For 23 years the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, named in honor of Poet and activist Juan Antonio Corretjer, has mobilized hundreds of volunteers to organize and execute Fiesta Boricua, the only festival in Chicago that closes traffic for two full days in the area known as Paseo Boricua, located on Division Street between the famous Puerto Rican flags on Western and California in Humboldt Park. Every year the festivities take place during Labor Day Weekend.
During those 23 years the festival has undergone significant changes, adapting to the ups and downs in the economy and shrinking budgets from sponsors. For many community festivals, a $100,000 budget cut would mean the end of a well-intentioned volunteer-run initiative. The garbage pickup is also run by volunteers like Lourdes Lugo, who I’ve been trying to say hi to for the last hour but she’s too focused on getting as much done before night falls. She speeds by me and goes to the next pickup. Volunteers and paid staff are everywhere but the task at hand is immense.
Fiesta Boricua has managed to stay afloat and reinvent itself with the concept: “Lo Mejor de Nuestros Pueblos”, where PRCC collaborates with municipalities and cultural projects from the island, finding creative ways to raise funds and support the cultural groups that travel to Chicago for the festival.
As a Puerto Rican that was born and raised in the island and has lived in Chicago for 16 years, this is the Boricua festival that I enjoy the most. There’s something that feels right about closing Paseo Boricua to celebrate our art, our music, our businesses and our culture. I remember seeing Eddie Palmieri, Willie Colón, Andy Montañez, Cultura Profética and so many of Puerto Rico’s most recognizable acts right here not too long ago. While budget cuts mean that those artists are usually not accessible for Fiesta Boricua anymore, as I walked down Division Street this weekend from flag to flag, I understood why I continue to be so drawn to this festival even when I have been critical of it in the past. This year the quality of the Chicago and Puerto Rico-based “artesanos” (artists/arts & crafts), as well as the amazing food, and the combination of lesser known and internationally acclaimed musicians (Hermán Olivera and Pichi Pérez are salsa royalty for any good listener) made the experience worthwhile for festival goers of all ages.
An example of community art in action, the yearly bombazo organized byAfriCaribe at La Casita de Don Pedro continues to be the place to experience Afro-Puerto Rican roots music with the flourishing local bomba scene, further enriched by out-of-town bomberos coming from Puerto Rico, Florida, and New York among other places. The young, as is the case of the members of Arawak’Opia (SRBCC’s Youth Bomba Ensemble) are given their chance to hold their own with the masters. Also worth mentioning that Arawak’Opia had their first appearance on the Fiesta Boricua main stage as well, making this community event a place where dreams are realized. I could see the excitement in the faces of aspiring musicians from Humboldt Park and Hermosa that were given a real chance, and their accomplishments were enjoyed and celebrated this weekend. Most of these young men and women have to grow up very fast. With all the violence in Chicago these days, what they experienced at Fiesta Boricua means a lot.
Food Highlight: Fresh-made mofongo by el Caldero de Khalil
This review needs to reflect the religious experience of tasting a fresh-made trifongo, prepared by el Caldero de Khalil, a group of Puerto Rican chefs with a thriving culinary concept that traveled to Chicago from the island just for the Fiesta Boricua weekend.
I go to Puerto Rico at least three times per year and I can say without hesitation that El Caldero de Khalil is by far the best trifongo-maker this guy has ever known. For those who don’t know, a trifongo is a take on the mofongo (mashed plantain) that incorporates sweet plantain, green plantain and yuca. This tightly-run operation did not stop for two straight days, serving generous plates of island goodness that included mofongo topped with veal stew, slow-cooked pigeon peas, chicken or shrimp. Rumor has it that some VIPs showed up around 6:30 pm on Sunday and all that was left was a bit of “caldo” (broth).
After mofongo heaven, I washed down the hearty plate of food with some tamarind Pito Rico, the newer brand of only two producers of legal Pitorro (flavored Puerto Rican moonshine). This one came directly from the family’s production plant in Jayuya, Puerto Rico. The list of available flavors included coconut, passion fruit, orange, tamarind and sangría. Free samples were given all day long to festival participants on both Saturday and Sunday.
In the “artesano” columns, I’m giving four stars to Artesanía de Madera by Kerly, bringing locally produced wood products, including beautifulpilones (pestles) and tostoneras (toston-makers) made with three different kinds of wood.
Every year I’m blown away by Elias Carmona’s photography, which this time featured a breathtaking picture of the Pedro Albizu Campos’ statue located at La Casita de Don Pedro. The carefully shot picture in a dark snowy night in Paseo Boricua has a truly hypnotizing effect. Other pictures include his collection of “pleneros” and the amazing urban images from his trips to Puerto Rico and South and Central America.
