Independent project for Museum Informatics
University of Illinois | Spring 2019
Develop a working proof of concept that applies the use of computer technology in the cultural heritage domain.
UNIDOS, a mobile app that archives and displays the memories and history of Puerto Rican resistance.
People not physically being in the neighborhood or city:
Displacement and gentrification are factors that have impacted residents to move out of the Humboldt Park community but other things to consider are economic, personal, and professional reasons.
Historical landmark identification: something like the landmark plaques but with QR codes
Local mapping but no walking tour aspect
Not making it seem as if Humboldt Park is now the hot spot
Crowdsourcing information from users
Puerto Rican activism in Chicago can be traced back to the political and cultural atmosphere that Puerto Ricans confronted when they migrated to the United States beginning in the late 1940s. Although Puerto Rico was politically and economically tied to the United States, many migrants inhabited a foreign land with a foreign language and foreign customs. Many of the migrants found much hostility and racism when they arrived and as such began developing survival and resistance mechanisms in order to navigate the turbulent waters of the racist society in which they now found themselves. Puerto Ricans experienced sub-standard housing, housing discrimination, police brutality, sub-par education, and displacement.
This came to a head in the late 1950s and again in the 1960s, when urban renewal projects completely destroyed the Puerto Rican communities of “La Madison” and “La Clark,” as they were unofficially called, and later the Lakeview and Lincoln Park neighborhoods. This pattern of gentrification not only led to Puerto Ricans settling further north and west, primarily in the Humboldt Park neighborhood, but also the rioting, activism, and general civil unrest all throughout the community in 1960s and 70s.
In recent years, Puerto Rican activism has once again focused on the issue of displacement and gentrification, this time in Humboldt Park and Paseo Boricua, both considered the economic political and cultural capital of the community living in the Midwest. Although many Puerto Ricans have moved away from the area, Paseo and “La Humboldt,” nevertheless, continues to function as a “home.”
At the heart of this app are oral histories – stories associated with the Puerto Rican community in Chicago, such as a church that historically supported radical movements in the 1960s, a diner where many Puerto Ricans remember socializing after their shifts but is now torn down, or even the community center that raised funds for Hurricane Maria relief last year.
In addition to stories, UNIDOS taps into existing digital collections of partner universities and museums to create curated digital exhibits, or topics. Topics are meant to cover a large event or theme and can include photos, video, and audio.
At the end of each topic, the user is met with related content such as locations mentioned or another story from the interviewees. This is intended to entice the user to explore deeper into the app.
UNIDOS also has a mapping ability, providing information and recommendations on the closest point-of-interest based on your location. This guides you to locations that were mentioned in a topic or story, collected from user feedback, or physical objects linked with the themes of the Puerto Rican experience in the United States from archival collections.
While topics and stories are the heart of the app, the contribute feature is the soul. Chicago Puerto Ricans have been active in many of the defining issues of the broader Puerto Rican diaspora, but we are only 9% of the Puerto Rican population nationwide. UNIDOS connects stories of resilience and resistance for Puerto Ricans happening today in Chicago and other communities, too.
Contribute allows the user to link through their social media account and record their own first-hand account of an event or location. When prompted, they are able to capture either audio or video and include specific metadata. After inputting information, the contribution is added to the user’s account and the larger map.
UNIDOS presents an opportunity to encapsulate stories, places, and events by those that lived them and share them with other generations of Puerto Ricans and allies – past, present, and future.
Lessons Learned & Future Work
Being a Chicago-native and Puerto Rican, this project has a special place in my heart. In trying to make this proof-of-concept work, I reached out to professionals working at the University of Illinois, archives, and community informatics. In many of our conversations, a major sticking point was the archival material that would be featured as our digital collections. Many of the photographs, posters, and other materials associated with the social justice events featured have not been digitized with a good quantity of them living in smaller institutions. Without resources, these materials cannot live within this app (or anything else).
If given another opportunity, I would like to consider a progressive web app version of this project in order to increase access.