On a typical afternoon, students, executives, and neighborhood folk stop in at Café Colao for the lunch special: Puerto Rican–style steak with rice and beans. The café functions as a gathering place in Humboldt Park, the heart of Chicago's Puerto Rican community. But the eatery also typifies the success of cultural tourism as an entrepreneurial strategy to turn ethnic neighborhoods into magnets for tourists and their dollars.
From San Antonio and Miami to Chicago, community development advocates have found a payoff by promoting their Hispanic identity. "The goal is that the tourists leave with a better understanding of the social, economic, and cultural aspects of this community," says Carla Santos, assistant professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. "[They get] a better grasp of that, and have some inter-cultural exchange."
In Chicago, the identity question bears special import because of the city's Hispanic diversity. Unlike Miami's Cuban community or the strong Mexican heritage in Los Angeles, Chicago's Hispanic population has mixed roots. According to Census 2000, the city is home to about 753,000 Hispanics, of whom 530,000 are Mexican American, 113,000 are Puerto Rican, and 110,000 are of other Hispanic national origins.
Currently two Chicago neighborhoods – one Puerto Rican, the other Mexican American – are struggling with the issue of how to capitalize on their cultural assets without reverting to gentrification, which ultimately supplants the characteristics that made the neighborhood popular in the first place.
HUMBOLT PARK: PUERTO RICAN FLAVOR
In the Humbolt Park section of the city, a six-block stretch of Division Street is nicknamed Paseo Boricua, or Puerto Rican Avenue. Each end of the district is marked by a giant 45-ton steel Puerto Rican flag, serving as a gateway to the community. More than 80 businesses ply their trades on Paseo Boricua, including eight restaurants. Four more are scheduled to open by the end of the 2003.
Eighteen businesses relocated to Paseo Boricua in the last year. On the cultural side, the area boasts an artists' space used by young Hispanics for poetry slams, open mic nights, and musical events. Later this year, Paseo Boricua will be home to a new Puerto Rican cultural center.
Enrique Salgado Jr., executive director of the Division Street Business Development Association, says the promotion of his neighborhood won't overtake the residents who live here. "Paseo Boricua is part of a larger development project for the community which involves housing to make sure Puerto Ricans can afford to live in this area," he says. "It's also a way of attracting those who have left – the Puerto Rican middle class – to come back to the community."
Solidifying ties to the neighborhood looms as a priority because of a historical pattern of displacement for Puerto Ricans in Chicago. The Puerto Rican community was once centered in the now upscale Lincoln Park area, near Chicago's Lakefront, but Puerto Rican residents were slowly pushed out as a result of gentrification.
According to Mr. Santos, what makes a neighborhood attractive to tourists can also turn it into a "hot spot" for developers. "Suddenly you have this notion that this is a hip place to be. People start moving in. Prices get raised," observes Mr. Santos. "The people from the community can no longer afford to live there. Therefore, they have to move out. What brought the people into a community, which is precisely its diversity, slowly is commodified into a product. And the people who actually made part of that diversity are driven out."
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