ASPIRA: 42 Years Celebrating Puerto Rican Pride

Janean L. Watkins, Senior Staff Writer


2012 Past and present members of ASPIRA gear up for downtown pride festivities.

The 47 Annual Puerto Rican Pride Parade and its accompanying activities was an open event for all Chicagoans to enjoy. Floats, musicians and vans from companies like Goya, ComEd, and Coors joined in the nearly half century-long festivities downtown in mid-June.

This year marked ASPIRA’s 42nd year of participation in the annual activities. Luis Zuniga, an Academic Advisor for ASPIRA Inc. of Illinois touts the programs and opportunities for the organization’s longevity. The program aims for the group include the development of leadership and networking skills, developing a positive self-identity, and building lasting relationships among its members.

“We’re about leadership through education,” said Zuniga, “…we’ve expanded to serve all minorities.” This is not necessarily a new happening with the group. ASPIRA Inc. of Illinois is an organization that has been inclusive of many Chicagoans who live on the margins of society.

ASPRIA may sound familiar to Independent readers. That’s because the ASPIRA Early College High School shares the space on Pulaski Avenue with NEIU’s El Centro satellite campus. Students at that campus have a unique advantage, as they are able to interact with NEIU professors who are regularly at both campuses.

Students are able to put into action what they have learned in regards to their self-identities. At this year’s parade – ASPIRA celebrated their rich Puerto Rican tradition with five floats to represent their five centers for education.

“Events like these give us the opportunity to see each other during the summer months,” said Roberto Rodriguez. As a former President (2006) of the ASPIRA club at the Lincoln Park High School, Rodriguez has been an active participant in the Puerto Rican pride parade with ASPIRA for a number of years.

NEIU Senior, Jacklyn Nowotnik, has been attending the festivities with ASPIRA Inc. of Illinois for a total of eight years. Nowotnik acted as Sergeant-at-Arms, Vice-President, and President of the Lincoln Park ASPIRA.

“ASPIRA has been instrumental in my life. It instilled leadership skills and it’s helped me connect to my Latina identity. It allowed me to meet a group of amazing people who I talk to often.” Nowotnik said.

Youth participants in the ASPIRA program are excited about upcoming prospects. ASPIRA assists high school seniors with FAFSA applications, and often – students are able to receive funding which is raised by events like their annual talent show.

Many of the youth participants bubbled over in excitement about the parade. Nowotnik sums up students’ excitement for the parade and accompanying pride activities best, “We look forward to a sun tan and free stuff. It’s a good time, even though it’s hot – we have fun.”