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Humboldt Park Riots Remembered

By Scott Smith in News on Jun 14, 2006 7:47PM

Ask the average Chicagoan about the riots of the late 1960s, and he or she will probably nod their head and say “During the Democratic National Convention, right?” While the 1968 riots maintain a prominent (read: notorious) place in this city’s history, this week marks a series of riots that were a flashpoint for the frustrations of Puerto Ricans in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood.

2006_06_mural_hp.jpgOn June 12th, 1966, 20-year-old Aracelis Cruz was shot by police on the corner of Damen and Division in the wake of celebrations following the city’s first Puerto Rican Day parade. The shooting was the catalyst for a series of riots over the next two days that destroyed businesses, injured 16 and led to various reforms and community organization.

Little has been written about the Humboldt Park riots in 1966. Even A People’s History of the United States, the unofficial bible of incidents of civil unrest in the U.S., carries no mention of the incidents. Yet this was the first riot attributed to Puerto Ricans in this country. Though sparked by the Cruz shooting, the unrest was a result of frustration and anger over the marginalization of a community, much like the Stonewall and Watts riots that would come in later years. NBC-5 cites “poor housing conditions, a lack of schools and feelings of neglect” as the causes of the violence that erupted. In 1997, Dialogo Magazine talked to many who were there and described the conditions that preceded the riots.

Earlier this week, an article in the Tribune examined efforts by local residents to preserve the culture of what was once called La Division while encouraging new construction and coexisting with new residents moving into the area.

Today, many fear that rising housing costs are forcing the Puerto Rican population from Humboldt Park. Chicago Public Radio’s 848 program talked with residents who witnessed the 1966 riots as well as younger denizens of the neighborhood who wonder if the reforms and organizing that grew out of the riots have been forgotten. Time will tell whether this week’s reflections and plans for a 25,000-square-foot museum devoted to Puerto Rican culture will help to reverse that trend.

Image via Puerto Rican Cultural Center