As a proud Boricua who hails from Humboldt Park, I love the beauty of my culture and know the contributions my people have made not just to the community, but our city, country, and world. It also gives me great pride to know that City Year Chicago continues the tradition to serve within communities we love and are actively engaged in changing their narratives. You cannot truly celebrate Hispanics of this city without acknowledging the beauty, grit, power, and brilliance of the neighborhoods that cultivated them and that they, in turn, helped to mold. After all, Chicago is a city of neighborhoods and we ARE our neighborhoods. You talk smack about MY neighborhood; it feels like you are talking about ME.
There are 77 neighborhoods in Chicago, and we get to serve in 11 of them. Of those neighborhoods, 4 of them have among the highest in Latinx population in our city*, namely: Back of the Yards (24,961), Belmont Cragin (63,377), Gage Park (38,009), and Humboldt Park (29,343). Hispanics make up close to a third of the city’s population at 803,000 residents.
Growing up in Humboldt Park in the 1980s I didn’t see positive images of people from my culture on TV. However, there was one Puerto Rican my parents made sure to tell me about: the talented and incomparable Rita Moreno. She is currently among a short list of 21 EGOT artists (those who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony) and continues to inspire Latinx artists. I remember playing her in a Hispanic Heritage Month dramatic performance at my college and noting her EGOT status was part of my lines.
My staff has heard me say this time and again, “they gotta see us to be us.” It’s the Huffman Family mantra on our responsibility to not only be the change but for our young people in our communities to also see the change. It’s that change that sends the implicit message that they can be whom they want to be. Sometimes seeing the change means exposing our students to careers, beliefs, and facts they didn’t know existed. That’s the power of our Student Success Coaches being in the lives of our students day in and day out. In a segregated city like Chicago, they see a diverse group of Student Success Coaches working together for the benefit of the youth in the school. They get to know a Latina or African American man who has a university degree within a major they probably never heard of, but that provides an educational opportunity within itself for our students. They see themselves reflected when they develop that powerful relationship with their SSC. They implicitly believe they can pursue that degree as well.
Just as my parents did for me, I’m now exposing my two children to all the amazing Hispanic role models and contributors in our community. We now have many more role models and leaders of Hispanic descent to point in comparison to my time coming up but last year when introducing my kids to the West Side Story movie it inspired my Sofia to dress up like Rita Moreno when she won her Oscar.
During this time of year of celebrating Hispanic culture and contributions, remember all the beautiful Latinx neighborhoods of our vast city and support Hispanic locally owned businesses. Since food is a great way to experience culture, here are just a few suggestions: For Cuban, try Paladar in Logan Square, for Puerto Rican go to my Uncle Chavelo’s spot called Diana’s, and if you want an amazing burger, go to Morgan Park and have the best burger ever at Manzo’s.
*= According to a 2017 report compiled by the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and Metropolitan Family Services