[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #9 in November 2009]
The term community can be interpreted in different ways. Sometimes it defines a neighborhood based on specified perimeters, it can also stand for a movement created by a particular group of people and it can also stand for a unity among those who share a common experience. The No Se Vendecampaign of Chicago’s historically Puerto Rican neighborhood, Humboldt Park, is an example of all three. The campaign invites teachers, students, artists, activists, and allies to fight for the sustainability of a neighborhood that has reflected Puerto Rican life and culture for over 25 years. Members of the No Se Vende campaign speak out against not only the threat of gentrification and the displacement of families, but also the displacement of their spatial and cultural community.
The No Se Vende Campaign was established in 2004 as part of the Participatory Democracy Project through the Puerto Rican Cultural Center (PRCC). No Se Vende translates as “Not for Sale,” and is a movement started in reaction to the growing threat of gentrification. The central goal of Participatory Democracy and the No Se Vende campaign is self-determination within the Humboldt Park area.  Self-determination, drives people to be more active in neighborhood events, thereby strengthening the community and putting its future into their own hands. Some of these events include community forums where locals share poetry and film. Most recently, No Se Vende celebrated the move of West Town Bikes to Humboldt Park’s most iconic block, Paseo Boricua, demonstrating not just the strength of the campaign, but also its dedication to promoting environmental awareness.
Gentrification is a widely discussed issue in the city of Chicago, but not all areas are affected the same way. Humboldt Park’s battle is unique because of the imperialistic relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. Although Puerto Ricans living on the island are technically considered U.S. citizens and must follow U.S. law, they do not share the same basic freedoms and rights that citizens living within the fifty states enjoy. For example: they still cannot vote for President, nor do they have representation in the U.S. Congress.  Armed with a legacy of contesting such second-class citizenship and in response to a long history of displacement, Puerto Rican migrants have made resistance to gentrification part of the anti-colonial struggle.  This history of colonization as both a domestic American minority and an external territory fosters a stronger sense of spatial identity extending from the island to Humboldt Park, and connecting the two.
Humboldt Park’s No Se Vende campaign is not the only organization struggling to preserve a particular spatial and cultural community within Chicago. On the South Side, the Pilsen Alliance and STOP (Southside Together Organizing for Power) have established their own voices against displacement. As neighborhoods undergo structural changes, organizations like the No Se Vende Campaign, the Pilsen Alliance, and STOP unite community members to preserve each area’s unique cultural character. Chicago is a city celebrated for its diverse neighborhoods, but gentrification has posed a threat to the social identity of many. Now, a sense of community stronger than street borders has formed through a united resistance to this continued push against the peripheries of society and urban space. ◊
1. Michael Rodriguez Muniz, “Exercises in Puerto Rican Self- Determination: The Humboldt Park Participatory Democracy Project,” Diálogo 9 (Fall 2005), 8-11.
2. Pedro A. Malavet, America’s Colony: the Political and Cultural Conflict between and the United States and Puerto Rico (New York and London: New York University Press, 2004).
3. Rachel Rinaldo, “Space of Resistance: The Puerto Rican Cultural Center and Humboldt Park,” Cultural Critique 50 (2002), 135-174.