Childhood in Humboldt Park and the shaping of community

The sun sets near Fullerton Avenue in the Hermosa neighborhood.

By Lynda Lopez

We all have our own way of defining our community and it often isn’t as clear-cut as the boundaries of the neighborhood in which we live. Relationships and connections to institutions play a big role in shaping our conceptions of community. For me, this is no different.

I am a resident of the Hermosa neighborhood, but I don’t define my community by the boundaries of Cicero to Pulaski and Bloomingdale to Belmont. For me, community is more multifaceted; relating to the past, present, and future. I grew up in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood. On Kolin Avenue, I had a group of friends and neighbors. There was seldom a day when I wouldn’t be running around engrossed in some sport or imaginary world. Other times I would be sitting and chatting with one of the elder white women on the end of the block. She would often give me books to read.

Beyond my block, I remember walking to Carnicerias Jimenez on North Avenue for our groceries and the many other stores like Casa Guayaquil or the gift shop my siblings and I dubbed “The Pink Store” because of its pink exterior. North Avenue was and is still bustling with commercial energy. Closer to Kostner is the North Pulaski Library where my mom frequently took me to engage in activities and dive into reading. I was a bookworm from an early age. I remember staying up late with the nightlight trying to finish my Arthur books.

My love of reading served me well in school. I went to an elementary school near Pulaski and Grand Avenue. For the most part, I was always recognized as a bright student (even in my teenage rough patches). After moving from Kolin Avenue to an apartment in the Hermosa neighborhood, I continued to attend the same elementary school until graduating from 8th grade. Without a strong tight-knit block anymore, my life revolved more around the people at my school, so I retained close ties to the area around my old home. I would often hang out with a friend who lived on Karlov and North Avenue, who later moved to Karlov and Hirsch Street, across from Kedvale Park. Our adventures took us all across the neighborhood, west and east of Pulaski.

Without a car in my family, adventures would be pursued on foot or, occasionally, by CTA bus. The times when I did get to venture farther were when my dad would come visit. He would take my siblings, mom, and I to faraway, exciting places like the Mega Mall in Logan Square or discount outlets in the old Wicker Park. Still, most of my adventuring took place on the streets of West Humboldt Park and in the bookshelves of North Pulaski Library.

The time I spent in West Humboldt Park had a lasting influence on me and provide me with some of my most vivid memories. Though I am no longer a Humboldt Park resident, I will forever consider myself a community member. This is part of the reason I feel so much investment in the work of Grassroots Illinois Action-Humboldt Park Area. It reflects the vision of community I would like to see.

I am constantly learning and redefining my definition. Hermosa is part of the puzzle that is still unraveling, Logan Square another amorphous part, and Humboldt Park the central piece. There are still other pieces not mentioned and even the ones I mentioned don’t offer the full picture. This is just my way of starting to make clear that community doesn’t fit into a simple box and it shouldn’t have to. I defy neighborhood boundaries and create my own narrative of what community means to me. I am not bounded by expectations and ideals because I define myself.