Archive | 2010

<!–:en–>Exclusive Interview: New CEO of Norwegian Hospital Focuses His Vision on Medical Excellence and Community Engagement<!–:–>

Posted on 01 November 2010 by alejandro

José Sanchez was named president and CEO of Norwegian American Hospital not more than a month ago, however he already has comprehensive plan on how to improve the hospital’s quality of care. To his new leadership position Sanchez brings over 30 years of experience in the health-care field, including a position as CEO of Lincoln Hospital located in the South Bronx, New York. As he begins a new chapter of his life and career in Chicago, Sanchez looks forward to facing challenges and embracing opportunities.


What attracted you to work at Norwegian Hospital?

I have spent my entire career working in safety net hospitals and communities with many health disparities. I am committed to the mission of the safety net institution, which is to provide care to poor communities, and hospitals like Norwegian that serves the Humboldt Park community are very attractive to me. I feel pretty much at home here and integrated into the community. I have received a very good welcoming here which makes things much better. Norwegian American Hospital faces the same challenges that safety net hospitals face across the nation like bringing in additional services to meet the needs of the underserved and the poor. I feel comfortable in this type of environment.


You have said you are “committed to pursuing collaborative and innovative solutions to combat the health care challenges of the communities the hospital serves.” What kind of collaborations to you have in mind? Do you plan on collaborating with any of the health initiatives of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center?

My first week here I visited the Puerto Rican Cultural Center and they had a presentation about treating the Latino community in a culturally competent way, focusing on mental health issues and that is something that I will continue to work with them on. There may also be other opportunities to collaborate with the Puerto Rican Cultural Center. There are also asthma and diabetes initiatives in the community I would like to work with. I’ve also began a discussion with Erie Family Health Center to collaborate to make sure patients can stay in the community to receive medical care rather than leave the community.

Some community members have mentioned frustration over extra long waiting times in the emergency of Norwegian Hospital. How do you plan to address this issue?

There isn’t any emergency room in any county or any city where people don’t wait for some time. Having worked in safety net institutions, one of the things we try to do is to move away from the the use of the physicians in the emergency room department as primary care physicians, which often happens because  patients don’t follow up with appointments.  We need to begin to address this issue through health promotion and education. At Norwegian Hospital we have just put in a new team of emergency room physicians who started at the beginning of October. This will hopefully make a difference. We are also tracking wait times. Our goal is that individuals should not wait more than an hour in the E.R before being sent to the triage and be treated.

What do you forward to in your new position as CEO of Norwegian?

There are a number of initiatives I have, what I consider my vision. There are five specific areas that are important to me for this hospital:

• Focusing on doing well in the Joint Commission, which is the body that accredits hospitals around the United States.They give something like a report card that shows if the quality of care of a hospital meets and exceeds high standards.
• Finance—Getting financial assistance from the government
• Physician engagement—Being able to attract physicians that have the drive and motivation to work with underserved populations and have an emphasis on public health

• Community engagement —Bringing together all the stakeholders in the community and identifying the diseases that are prevalent in the community and developing a strategyto address them
• Focusing on the area of information technology —Having a state of the art medical record system that’s online.


What are some challenges you see in your future at Norwegian?

There are a number of challenges, but I also refer to them as opportunities. We need to bring additional patients into the hospital and retain our current patient base. We need to focus on improving our quality and financially stabilizing this institution that forecasts deficits. We are hoping that stakeholders and elected officials will help to get necessary finances that will help us to continue to focus on developing programs that address the needs of the residents of this area.

What does it mean to you to be the first Puerto Rican/ Latino to run a hospital in Chicago?

I didn’t know I was the first Latino in Chicago; I certainly wasn’t the first in New York. It’s an honor to be here, but I think I will feel more of honored to be the first Latino that will have a successful career here. If we are able to maintain and grow here I think there will be pride about having the first Latino to run a hospital. My pride will be in making this a successful hospital and the hospital choice for the community we serve.

When you are not in charge of a hospital, how do you spend your time?

