26th ward alderman at the time. He came up with the idea of the flags that are each 56-feet tall and weigh 40 tons. They are the world's biggest monument to a flag, according to Ocasio.

"The reason we chose steel flags was because most of the Puerto Ricans when they came to the city of Chicago, went to work at the steel mills," Ocasio said. "The dedication of these flags was made to all of those people who gave their blood, their sweat and their tears working at these steel mills so we did it all in steel.."

The flags anchor Division Street between Western and Kedzie on what's called Paseo Boricua or Puerto Rican Promenade

"Before the flags, 83% of the storefronts on Division street were vacant. Five years after the flags went up, 76% of the storefronts were now occupied by Puerto Ricans and the buildings were owned by Puerto Rican businesses," Ocasio said.

"I'm just proud of the community because we could have put up those flags and it could have just been flags sitting there. But the community has embraced it they build on it, every year they add more and more to the street," said Ocasio. "You go down Division Street, there's more artwork being done, they are more murals being done, more youth programs being done. I think it's a credit to the community, it's a credit to the Puerto Rican community."

Ocasio said the flags are due for a retouch. Because of the sun the flags need to get repainted every 10 years.
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