The following is a speech delivered by Jessie Fuentes just before Governor Pritzker signed the Puerto RIco Town legislation:
More than three years ago the Puerto Rican Agenda birthed this legislation, and it all began at our Housing Summit. Many of you who are sitting in this room, were sitting with us then – strategizing around the sustainability of our community. At that summit there were two problems we wanted to address:
- Historic disinvestment
- And the onslaught of gentrification in our community
The only way to ensure the sustainability of our community was to be informed by equity and the voices of the people impacted by this trajectory. We all left the summit with a plan that would grapple with these issues with boots on the ground, pens to paper producing policy, and relationship building with elected officials to be our champions and there are three dynamic champions that made this possible: State Representative Delia Ramírez & Senator Cristina Pacione-Zayas, and our very own Senator Omar Aquino.
Pens to paper produced this legislation. And we are honored to have Governor J.B. Pritzker with us here to celebrate the passing and signing of the State Designated District Bill. Before we leave here today, I want to reflect and honor the work of those with boots on the ground.
There are five sectors of work that the Puerto Rican Agenda has taken on: Arts & Culture, Economic Development, Education, Health, and Housing. Let’s talk about the work being done:
Arts & Culture
Here we are all witness to the beauty of preserving, promoting, and exhibiting the art of our Puerto Rican History, lived experiences, and creative minds at the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture. The museum will be breaking ground soon to build a facility that will become the archival space to all of Puerto Rican history here in the city of Chicago.
We have the Humboldt Park Boathouse that exhibits Puerto Rican art in a gallery that allows artists to build community, tell their stories, and build community.
We are currently in the process of proposing a Puerto Rican heritage outdoor walkable photo exhibit by Así Somos right here in Humboldt Park.
And lastly, if you drive down Paseo you will see the construction of a new affordable housing development by The Puerto Rican Cultural Center. The Nancy Franco Arts building will provide 24 affordable housing units to artists in our community. This building will be anchored by Urban Theatre Company, the only theatre that is Puerto Rican led and focused in the city of Chicago.
The State Designated Cultural District legislation will provide communities with the bandwidth to create commercial corridors that are made up of small business owners in those communities. Here in Humboldt Park we are proud to have begun the work of supporting small business owners. We have a small business incubator many of you all have visited called ¡ Wepa! Mercado del Pueblo, this incubator currently supports 17 vendors who are beginning the process with SBDC to get their business license so that they can take up the vacant storefronts in our community.
Several of us are in discussions and are strategizing to ensure the viability of our businesses. We are planning on creating a micro-lending community business initiative – similar to what many of you all know as credit unions. You see, we must ensure that all 50 of our current businesses continue to thrive and that we also continue to support and advocate for our cocineros in the park.
Through creative financing we will ensure that every vacant building within the commercial corridor will be utilized for our small business owners and that the units above the commercial space can be housing for them. We cannot discuss economic development without housing, and we cannot discuss housing if we are not discussing wealth building in this community.
The Puerto Rican Agenda alongside our educators are working on an urban education initiative that will develop an aligned curriculum for many of the area schools with Roberto Clemente Community Academy being the hub.
We believe that creating a seamless pipeline from pre-k to college and beyond will ensure that all our young people see a future here in this community. We are talking about creating future agricultural scientists. The students in this community can ensure food justice for the entire community.
It is no secret that our community suffers from the highest rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, and asthma. We are excited to learn that the state has committed $20 million to Humboldt Health to build a wellness center right here on Division St – it will be our very own John Hopkins. This has all been under the leadership of CEO José Sánchez who is here in the room with us.
I feel lucky being in a room with folks like yourself, today I feel the same amount of gratitude I felt the day we closed our housing summit. I am grateful for the Leadership of Joy Aruguete at Bickerdike, Lisette Casteneda at LUCHA, and Paul Roldán at Hispanic Housing. Three housing organizations that have been leading the vision of community sustainability in the context of affordable housing.
We know within a couple of months that Hispanic Housing will be building affordable housing units on Division and California that will also have art projection space on the side of the building dedicated to artists in our community. We also know that Hispanic Housing will develop additional housing on California & Crystal and are investing in building a cost-effective home for families to buy on Division & Spaulding.
In Spring of 2022 the Teachers Village in the old Von Humboldt Building will begin reconstruction. This initiative will provide affordable housing to teachers and school employees who work in our community.
We are reversing the process of spatial deconcentration by concentrating the displaced members of our community. If you all have not realized it has and always will be about intersectionality for us. We can no longer only address one sector of work; we must discuss them all and advocate for them all.
Today we have the microcosm of possibilities to realize Puerto Rico Town. We hope that Puerto Rico Town will be the model that other communities can emulate and add a new dimension to. This long stretch of La Division speaks to the small towns mainstreet U.S.A in which culture and heritage will be part and parcel to the economic development and growth of our communities.
Today we celebrate and tomorrow we return to work. I could not be more proud to continue to see this through alongside you all. Thank you.