In 1969 a group of young Puerto Ricans approached the Puerto Rican Parade Committee and tried to suggest some changes regarding the content of the Parade and its governing structure. Among the changes suggested were the following: 1) Celebrating the Parade in the Humboldt Park community, 2) Changing it from Saturday to Sunday in order to get more people in the community involved, 3) Making sure the floats were representative of our culture and not advertising boards for the companies that were sucking the blood of our people, 4) Making sure that all the Parade transactions were transparent in order to prevent the corruption that was being practiced and to stop using the parade for a few people to make profits, 5) To have both a queen and a king, that the persons chosen were future assets of the community and not just chosen because of physical attraction, and that everything promised to them was met, and 6) Holding real elections to select the members of the Parade Committee in order to eliminate the corrupt and opportunists elements. We wanted the Parade in the community because it was for the community’s enjoyment and so that it would not be seen as a “folly” like the Chicago media described it. We also wanted the Parade in the community in order to ensure that the small businesses in the community profited from the event and not the Downtown establishments. In addition, if the parade was celebrated in the community, community members would not have to spend money parking in the Downtown parking lots.
When we approached the Puerto Rican Parade Committee with our suggestions we were treated as if we were trying to destroy the parade. We made it abundantly clear that that was not our intention. We were there to make the Parade something the community would be proud of, to celebrate our culture and our true national identity, and to not be the laughing stock of people who saw us downtown.
The corruption was so entrenched in the Parade Committee that a few years later its members were in such heated disputes that one of the Parade Committee members killed Marcelino Diaz, the only Puerto Rican realtor in Chicago, who had his office on Division Street. It is impossible to measure how big of a disgrace and shame such an act produced. But we were certain back in 1969 that the corruption was so deep that eventually such a disgrace would occur.
When anyone talks about the history of the Parade they should never forget that what we were trying to do back in 1969 was celebrate our culture and not what some opportunists were doing in the name of the Puerto Rican community. Yet because we were young and because we were radicals we were chased away. I’m fairly certain that the entrenched opportunists in the community are still thinking that a “folly” is a celebration of our culture and national identity. By 1969 there were only two members of the Caballeros de San Juan in the Parade Committee. The overwhelming majority were, what we called back then, “poverty pimps” and their lackeys. Who are the community leaders who are voicing their anger for not having the parade in Grant Park? Are they the same opportunists, their lackeys, or their scions? I wish I knew.