Puerto Rico Town in Chicago’s Humboldt Park renamed Barrio Borikén in tribute to indigenous communities

Community and business leaders have renamed a stretch of Division Street in Humboldt Park called Puerto Rico Town in honor of the Caribbean island’s indigenous roots.

The new name, Barrio Borikén, which applies to the stretch of Division between Western and California avenues, was announced during a recent ceremony outside the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture, 3015 W. Division St.. The event also included two performances by Concilio Taíno (Taíno Council) Guatu-Ma-cu A Borikén, a native dance group from Puerto Rico. They performed an Areyto, a ceremonial dance to honor the brave acts of Taíno chiefs, gods and other important tribal figures.

“We rented buses to bring in senior citizens and students from different schools,” said the museum’s CEO, Billy Ocasio. “I had never heard kindergarten, first-, second- and third-grade kids be so quiet. They were all so amazed.”

Concilio Taíno Guatú Má Cú A Borikén performs a traditional dance at The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture on June 1.

Nohemi Moran/The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture

Last year, 10 state-designated cultural districts were officially recognized across the city, including Puerto Rico Town.

After lengthy discussions between the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, the Puerto Rican Cultural Center and various public officials, it was decided that Barrio Borikén was the ideal choice for the new designation. Borikén is the name of the island used by the Taínos before Spanish conquistadors changed it, Ocasio said.

The word “Taíno” references the Arawak-speaking peoples — and their descendants — of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. While most Taínos were wiped out by colonial powers, the exhibit and renaming of Puerto Rico Town strongly support the view that indigenous traditions still exist within the Caribbean diaspora.

“We wanted to incorporate our partners from Puerto Rico to demonstrate that the Taíno still live through this performance,” Ocasio said, adding that he and other community leaders thought a lot about how to grow the visibility of native Puerto Rican culture and tradition in the city.

Things kicked off in January with the opening of a joint exhibition, ¡Taíno Vive! Caribbean Indigenous Resistance, which includes pieces from the Field Museum and a larger exhibit from the Smithsonian Institute. Also featured are several instruments, attire, jewelry and headdresses borrowed from the Coincilio Taíno, from San Juan, Puerto Rico, among other spiritual items and art, on display through June 15.

Ocasio also noted the existing murals around Humboldt Park with references to Taíno imagery and petroglyphs that speak to the connection Puerto Ricans already have with their native origins.

The “¡Taíno Vive!” exhibit, in collaboration with the Field Museum, Concilio Taíno and the Smithsonian includes various indigenous artifacts from Puerto Rico.

Elias Carmona/The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture

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