Since I moved to Chicago at the beginning of this month and officially started at Norwegian on the 18th what I have been doing in my spare time, which is limited, is spending a lot in time in the Humboldt Park community. I’ve gone to eat at Coco’s restaurant. I’m also trying to put together my new apartment. I’m getting to know people here, meeting with elected officials, and just getting to know the city of Chicago, which is so much different from New York.

Interview by Marisol Rodríguez

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&lt;!–:en–&gt;Mayoral Candidate Wilfredo De Jesus tops the 12,500 signatures necessary to appear on the February ballot&lt;!–:–&gt;

Posted on 01 November 2010 by alejandro

Hundreds of volunteers collect 12,500 signatures in under 20 days.

In a strong demonstration of support, more than 12,500 residents from across Chicago signed petitions nominating Reverend Wilfredo De Jesus for Mayor of the City of Chicago. The amount of signatures collected will allow De Jesus to appear on the ballot in the February municipal elections.

In a testament to his ground operation and how his message has resonated with Chicago voters, this milestone was reached only 19 days after he announced his candidacy for Mayor at a rally in Humboldt Park before hundreds of supporters.

De Jesus plans to continue to collect signatures until the November 22nd deadline to ensure he is able to withstand any petition challenges, a typical practice during the Chicago election process.

“I want to thank every one of the hundreds of volunteers that cared about the future of Chicago enough to spend their free time at train stations, bus stops and walking neighborhoods across the city collecting signatures for my candidacy. With your efforts you bring back not only signatures but the voice and hope of the people of Chicago that things can get better” stated De Jesus.

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&lt;!–:en–&gt;Casa Puertorriqueña con nuevo líder: Tito Medina&lt;!–:–&gt;

Posted on 01 November 2010 by alejandro

Ángel “Tito” Medina nació en Toa Baja, Puerto Rico en el 1951 y paso su niñez en Manatí. Lleva más de 40 años radicado en Chicago donde trabajó por mas de 32 años como mecánico industrial. Se define como un Boricua 100%, amante de la salsa y la cultura de la Isla . Recientemente fue electo presidente de la Casa Puertorriqueña  y conversó con La Voz sobre sus planes como líder de la “Casa”.

La Voz-Como surge su interés en la presidencia?
Tito- La  Casa necesitaba un cambio y como estoy retirado decidir postularme para trabajar por la comunidad.

La Voz-Por cuantos ganó la presidencia?
Tito- Gané por 144 votos, fue una campaña dura, pero entendía  que la Casa y la comunidad se merecía respeto, no fue fácil pero al final logramos unificar esfuerzos .

La Voz-Por que era el importante que la gente votara pot usted?
Tito-Porque tengo buenos planes pa’ la Casa. Yo quiero unificar esfuerzos, trabajar con otras organizaciones puertorriqueñas y integrar más a los jóvenes . Vamos a hacer un salón de computadoras y otro de ping pong, gracias a una donación que recibimos y  quiero envolver  a los jóvenes en más actividades de recreación y deportes.

La Voz-Cuales son algunos planes para la Casa Puertorriqueña?

Tito-Sabes que en Puerto Rico están las escuelas de música y bandas municipales, ya tenemos voluntarios para empezar a dar clases de música; hacer un desfile a la altura de la cultura de Puerto Rico y de Chicago con más grupos culturales, bomba  y plena y también integrar La Casa en colaboraciones con otras organizaciones de Chicago.

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<!–:en–>Humboldt Park Native Marilyn Morales Running for City Clerk<!–:–>

Posted on 01 November 2010 by alejandro

Marilyn Morales, a Boricua raised in Humboldt Park, is campaigning diligently for the position of City Clerk. Morales took time to share a little about herself and her interest in running for City Clerk with our readers.

