Humboldt Park, a Place of Meaning and Belonging for Puerto Rican Youth



On December 16, 2011 the Institute of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture (IPRAC) hosted an opening celebration for a photography exhibition with over 50 people present, including the twelve Puerto Rican and Latina/o youth who participated as co-researchers in the educational project. The project, “Exploring Place Attachment, Sociopolitical Development, and Community Action among Latino Youth” is a part of the doctoral dissertation of the lead researcher, Mayra Estrella, and was executed by the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in partnership with the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) Institute of Policy and Civic Engagement and the School of Public Health.
The project and exhibition, utilizing the “PhotoVoice” methodology, included four original photographs by each youth printed on four by six feet paper with a short narrative accompanying the picture describing its importance and meaning. This was done with the purpose of inquiring about the significance and relationship of place attachment for the youth and how they develop an understanding of the ways in which social forces affect the well-being of the community. Moreover, it was designed to provide a voice for the diverse experiences and expressions of Humboldt Park residents and for the youth to reflect upon the implications on becoming transformative citizens in their community.
This special event also included some influential and prestigious leaders, such as our State Representative Cynthia Soto, who spoke on the importance of bridging resources between the community and Chicago universities. Also present was Dr. Joe ‘Skip’ García, Vice Chancellor for Research at UIC, who said a few words on the important and inspiring aspects of this community-inspired project. Other attendees included Marvin García, a member of the Board of Trustees at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) and Dr. Michelle Kelly, Associate Professor from the UIC School of Public Health.
Moreover, the audience was able to hear from the youth who co-researched this project. Jazmira Bota, a Boricua freshman at DePaul University and a life-long Humboldt Park resident, spoke on how eye-opening this project was for her because she was able to witness the commonalities and differences among her peers in the community that she never fully reflected upon before. The audience also heard from Alyssa Villegas, a Boricua Sophomore at NEIU who grew-up in Uptown and Albany Park, but with deep roots in Humboldt Park. In her conversation with the audience, Villegas spoke on the importance of this community being a nexus for Puerto Ricans throughout the city and how in this place she and others will find their identity and discover a sense of belonging and meaning.
The event concluded with certificates of completion given to each youth by Estrella and myself. The youth will also receive a free laptop at the end of this month in recognition of their hard and important work, and to assist in their educational studies.

By Xavier “Xavi” Burgos

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