By Lynda Lopez
Yesterday afternoon, dozens of Humboldt Park community residents and allies went to Alderman Roberto Maldonado’s office hours to reiterate their stance against Riot Fest. Riot Fest had a smaller (all-white) contingency, which was striking on its own. For a festival that’s branding itself for the entire community, it is telling that they rounded up the most homogeneous of supporters. I tried to hang back to observe because I couldn’t help but be taken aback at the sharp contrast I saw between the two groups.
The Riot Fest crowd was generally young and white. Most seemed to be employed by the organization. The group against Riot Fest included a wide diversity of community members. Beyond appearance, the accounts each group gave revealed the differences in interests in the neighborhood. When Riot Fest’s crowd spoke, they didn’t reveal a deeply embedded history in the neighborhood (or even an understanding of the park’s significance) but relied on the language of how much this festival has “improved the community.” I don’t think you need to live in a neighborhood twenty years to be a part of the community, but as a newcomer you need to ensure you respect the history and culture of the space before you, which isn’t the impression the Riot Fest group gave me.
Beyond their accounts (they weren’t that compelling), I was struck by the manner they addressed our group, which further signaled to me that they didn’t really respect our concerns. Individuals approached us with disdain for in any way interfering with their festival. Most shockingly, they seemed to want to brand OUR group as outsiders. More than a few times, they aggressively approached our members with the question of “Where do you live” seemingly trying to justify and disregard this dissent because it was caused by “others not from the neighborhood.” They seemed determined to brand themselves as the true community members and the ones with the right idea about what this neighborhood needs economically.
However, our side provided accounts that were based not on money, but on family and community. A father spoke about the sadness he felt about not being able to take his son to the park because of the damages. Looking at the crowd and listening to the stories, I couldn’t help but think about how it’s related to gentrification. As the neighborhood continues to gentrify, some newcomers (which Riot Fest is a part of) shape the community for their interests, while others slowly see their cultural identity erased from the fabric of the neighborhood. Univision recently aired a story on the diminishing Puerto Rican population in Humboldt Park. Riot Fest is part of this change, as it was brought in with a very specific demographic in mind. People that shaped the history of Humboldt Park before the onslaught of gentrification are tired of their voices being ignored. Riot Fest’s response to the community is a manifestation of that disregard and the movement against it is just the beginning of something building.