La Voz –Tell us a little bit about yourself
MM: I am a native Chicagoan born and raised in Humboldt Park to Puerto Rican parents.I am a product of the Chicago Public School system graduating from Kelvyn Park High School in 1980. I obtained my B.S. from Aurora College and acquired a Masters in Education from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1994. I am the mother of three great kids and I currently live in the Northwest side of Chicago. I have over 20 years of public service employment experience. I started off with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and then, I worked at the University of Illinois at Chicago. For the past 16 years, I have worked for the Chicago Park District. I also worked at the Association House during the time that Miguel Del Valle was the director. I am on the Vida/Sida Advisory Board and served on the Institute of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture (IPRAC)
Board of Directors. In addition, I am a Puerto Rican Agenda member, co-founder of
Boricua Pride and became a Metropolitan Leadership Institute Fellow in 2008. I love
Paseo Boricua, café, and I love to read!

La Voz – What does the City Clerk’s office do and why are you running for City Clerk?

MM: City Clerk’s Office is the second highest ranking office in the city. It is responsible for maintaining all the official records of city government. Additionally, it
is responsible for issuing business, liquor and other city licenses, and distributing city stickers, passports, and dog licenses. I am running for City Clerk because I believe I have the leadership, organizational, and management skills necessary to do the job. I am exceptionally qualified and possess the skills necessary to run that department effectively and efficiently. I would like to continue to expand the se vices provided and make the office more
accessible, transparent, and responsive
to the public.

La Voz – Tell us about your campaign
MM: Right now the big job is to collect 12,500 signatures, so we are pounding the streets getting signatures. This is a local grassroots effort to get me on the ballot and
we need every Chicago registered voter available to sign my petition. Our volunteers
are wonderful people from all over the city who want to give me an opportunity to run for this office, and I am excited about the overwhelming amount of support from different organizations. They all believe in my genuine interest and commitment to the people of this city, and they are doing all that they can to collect signatures. I am very grateful to all who have been encouraging and supportive of my effort to run for City Clerk. Anyone who is interested in volunteering can e-mail us at marilynmorales@marilynforcityclerk.org.

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<!–:en–>Fíjate: A Chicago Puerto Rican in Hartford <!–:–>

Posted on 01 November 2010 by alejandro


It always baffled me when friends and colleagues of mine would see me outside of the fluid boundaries of Humboldt Park and comment, “Oh wow, you’re outside the two flags!” While such remarks are made in fairly good-humor, they are more telling about the deep-seated feelings about people who do community work. In other words, “those activists” are too narrow-minded or insular; they do not experience or understand the world outside a few blocks, which of course, is bad. All in all, a sentiment of “I could never do that kind of work, because I’ll end up like that” is felt. That kind of idea only damages the possibilities of maintaining and expanding work that seeks to improve the lives of community residents. And more importantly, those who get hurt the most in the process are the very residents themselves.

Just recently, I traveled outside the neighborhood to attend the Puerto Rican Studies Association Conference in Hartford, Connecticut. Although I listened to the work of the Puerto Rican intelligentsia, which for me proved that our communities can also produce great scholars and intellectuals, I also wanted to understand what connections could be drawn between academia and the people they study. This faraway New England city always peeked my interest due to its very large Puerto Rican community, which, in terms of proportion, is the second largest in the U.S. Plus, the mayor and much of the political establishment is led by Boricuas. Therefore a few friends and I ventured outside the walls of the swanky hotel where the conference was held to see what links could be made between Paseo Boricua and Park Street, the economic and cultural center for the Hartfordian Boricua.

As we walked down Park Street, there were visible signs of urban decay and poverty: the multiple young men, walking around with seemingly nothing to do and some “run-down” homes and buildings. Of course, this is what outsiders too often focus on, especially when visiting communities of color. What is most important and amazing, and perhaps sometimes even overlooked by community workers and academics, were the distinct signs of economic and cultural development. Block after block there were small business ventures that included everything from restaurants and cafes, to bookstores, record shops, and jewelers. As I entered these places of business, it was obvious that they were all owned by Puerto Rican and Latina/o longtime residents who also employed longtime local residents of color.

Social networks and civic engagement seemed to be rich, with residents conversing with each other as they walked down the street and in cafes, and some passing out information on electoral candidates. Furthermore, there were multiple buildings that have been reconstructed to look like structures in Viejo San Juan, with pastel-colored façades and iron-gate balconies. The neighborhood also included murals and community centers that depicted cultural and political themes of the island. Yes, social ills existed, but there was a community that was economically vibrant and culturally puertorriqueño – an important place in which to continue addressing the problems we face as a nation.

