Upper North Branch

Character of the Upper North Branch

The Upper North Branch is a matronly figure in a large family tree. She doesn’t have any biological children, but serves as a mother-figure for all the youth in the family network. She knows your mom from before you were born and can tell you stories that your mother would never mention. She holds a lot of institutional knowledge of the family tree. The Upper North Branch knows all the rest of the branches deeply. The other branches all have forgotten where they came from, they have become disconnected to their identity, and have changed. The Upper North Branch knows who they really are though. She encourages the youth to remain true to their authentic selves.

  • Upper North Cicero
    Pedestrian trail underpass along the river. August 2020. Photo by Becky Lyons
About the actor

Born and bred in Chicago, Pinqy Ring first shook hands with the mic at age 15 when her love for learning hip-hop songs turned into a curiosity to try it for herself. A tough childhood, troubled teens and a catastrophic car accident all worked to mold the young artist into the powerful MC she is today. The accident, (which left Pinqy in a coma), served as the defining turning point in her life as she realized that telling her story was paramount. Pinqy has captivated several audiences in her hometown, including the Taste of Chicago in 2017, and has rocked stages in Miami, Washington, Denver, Austin, Houston.

Transcript of recording

I remember our trails of green foliage before they were smothered by opaque asphalt. When the skyscrapers were lands we once farmed and flowed through. In those times, I worked in tandem with the people who shared my banks for their homes and communities. I farmed a lot back then. My branch members North and South did so too, even Main Stem(!), as much as they try to distance themselves from our history. Our relationship with the Indigenous people was mutualistic and symbiotic. We benefited greatly through our organic communion. They grew and traded crops along our waterway with gentle, non-invasive methods. In our time together, we became close and worked alongside each other without harm done to any of the branches. This is all prior to the colonialists who believed that the branches were useless until they ripped our waterway apart and packed them with barges. 

You see, our family of branches have been here for thousands of years. Our history begins before colonial settlement. Yet, our history is told as if it begins when the North Shore Channel and the Sanitary and Ship Canal tore into our community. Many are mistaken and misinformed to think we have always looked this way and that the canal and channel have always been here. These misconceptions muddle our history much like how they muddled our waterways through pollution and destruction. I’ve been able to keep my appearance relatively fresh through time without major pollution. Unfortunately, the rest of the family has been subjugated by the Canal and Channel. South Branch is invaded by industrial corridors as it speaks out against the system that continues to strip our history away.  

I continue to share our history downstream so it may inform people of our family of waterways, and encourage them to stand up for our community. Only by embracing our past, and our true selves, will we bring about a better future for all of us.


Written by Tristen Ortiz
Produced by Anish Tailor
Performed by Pinqy Ring
Story by Tristen Ortiz and Anish Tailor