CHICAGO — Twenty-eight years ago, in the midst of a political storm, the Juan Antonio Corretjer Puerto Rican Cultural Center organized the first Puerto Rican People’s Day Parade here. The parade was the PRCC’s organized response to the brutal 1977 killing of two young Puerto Ricans at the hands of racist white policemen, an event that triggered a community-wide rebellion on the city’s near northwest side.

On that day, as in each parade since, Puerto Ricans assembled to celebrate what most parades do not: a culture of resistance. Today the parade’s three essential ingredients — a celebration of culture, history and struggle — are crystallized with each pulsating step down the community’s main arteries. Puerto Rican flags are hoisted high and the rhythms of plena and salsa are played and enjoyed as many thousands of proud Puerto Ricans affirm their identity and right to exist.

As the years have turned into decades, the PRCC’s contingent in the People’s Parade (as distinct from the less political parade in the city’s downtown) has called attention to many urgent issues, recently, for example, emphasizing the struggle to stop the U.S. Navy bombing of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

This year’s People’s Parade will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the planting of two massive steel replicas of the Puerto Rican flag on Division Street near the entrance to Humboldt Park. As sociologist Nilda Flores Gonzalez has observed, the flags, which demarcate a space known today as “Paseo Boricua,” are not merely symbolic, but also lay claim to the area as distinctly Puerto Rican.

The emphasis on “a Puerto Rican space” stems from the fact that, as colonial subjects, Puerto Ricans have experienced the pain of forced migration and displacement for much of the last 60 years. The Puerto Rican diaspora, created through the massive migration and displacement of Puerto Ricans to major U.S. cities, has lived in a state of being constantly uprooted, though not without resistance.

In Chicago, Puerto Ricans have been moved to and from countless areas, gentrified out of home and community. Of the historic Puerto Rican communities, Humboldt Park (including the westernmost part of West Town) is the only one that remains, serving as home to one of the largest concentration of the city’s more than 113,000 Puerto Ricans. Former population strongholds in Lincoln Park, Wicker Park and much of Logan Square have been pushed out by gentrification.

The theme of this year’s PRCC contingent, led by its director José E. López, is “reclaiming the community’s right to self-determination.” It steps off with a confidence built on previous hard-won victories, including the winning of the release of 11 Puerto Rican political prisoners.

Much more than a festive protest, the People’s Parade is the collective articulation of this community’s culture, struggles, hopes and aspirations. In this sense, the parade is one method this “barrio” uses to exercise the right of Puerto Rican self-determination and community autonomy.

For more information about the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, visit www.prcc-chgo.org.

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