In Humboldt Park, we are also developing our community on our own terms, similar to that of Hartford, by holistically intersecting economics, politics, health, housing, and education within the framework of Puerto Rican identity. All this is done with the idea that in a racist and classist society, how can we own the places we live in, create a legitimate internal economy, and address the issues that affect us. Thus, to those that say that community workers are too “stuck” in Humboldt Park, I say that it takes a strong connection and sense of rootedness in your own community to truly appreciate and understand what others have built and to create a common agenda that will lift us all up as a people.

by Xavier “Xavi” Luis Burgos

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<!–:en–>Over 300 Supporters Attend Fundraiser for New Life Teen Shelter for Boys <!–:–>

Posted on 01 November 2010 by alejandro

On October 1, the 1st Annual “Dare to Dream” Gala was hosted at Galleria Marchetti banquet hall by the Chicago Dream Center, a non-profit organization of New Life Covenant Ministries.  Mayor Richard M. Daley, Governor Pat Quinn and City Treasurer Stephanie Neely co-chaired this successful fundraiser.  Over 300 supporters attended, including Senator Iris Martínez, Commissioner Joe Berrios and Commissioner Edwin Reyes.

In 2007, Reverend Wilfredo De Jesús, senior pastor of New Life Covenant, had a vision to provide comprehensive services to homeless women and aid them in overcoming drugs, prostitution, alcoholism and poverty.  Since then, he has expanded this successful program to include the AXIS teen girl’s shelter and the latest addition, the AXIS teen boy’s shelter. The boy’s shelter is located at 1638 N. California Avenue and will not only offer the basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter to these young men but also job and life skills training.  What truly distinguishes this shelter is that it will provide the safety, support, faith, hope and love that is needed for these young men to grow into responsible and productive members of society.

The 1st Annual “Dare to Dream” Gala raised $47,000 to support the rehabilitation of the AXIS teen boy’s shelter, which is in need of a complete gut/rehab costing approximately $250,000.  On behalf of the Chicago Dream Center, thank you to all the sponsors, individual donors and volunteers. For more information or to contribute, please call the Chicago Dream Center at (773) 384-2200.

by Veronica Ocasio

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&lt;!–:en–&gt;Rep. Gutierrez:“I Have Unfinished Business, So I Will Not Be a Candidate for Mayor of the City of Chicago”&lt;!–:–&gt;

Posted on 01 November 2010 by alejandro

The following is a statement by Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL):

When I make important decisions I try to think about Roberto Clemente.

Roberto Clemente had everything.  A great career.  A rifle arm.  A big contract.  Fans who adored him.

And yet, he risked it all to help others.  He made a decision that was entirely unselfish.  A decision about the greater good of his people.  He took on the dictator of Nicaragua, got on a small plane, overloaded with relief supplies, flew into a storm – and gave his life for others.

I’m not here to compare myself to Clemente.  Not at all. Few people will ever earn that comparison.  But I am here to say that as I think about making a decision like running for Mayor of Chicago, I try to learn from his example.

And the example he set was this: when you make a decision, do it based on what is best for your people.

I love the City of Chicago.  I would love to be Mayor of the City of Chicago, and I believe I could do great things for people.  For Latinos, for African-Americans, for immigrants, for gays and lesbians, for every person in Chicago who wants a better future for themselves and their families.
I believe I could make a difference.

And I believe our campaign is in very strong shape.  We have lots of funding, and commitments for more.  We have plenty of signatures on petitions.  We have enthusiasm and support and volunteers.  We have a poll that says we are in a very strong position and that the Latino community in particular would rally to my candidacy.

It’s an exciting and important opportunity.

And so I have weighed that excitement and that opportunity and that possibility alongside of my current opportunity.  And my current obligation.

I’m honored to serve in Congress.  My constituents have sent me back many times.  I take their trust seriously.  I’m humbled by it.