We round up the artesano highlights with Urban Pilón’s hand-crafted pique(vinegar-based hot sauce) and Brenda Torres’ oneiric Freedom Effect t-shirt designs. Urban Pilón is Roberto Pérez’s completely original culinary concept, highlighting the use of fresh and locally sourced ingredients to produce bold and healthy island flavors. Brenda Torres is a Chicago artist producing high-quality wearable art that destines 10% of all profits to deserving Humboldt Park students seeking careers in the Creative Arts.
With all this talk of food and art, I almost forgot to talk about the music…
This year featured the voices of Sonora Ponceña’s Pichi Pérez and Eddie Palmieri’s Hermán Olivera to close Saturday and Sunday respectively. Both performances were exceptional, with special interventions by Chicago-based salsa bands Naborí (backing Pichi Pérez) and the Edwin Sánchez Project (backing Hermán Olivera). Both local bands demonstrated that we have plenty of talent in the midwest to hold our own with the very best international exponents of tropical music.
Other musical performances included the captivating voices of Chabela and Lester Ray, as well as salsa acts Yova Rodríguez, Orquesta Leal, and Willie García’s Sabor. Folkloric music from Puerto Rico was represented by Chicago’s own Buya, a group that has established itself as one of the very best Bomba projects in the United States. SRBCC’s Arawak’Opia Youth Bomba Ensemble, Ballet Folclórico Guajana (Puerto Rico) and Son d’Yavú (Puerto Rico) are also worth mentioning as the festival continues to bring more cultural acts to the stage.
El sábado 6 de septiembre el padre Raul Morales Berrios celebrara la ya tradicional Misa Jíbara coincidiendo con la celebración de la 22da Fiesta Boricua.
Misa Jíbara combina elementos culturales y musicales enraizados en nuestro quehacer boricua con un mensaje profundo de contenido social, enmarcado dentro los ritos de una misa católica. Durante los últimos 6 años centenares de personas han participado de este encuentro cultural/espiritual borincano. La misa se celebrara de 3:30 a 5:30pm. Para más información contactar a Hilda Frontany al firstname.lastname@example.org.
This year’s Youth Corridor had the mission of expressing and promoting all the services that are directed towards Humboldt Park’s youth development and educational services. The National Boricua Human Rights was well represented by Alyssa Villegas and Matt McCanna who, among many other tasks, were in charge of collecting petitions, distributing flyers, and educating the public on Oscar López Rivera. In total, more than 900 petitions and over $600 were collected in our “jail challenge”, where the audience had the chance to experiment what it was like to be inside a prison cell and collect $33, representing the 33 years of Oscar’s imprisonment, in order to be released.
The BACCA program was also represented by youth leaders Michelle Guzmán and Mia Espinosa, who raised more than $130 in water bottles for our anti-underage drinking campaign under the leadership of Program Coordinator María Borrero. The Union for Puerto Rican Students (UPRS) was also present with the new UIC Chapter President Ian Torres and Que Ondee Sola’s Editor in Chief Alyssa Villegas and NEIU’s chapter member Rebecca Ríos. A gentrification model designed by UIC’s architecture student Joel Aguilera and Gustavo Varela from Generation L was one of the main attractions, since it showed an artistic reflection of our community’s struggle to maintain all the amazing Latino services and resources that we offer.
The University of Illinois at Chicago brought representatives from the Latino Cultural Center and the LARES program, making the youth corridor an amazing arrange of educational and artistic presentations. In total, the Youth Corridor raised more than $1,500! All these efforts were a success thanks to the collaboration of the leaders mentioned above, who feel a strong commitment to our community’s future.
During the 21st anniversary of Fiesta Boricua, Oscar’s presence was felt both on the stage and on Division St. At the National Boricua Human Rights Network kiosk, youth staffed the Oscar table, the interactive 6×9 cell, and an participatory Oscar mural.
Members of the community, including former Puerto Rican prisoners Ricardo Jiménez and Edwin Cortés, entered the cell until they each raised 33 dollars in donations. Volunteers walked among the crowd asking attendees to sign petitions to President Barack Obama calling for Oscar’s release. Thanks to the dedication of volunteers, NBHRN was able to raise almost $600 and obtain almost 900 signed petitions during the festival.
In addition, the Network debuted a 25-foot wide Oscar mural detailing some of the issues he was involved in. This mural will aid the Network in its educational work and will travel to the different chapters and contact cities. Lastly, another 25-foot high Oscar banner was mounted on the side of building facing the main stage at Fiesta Boricua where tens of thousands of onlookers were exposed to it.
