In an almost empty music hall, the beats of plena — a type of music that comes from Puerto Rico — echo off the walls as three local musicians practice for their upcoming performance.
Omar Torres-Kortright is the executive director of the Segundo Belvis Cultural Center in the Hermosa neighborhood, northwest of downtown. The center embraces and supports the Puerto Rican community in Chicago.
Chicago has the third largest Puerto Rican population of any city in the country, with about 102,000 people, according to the U.S. Census. Through music and art, the center allows Puerto Ricans to feel in touch with their culture and express themselves.
Michael Rodriguez, a local musician who also manages after school programs for the center, said being a Puerto Rican born in mainland America has caused a struggle in his life in which he is seen as an outsider in both regions. The cultural center provides him a place where he can feel welcome.
In 2017, Hurricane Maria left thousands of Puerto Ricans without power for almost a year after the Category 4 storm hit the island. Some island residents are still without power. Along with their efforts to raise money and awareness for the victims of the hurricane, the cultural center also works to revive the pride of Puerto Ricans living in Chicago. Music provides them a voice to speak out against their injustices, but also reminds them that their is value in their culture and no one can take that away.