And across this nation, immigrants are counting on me too.  The people I’ve talked about today in detail.  The people I’ve met in Jersey City and Tampa, in El Paso and San Jose, in Cleveland and Phoenix.

Today, our immigrant community is under attack – but we’re fighting back.  And I am fortunate enough to be on the frontlines of the battle.  Fortunate to stand up for families that are being torn apart and moms and dads who are being deported.  To have a direct line to the President of the United States to say “you have to do more.”  To go to Phoenix to say “what you are doing here is unjust and must be stopped.”  To walk the streets of Pilsen and Little Village and give people hope.

To debate anti-immigrant lead
ers wherever we find them – from the ballot box to the television talk shows.

It’s a tough time for those of us who believe in fairness for immigrants.  But history is not written by those who give up.

And history is not written by those who change battles in the middle of the
fight.

Today I tell you that I have an obligation to all of my constituents and all of the immigrant families I have met and learned from across this country.  I have an obligation to not give up the fight for fairness, for justice and for finally passing comprehensive immigration reform.

I have an obligation not to give up on the fight I’ve already begun.

I have unfinished business to complete.

So I will not be a candidate for Mayor of the City of Chicago.

This is an extremely difficult decision, and I thank with all my heart the people who have been working so hard and supporting my candidacy.

But it is a decision I make knowing it is the right thing to do.   There is one and only one reason I am not running — I’m already engaged in the most important battle I can commit my energy and time and devotion to winning.  I am one-hundred percent committed to fighting for fairness and justice for immigrants, and to continue the battle for comprehensive immigration reform.

Standing up for immigrants, and finishing this battle, and winning this fight is far more important than whatever personal disappointment I might feel in not making the race for Mayor of the City of Chicago.

I love Chicago.  I’ve reached out to other candidates today to tell them I’m not running and to wish them well.  I will be engaged in this race and will still be a voice for fairness for all of the people of Chicago.  For jobs.  For better schools.  For safe streets.

But I will be that voice while I continue my obligations as Congressman and my crusade for comprehensive immigration reform.

I know today – that even though I believe we would have mounted a great campaign, an important campaign, a winning campaign – this is the right decision for the people I represent and for people who count on me.

So I thank you.  Today is not the end of a fight – it’s the continuation of a struggle for justice – and I invite all of you to join me in this very important crusade.   Because with all of you – together – we will win.

Thank you very much.

(Press Release 10/2010)

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In Times When Boricua ‘Pride’ Isn’t Enough

Posted on 01 November 2010 by alejandro

Puerto Rico, how ironic is our love for you? We never cease to profess our sincere pride. We display it everywhere and in any way possible; from tattoos, t-shirts, to temperaments, we declare our profound orgullo.

Yet our love and pride – as deep as it goes – has limits, lines we won’t cross, fears we won’t face. Far too often, there is much we refuse to say, acts we won’t do, and beliefs we refuse to hold. Everyday, we simultaneously affirm our identity as Puerto Ricans, yet we often collectively dare not fight for Puerto Rico.

This contradiction is not only present on the island, but also in our barrios and communities throughout the United States. Here too, we have immense pride and love for our patria, but it’s no less ironic, no less tragic.

The question remains, how we together – as a community and people – move from one-dimensional pride to a stronger commitment to each other and our shared liberation.

Our annual festivals and celebrations offer a site to reflect on the nature of Puerto Rican pride, its importance and shortcomings. Every year, we gather (wherever there is more than one Puerto Rican) to celebrate, commemorate, and congratulate each other on our rich culture and customs. From the smallest towns in New England to the sprawling suburbs around Orlando to parts of Texas to the metropolises of New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, we host annual parades and festivals.

Though some are bigger, better funded, or more established than others, each serves in its own way as expressions of our collective identity. Historically, we were forced to create these festivals and parades in order to combat the negative and racist characterizations of our community. As a result, we cannot underestimate them, although we can question how they sometimes limit Puerto Rican-ness to a few, sanitized expressions.

In some cases, these important events mark the only time we gather as a community. Drawn by music, food, and the rare chance to express ourselves freely and openly as Boricuas, we dust off our flags and thrust them out of our house and car windows, passionately, albeit predictably, forcing our local cities to recognize our existence.