The 21st Fiesta Boricua (de Bandera a Bandera), the two day festival on Paseo Boricua, closed with the captivating sounds and rhythms of Puerto Rican legendary musical figures Yova Rodríguez, Hermán Olivera, Pirulo and Miguel Zenón. With deep feelings and contagious emotions, they performed and improvised a musical tribute to the Puerto Rican patriot Oscar López Rivera calling for his release. This totally engaging experience moved the thousands of participants to wave their Puerto Rican flags and fans with Oscar’s image in unison. From the screen on the stage, Oscar’s image could be seen for blocks on his beloved “La Division” –all the way to Roberto Clemente Academy, which he helped to open 40 years ago.
Fiesta Boricua 2014 – Final performance
It was indeed a powerful ending to two days (Saturday and Sunday August 30-31) filled with Puerto Ricanness, particularly its many musical genres produced and executed by the likes of Chicago’s Bomplenera, AfriCaribe, Bomba con Buya, and the Clemente High School Steel Band; from San Lorenzo, Decimanía and Rafaelito Muñoz y su Trío; also from Puerto Rico, Pirulo y la Tribu, Alambre Dulce, Aromas, and Son D’Yavu; and from the Bronx, Hermán Olivera and Yova Rodríguez, with a very special appearance by the jazz musician and MacArthur Genius Award winner, Miguel Zenón. (See the 9-3-2014 Chicago Tribune Article (registration required) here: “Saxophonist Zenon gives 36th Jazz Festival its Pinnacle”
Miguel Zenon’s Solo at Fiesta Boricua 2014
Among the highlights of the 21st Fiesta Boricua was the press conference held on Friday, August 29 at Clemente Community Academy in front of the mosaic of the great ballplayer. There, Alderman Roberto Maldonado formally welcomed the San Lorenzo delegation –representing this year’s “Lo Mejor de Nuestros Pueblos“– headed by its mayor the Hon. José Román Abreu. Maldonado read Mayor Emanuel’s proclamation declaring August 30 and 31 “San Lorenzo Days” in Chicago . Clemente Principal Marcey Sorensen welcomed all the participants to Clemente and invited them to participate in the 40th anniversary celebration of the opening of the school, which will be held on September 19 and 20, 2014. The 21st Fiesta Boricua was dedicated to this anniversary. Mayor José Román Abreu underscored the coincidence of the 21st anniversary of Fiesta Boricua with the #21 of Roberto Clemente’s jersey as a member of the Pirates.
During Friday evening, Noche Jíbara/Guayabera Gala was held in the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture. This event was attended by nearly 200 people including Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez, State Representative Luis Arroyo, Cook County Commissioner Luis Arroyo Jr., Alderman Roberto Maldonado as well as some of the Fiesta Boricua sponsors. The evening’s high point was the formal recognition of the San Lorenzo delegation. Mayor José Román Abreu delivered a strong, engaging message and presented a motivational video about San Lorenzo’s panorama and achievements.
The musical groups Decimanía and Rafaelito Muñoz y su Trío delighted the public and even sang to celebrate Alderman Maldonado’s birthday and Paul and Ida Roldan’s 43rd wedding anniversary.
Saturday and Sunday became two days of total immersion in Puerto Rican music, artistry and food. It was a family focused celebration, which also included Misa Jíbara. Without a doubt, the 21st Fiesta Boricua was truly a huge success.
Bajo un sol candente, el padre Raúl Morales Berríos, acompañado por el grupo musical Aromas de la diócesis de Caguas, Puerto Rico, ofició la quinta Misa Jíbara así dándole inicio a la 21ra Fiesta Boricua el sábado 30 de agosto de 2014.
Más de 300 personas –principalmente feligreses de las iglesias católicas del vecindario incluso San Marcos, St. Eduviges, San Aloysius, Maternity BVM, San Silvestre, entre otros– se dieron cita en el Paseo Boricua para celebrar en un ambiente lleno de espiritualidad y hermandad boricua, un servicio religioso totalmente informado por su puertorriqueñidad. Una amplia delegación de sanloreceños –tanto de Chicago como de Puerto Rico– dijeron presente.
El Padre Raúl recalcó la importancia del contenido social de la misa Jíbara, como también la forma de celebrarse en un espacio abierto. El Padre también recordó el mensaje del Papa Francisco de llevar la iglesia a la calle y de salir del templo, añadiendo “aquí estamos en la calle”.