Connections between Chicago and Puerto Rico explored

The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago will open the exhibition entre horizontes: Art and Activism Between Chicago and Puerto Rico, organized by Marilyn and Larry Fields Curator Carla Acevedo-Yates, on August 19, 2023. The exhibition will be open through May 5, 2024.

“The MCA is thrilled to showcase a project that underlines the deeply intertwined histories of Chicago and Puerto Rico,” Pritzker Director Madeleine Grynsztejn said. “The MCA has always played a foundational role in supporting the art of Chicago and its people. By celebrating the cultural exchange between Chicago and Puerto Rico, entre horizontes is another step in this direction.”

entre horizontes examines the intersection of art and social justice movements of the Puerto Rican diaspora between Chicago and Puerto Rico. The show traces the artistic and activist efforts resulting from the migration of Puerto Ricans to the city of Chicago, which included many artists who continued their arts education here.

The exhibition title plays upon the horizon line, which connects Chicago and Puerto Rico over the waters of Lake Michigan and the Caribbean respectively, using it as a metaphor for art, social justice, identity, and place across geographic borders. Highlighting stories of Puerto Rican anti-colonialism and resistance, entre horizontes centers Chicago as a key city in the ongoing advocacy and pursuit of self-determination for the Puerto Rican people.

Today, more than 100,000 Puerto Ricans call Chicago and its greater metropolitan area home. Puerto Ricans first arrived in significant numbers to the city in the late 1940s. Companies recruited men and women on the archipelago to work in foundries, steel mills, and as domestic workers. Puerto Ricans established close-knit communities in Lincoln Park, Wicker Park, Woodlawn, and Humboldt Park, among other areas.

Through organizations such as the Puerto Rican Congress of Mutual Aid and Los Caballeros de San Juan—the latter of which held their 1956 Día de San Juan celebrations at the Illinois National Guard Chicago Avenue Armory, which was located in the same area where the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago now stands—Puerto Ricans developed a sense of community and belonging in Chicago while organizing against racism, police brutality, housing discrimination, and poor working conditions.

In 1966, looking to Chicago from Puerto Rico, the musician Simón Gómez wrote the jibaro-style song “Los Motines de Chicago” (The Riots of Chicago) in response to the Division Street uprising, which erupted on Division Street—or what is now known as Paseo Boricua—in Humboldt Park. The days-long rebellion began on the evening of June 12, 1966, after Arcelis Cruz, a young Puerto Rican man, was shot in the leg by Chicago police officer Thomas Munyon following the celebrations of the Puerto Rican parade in downtown Chicago.

The Division Street uprising was followed by the 1977 Humboldt Park Rebellion, during which two young Puerto Rican men, Julio Osorio and Rafael Cruz, were murdered by Chicago police lieutenant Thomas Walton. Both rebellions impacted the Puerto Rican community profoundly, effecting a sea change in political consciousness and leadership in the areas of nonprofit organizing, city government, and other forms of activism, including armed revolutionary efforts.

For example, the Young Lords street gang became politicized in the years after the uprising and, under the leadership of José “Cha Cha” Jiménez, transformed into the anti-colonial, activist group called the Young Lords Organization. Numerous grassroots community organizations and anticolonial groups also formed, such as the Spanish Action Committee of Chicago, the Latin American Defense Organization, Segundo Ruiz Cultural Center, Roberto Clemente Community Academy, the Spanish Coalition for Housing, and the Puerto Rican Cultural Center. Many organizations remain deeply active in community organizing and in shaping public policy today, advocating for issues that affect Latine communities in Chicago, such as housing rights, gentrification, police brutality, bilingual education, and immigration.  

“Featuring works from an intergenerational group of artists, entre horizontes positions Chicago as a pivotal hub for the education of Puerto Rican artists in the United States, and as a center for Puerto Rican anticolonial struggles,” Marilyn and Larry Fields Curator Carla Acevedo-Yates said. “National conversations on Puerto Rican migration to the United States usually focus on Eastern states like New York and Florida. This exhibition highlights the historic migration of Puerto Ricans to the Midwest, and the important role that Chicago-born grassroots community organizations have played in the struggles for liberation and self-determination. We are honored to be able to shed light on these important histories at the MCA.”

entre horizontes will be presented in both Spanish and English, a part of the MCA’s transition into becoming a fully bilingual institution. Through this initiative, the museum aims to offer unprecedented access for visitors through Spanish and English content, including gallery didactics, website content, wayfinding, signage, captioning for programming, on-site Spanish-speaking visitor services associates, and more.

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