Making a difference in our Puerto Rican communities—the cry, almost a war cry, is one that unites not only Centro Voices’ subjects but now Puerto Rican Voices’ subjects. This week’s episode showcases individuals and spaces that are doing just that through the use of performance arts.
In our first segment, we bring you the story of a traditional performance space—Teatro Sea, one of the city’s premier Latino children’s theaters (adults happen to love it too). Started back in 1985 in Puerto Rico, today Teatro Sea is not any old performance space but rather an icon of Puerto Rican and Latino theater in New York City; it is part of a long tradition of Puerto Rican-founded theaters in the city. Teatro Sea is much more than a theater. Its main performance space is located in the once predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood of Loisaida (get it? This is how many Puerto Ricans pronounce Lower East Side) in the historical Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center. Beyond this, today Teatro Sea is also located in Florida and Puerto Rico, where it provides a host of programs, from school, outdoor, community and main stage performances to workshops and residencies. In this segment, Teatro Sea’s founder, Manuel Morán, tells us how this children’s theater is filling the need for theater that represents and tells the stories of our communities.
We then share with you the work of Elena Martinez, a folklorist at City Lore, cultural supporter, and artistic director at the Bronx Music Heritage Center. Elena takes a different kind of performance to the streets with her walking tour, The South Bronx Latin Music Tour. In this segment, she takes Puerto Rican Voices through a tour of the Bronx, its history, and the history of boricuas in the neighborhood. As the county with the largest population of Puerto Ricans in the United States (according to the 2013 US Census), the Bronx has long been a hotbed of Puerto Rican culture. Case in point was the great number of salsa clubs (in case you did not know, the 'Boggie Down Bronx' is known as el condado de la salsa) the neighborhood once housed, as well as the numerous musicians who both called the Bronx home and whose music was informed by it.
Finally, we give you another staple of our NY community that screams Puertorriqueñidad in New York City—La Marqueta, located in another epi-center of Puerto Rican culture, East Harlem (or Spanish Harlem, as many know it; or “El Barrio” if you are a proud Puerto Rican or Latino). While La Marqueta does not only provide a space where community gathers around performance arts, the performative aspect has been central to a new iteration of this 79 years old bastion of our community. When it first officially opened in 1936, after years as a gathering space for merchants and other members of the community, la Marqueta provided products, often ethnic and mainly of the Puerto Rican kind, for residents who could not find these products anywhere else in NYC. It soon became a thriving social and economic hub for the neighborhood. Through the years, through rounds of urban renewal and with mainstream foodstores and supermarkets carrying productos tropicales, the businesses and social activity at La Marqueta dwindled. Luckily, efforts in recent years have re-introduced the historic space to old and new generations of Puerto Ricans and Latinos in New York City. Through interviews with several people involved with its revitalization, and a tour of the facilities, we learn the importance of this market-cultural space.
Be it on stage or on the streets, Puerto Ricans have been performing puertorriqueñidad, in all its manifestations, in the U.S. for quite some time. We are delighted to share some of those voices in this episode of Puerto Rican Voices. Stay tuned because many more are coming.
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© Center for Puerto Rican Studies. Published in Centro Voices on 18 September 2015.