CHICAGO (CBS) — As we kick off our Pride Month celebration, we focus on Chicago’s vibrant Puerto Rican community.
Marie Saavedra from CBS 2 visited the Alianza de las Artes de Puerto Rico and learned about a very interesting project aimed at preserving history and culture.
“We are a group that has given and contributed to society, to the construction of Chicago,” said Jorge Félix, manager of the Alianza de las Artes Puertorriqueñas program.
The stories of Chicago’s LGBTQ Puerto Rican community are stories of hardship and joy, courage and pride.
Now they are finding a home in the El Archivo Project, a collection of photographs and other digital images brought to life at the Puerto Rican Arts Alliance in Logan Square.
“It’s important that we preserve those stories for our future generations,” Felix said.
The LGBTQ collection is part of a larger archive of Puerto Rican life in Chicago.
“One of the themes in our story that we realized was missing was the LGBTQ community in the Puerto Rican/Latino community,” said Felix.
The idea of an LGBTQ collection took off in 2019, with the exhibition of the La Primera Parada alliance. It went back to 1994, when members of the Puerto Rican LGBTQ community walked for the first time in the Chicago Puerto Rican Parade. It was a controversial and dangerous time.
“They decided to fight to reclaim a space in the community. We have the same rights as any person to participate in the Puerto Rican parade or any other,” said Félix. “We realized that, you know, this is not in our file. So let’s try to build a collection.”
When word got out, there was a surprising and overwhelming response.
“We found a lot of community members who came to our space. They donated images, photographs. They shared stories,” Felix said.
But it can take years to organize an archive, and it’s painstaking work.
“When you want to start a collection, you have to plan this … thinking about understanding the historical context,” said Liliana Macias, a history graduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Macias is helping to research and digitize thousands of photos; and for her, it is also personal.
“That collection will definitely highlight; it will definitely highlight the struggles, but it will also definitely see the joy that we have experienced as a community,” he said.
Macías said that it is a large and loving community.
“One of the beautiful potentials that this file has is to show that resistance is not always about putting people in harm’s way,” he said. “It’s also about continuing to build communities where we support each other, have not just queer people, but people who are genuinely interested in our well-being.”
Historians hope to have the archive online within a few months. They are also working on an oral history filled with people telling their stories for future generations.
For more information, visit praachicago.org.