by Xavier “Xavi” Luis Burgos
For the past few weeks now there has been quite a few news coverage (especially with a firestorm from the “blogging community”) on the possible new Alderman of the 26th Ward, Rev. Wilfredo “Choco” De Jesús of New Life Covenant Church. Sadly, much of this coverage has been negative.
When I first discovered that longtime Alderman Billy Ocasio was resigning in order to join the Governor’s cabinet and that he chose Pastor Choco as his replacement, I thought “this could not be a better choice!” May I ask, which Puerto Rican led institution in Humboldt Park has hundreds of members who are able to promote and organize such a electoral campaign? Next to none! Which community has been able to engage a church and a pastor in important social issues, from community preservation (look at all the real estate New Life has saved from greedy developers!) to immigration reform (by a Puerto Rican church, nonetheless!). In the last few elections in the 26th Ward, which is facing the displacement of its longtime residents (gentrification), we have been bombarded with puppet candidates who wanted to only serve the interests of greedy real estate developers and other anti-Paseo Boricua forces. Of course, some people remained myopic.
A few weeks ago, I was one of 20 of the mostly Puerto Rican representatives of different community organizations that work on LGBTQ issues who attended a meeting at La Bruquena restaurant a few weeks ago with Pastor De Jesús. The meeting was allegedly called in order to better understand the Pastor’s views on LGBTQ issues. The biggest surprise though was that the vast majority of those who attended did not live in the 26th Ward! Actually many those in attendance represented organizations that did not completely focus on the Humboldt Park community or the 26th Ward. Interestingly enough, it was from those who did not live here that questions about important community issues like gentrification, the development of Paseo Boricua, violence, and education …etc were absent. The only thing on their minds was this: “You are an evangelical pastor, therefore you hate gay people and you hate us, don’t you!?” Up to that point I have never seen a group of people so concerned by just one issue – which is not surprising if you do not live or work in this ward.
Nonetheless, it was from those activists who live and work in this community, who organize LGBTQ events (which most of De Jesús’ discontents do not attend), and fight homophobia and transphobia on a daily basis in the schools, programs, and institutions of Humboldt Park, that a real dialogue took place. In my experience, Humboldt Park and Paseo Boricua has become such a welcoming space for LGBTQ Boricuas and Latinas/os and that just did not happen because of the “Boystown elite” opened people’s eyes. Look at Vida/SIDA as a community institution – where else do you see so many openly lesbian, gay, and transgendered people freely doing outreach to all the members of this community? Where else would there be a transgendered Queen for a major parade other than the Puerto Rican Cultural Center’s Desfile del Pueblo/ Puerto Rican People’s Parade every June? People have struggled and died to make LGBTQ Boricuas and Latinas/os feel welcomed in their OWN community so we would not have to suffer in the racist, sexist, and elitist so-called “Boystown.”
To all of De Jesús’ discontents, there are a few things to take into consideration. Which evangelical pastor would meet with a group of LGBTQ leaders? Which evangelical pastor in Chicago would explain herself/himself on her/his beliefs to such a group? Which evangelical pastor would support the construction of a gay homeless shelter in Humboldt Park? He may believe things that I disagree with, but in the end, there is room for common ground, common understanding and respect, and for struggle and engagement. That is what participatory democracy is about.
Another point to consider is that, for those who live and work in the 26th Ward would know that a great and visionary Alderman like Billy Ocasio would never choose a replacement who would not work for and support the diverse experiences of his residents and the major initiatives of this community. Sadly, some have eaten the apple and have abandoned his legacy and vision.
Furthermore, without a community there will be no struggle to engage people (leaders or residents) in anything. As the Puerto Rican (and Latina/o) community continues to suffer gentrification then the forum in which to dialogue about important issues such as these becomes less and less available. It just becomes talking heads speaking to an imaginary community. If the Puerto Rican community is desecrated then where will all the LGBTQ Boricuas be? Boystown! Ha! Puerto Ricans were gentrified from Lakeview decades ago. For those who claim to be “Latina/o leaders” take this into consideration: Being a “Latina/o leader” means nothing if you do not have a community to lead. The next Alderman (or Alderwoman) of the 26th Ward will have to understand that in order to truly lead our community into a brighter future. ¡Fuácata!