Politicians come out, commercial businesses and media take notice and contrive ways to take advantage of our momentary unity. We gain some recognition, smiling with teeth shining, flag in hand, yet too often, during and beyond these moments of cultural bliss, we are silent on the matters of urgent concern to the Puerto Rican people.

This raises the question: Why does our profound pride not usually lead to action in the defense of those among us most suffering? What kind of pride does translate into love for our sisters and brothers?

Various facets of our history and current reality usually fall outside of these popular cultural events. In most cases, Puerto Rican identity is expressed in narrow terms, as if arroz con gandules, bistec encebollado y tostones, Salsa y reggeaton captured it all. Even further than our culture, what is the reality of Puerto Ricans and why is reflecting and acting on that complicated reality so often threatening to some in our community? One important exception to the tendency to exclude political and social issues from cultural events is the Puerto Rican People’s Parade held on Paseo Boricua, Chicago. This parade not only proclaims our identity but also raises important causes like gentrification and liberation via ¡Humboldt Park NO SE VENDE! and the campaign to free our Puerto Rican political prisoners.

Our realities as Puerto Ricans, of course, are incredibly diverse, and though there is an emerging professional and ‘middle-class’ sector, the majority of our people continue to face adversities to their very existence.

Our dropout rates (or push-out rates, to be more accurate) are among the highest, and have been for decades. Our unemployment rates, particularly in the inner city, are staggering, and that was before the economic downturn.  Our historic communities, like my city’s Humboldt Park and others, are being or have been dismantled and destroyed by a housing crisis long before the foreclosure epidemic.

Some of these realities – which are only a few and do not count necessarily as the most important – may in fact not resonate with your particular lived experience. But rest assured that the Boricua that passes you at the festival, that joins you in shouting out “¡Que Viva Puerto Rico!” may very well be confronting these challenges and others like violence (gang violence, domestic violence, and the violence of abusive law enforcement and imprisonment), as well as disastrous poverty. Perhaps they suffer from racial, gender, and sexual discrimination both within and outside our community.

Deep inequalities and divisions mark our people, both on the island and our glorious Diaspora. Especially in the current climate against Latin American peoples in the U.S., most recently reflected in Arizona Senate Bill 1070, we are facing difficult times.

We are a people – at least from my reading of history – that continue to experience the fracturing and oppressive reality of colonialism and its many manifestations. The current situation the majority of our people live reveals a profound denial of our human rights and a hesitation to aggressively demand them. Our responsibility continues to be to resist – in every conceivable way, from the smallest act of defiance to the acts remembered by our future historians. We cannot afford to shy away from politics, debate and collective action.

Pride is not enough. While we need to affirm our existence through cultural celebrations, and do so in recognition of our internal diversity, we must go beyond this form of pride. Our pride in our history, culture and identity should be sources of energy to work together in building new hopes, dreams and possibilities, but it should also move us beyond a one-dimensional pride to a deeper, richer love of our people, which is based on and grows through the struggle for our freedom and the freedom of all peoples.

by Michael Rodríguez-Muñiz

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IPRAC inaugurates “Everyone Matters” Art Exhibit

Posted on 01 November 2010 by alejandro

Over 300 people gathered on October 8 for the opening reception of Everyone Matters . . . Wellness as a Way of Life, an art exhibit showcasing the artwork, crafts and oral stories by over 100 local community residents sharing personal messages of resilience and positive life choices.

Curated by Jorge Felix, the exhibit reflects personal journeys towards healing where art becomes a tool for personal empowerment and healing. The Institute of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture (IPRAC), provided a fitting backdrop for the event. A poetry performance, several speakers — including three youth who shared affirming stories of seeking counseling — and a short production from Erasing the Distance, a theatrical troupe working to increase understanding of mental health, rounded out the reception.

Everyone Matters is presented by the Behavioral Health Task Force of the Greater Humboldt Park Community of Wellness and is a collaboration between Association House of Chicago, Casa Central, La Casa Norte, Community Counseling Centers of Chicago, Erie Family Health Center, Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, and Norwegian American Hospital. Everyone Matters also counts with the collaboration of Vocalo 89.5FM and WBEZ Radio West Side Bureau.

