Bringing Puerto Rico to East Harlem

By Deanna Garcia

A rush of Puerto Rican music hit the eardrums of visitors the second they walked into El Museo del Barrio during “Super Sábado: Pa’lente Puerto Rico!”  The event, held on September 15th, was the launch of a family-friendly program which will fall on every third Saturday of the month.

There were arts and crafts, a panel discussion about the grassroots of Puerto Rico, a dance performance by the Bombazo Dance Company, and more. “We have something a little bit light with the art, then we have something a little bit heavy with the panel, then we go back to our roots with something a little more performative and festive,” said Richard Morales, manager of public programs.

Children and their parents worked on a mural for Puerto Rico. Joy Diaz, 23, a muralist, explained that the interactive piece was inspired by Rafael Tufiño’s graphic art design. “The design here was kind of repurposed into speaking up promesas [promises].” She said the mural included a hurricane, representing colonialism, the Statue of Liberty representing nationalism, and the black Puerto Rican flag, which has been used as resistance over the years.

Diaz is a member of Colectivo Moriviví, a group of young female artists based in Puerto Rico who paint murals based on female bodies and the island’s culture.  “After the hurricane, the seams of the whole situation kind of broke up a bit and not only a natural thing but like a political thing that affected the island,” Diaz said.

Visitors also toured art galleries like “Down These Mean Streets: Community and Place in Urban Photography.” The photographs were shot in the ’60s of different Puerto Rican communities in East Harlem, Brooklyn, and the South Bronx. One of the photographs showed four well-dressed Puerto Rican women sitting outside on a staircase. It reminded Miguel Lopez, 61, a deli worker, of his childhood. “My mother and aunts used to always dress like that with their hair down and everything,” he said. “It made me forget that I was poor.”

Lisa Perez, 43, a secretary at Montefiore, visited the museum with her 10-year-old son. “I think that it’s important for any child to learn about their ancestry,” she said. Perez said she tries to show her son their Puerto Rican heritage any chance she gets. “I loved being able to experience a slice of my family’s past,” she said.

Morales hoped that the visitors would be inspired to spread the word about Puerto Rican history. “Our history deserves to be learned also by many people, not just by Puerto Ricans,” he said. Morales added that he did not want people to think that they were celebrating the anniversary of Hurricane Maria. “What we do need to celebrate is that we are resilient, that our culture still thrives no matter what. We need to really think about what we need to do to move forward.”



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