The Community of Wellness is very grateful for the support from LISC Chicago/NCP and the Centennial Medical Management Corporation at Norwegian American Hospital who helped make this important exhibit possible.

by Juana Ballestero

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The Restoration of La Crucifixion De Don Pedro

Posted on 04 October 2010 by alejandro

After nine years of struggle to save one of Chicago’s largest and oldest murals, the Puerto Rican community of Humboldt Park is closer to wining the right to the contentious adjacent lot. On Wednesday, September 27th, Raul Echevarria, Deputy Director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, received word that the Chicago City Council Committee on Real Estate approved a two-year lease of the lot. The lease will now go before the full City Council for a vote in October. “Once the lease is approved we can begin development of the lot into a garden with GreenCor, a group assigned by the City to develop the landscape elements to the lot”, said Echevarria.  If all goes as planed the garden could be completed by mid November, weather permitting. According to Echevarria, the Puerto Rican Cultural Center will hold title of the lease. “During the two year period of the lease, the City will begin a process of officially transferring title of the lot to the Puerto Rican Cultural Center”, Echevarria stated.

Back in 2001, after completing plans to restore the mural and develop the adjacent lot, a committee made up of various community organizations (including the Near Northwest Neighborhood Network, Architreasures, the Puerto Rican Cultural Center) and residents attempted to negotiate with the developer who owned the lot, to sell it to the committee. The developer had laid a foundation to build a condominium that would block sight of the mural.  By 2003, negotiations had failed and the deve
loper started construction of the condo. This sparked highly publicized protests by the community members that included the involvement of the then Alderman of the 26th Ward Billy Ocasio. Subsequently, the protesters stopped construction on three occasions. Finally, the City was able to gain control of the site in 2007. Yet restoration could not begin until the City was able to settle the question of stewardship of the property that would insure that the project would be completed and maintained.

“I remember being ten years old, driving with my father and we would always pass that mural. It was kind of creepy”, recalls John Vergar, “especially that guy (Muños Marin), who is stabbing Jesus (Albizu Campos), with what looked to me like a pool stick”.

Artist John Vergara (37), who is best known in the community for creating the Paseo Boricua/Humboldt Park (Coat Of Arms) mural on the corner of Campbell and Division, as well as, his now famous flag (with the Coat of Arms), was assigned to be the lead artist of the restoration. “I would have never thought that I would be involved in the restoration of this mural”, says Vergara.

John Pitman Weber, a veteran Chicago muralist and professor of art at Elmhurst College, was hired as a consultant for the project. He provided technical assistance to Vergara who had never restored a mural before. Along with various volunteers, the goal was to complete the restoration in one week. Restoration began on August 28th and by September 4th the mural was 85 % complete. “I didn’t think it was going to be possible to complete this in such a short time,” says Mario Galan. Artist Mario Galan had designed the mural in 1971 as a founding member of the Puerto Rican Arts Association. “I was surprised to see that he (Vergara) was dedicated. When someone is dedicated, you tend to put a little more into it and it turned out right,” says Mario.

Mario Galan was one of many volunteers who helped in the restoration of the mural. Although Mario is surprised that the mural has lasted this long, his memories are still vivid of when he first painted the mural. “I thought about the people that worked under me when I first did the mural, like Hector Rosario who was instrumental in getting me the information I needed.” Says Mario.

John Vergara was pleased to have the opportunity to work with one of the original ar
tists. “I had one of the original muralist, Mario Galan, assisting me which was the best part of the experience”, says Vergara. “Someone like me, from the “streets” to be given an opportunity to restore a historic mural. I feel truly honored.”

An entire generation of Humboldt Park residents has grown up seeing the mural as part of this neighborhood. Now with the restoration of the mural a new generation of residents can now enjoy it’s aesthetic with a new park and garden. Just in time for the 40th Anniversary of the mural next year.  “I see it as a victory for all of us”,
says Vergara.


by Eduardo Arocho

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