The reality is that Puerto Ricans have been contributing and elevating the historical and cultural fabric of the United States for quite some time. Yet, their stories, until now, have remained untold in a way that does not do justice to their impact. This episode of Puerto Rican Voices takes us through current examples of the way we keep our long history visible and relevant through organizations, and new media while still relying on more traditional forms such as music.
In our first segment, we bring you an organization in the Lower East Side of Manhattan that has been serving the community since the 1970s—Loisaida, Inc., a Latino-based non-profit community development organization that is today affiliated to the Acacia Network. Loisaida, Inc. was part of a new wave of grassroots movement in the Lower East Side (LES) led by Puerto Rican activists and Hispanic residents in the mid 1970s to combat the effects of rampant violence, drugs, gangs, and poverty faced by neighborhood children, youth and families. Loisaida fulfilled on its mission through employment and training opportunities, comprehensive youth development initiatives, as well as neighborhood revitalization activities that positively highlighted the rich culture, heritage, and contribution of the Puerto Rican and Latin American community in this City. One of these moves was the creation and institutionalization of the Loisaida Festival for children of the neighborhood who could not afford to leave the city during Memorial Day Weekend. Today, Loisaida, Inc.’s mission remains as strong as ever, serving the Lower East Side and the Latino community of New York City with its cultural and social programs. Watch on for a few surprising appearances of Puerto Rican pioneers and other big ones.
One of the platforms that is allowing boricuas to show that they are indeed a community that boxes above its weight in the United States is the Internet. The information democratizer was tailored made for amplifying our stories. Better yet if Puerto Ricans themselves are the ones doing the amplification. That is precisely what Johanna Torres has been doing through her work with media. Johanna, who was born in Puerto Rico, has spent time living in Boston and now New York. It was here where she built the majority of her career. Johanna started working on traditional media and went from freelancing for Imagen to launching the popular magazine for the modern Latina woman, Siempre Mujer. Known for launching projects that capture the voice of Latina women, Johanna then moved to launch a digital magazine Mamaslatinas.com, which quickly became a favored portal for Latina mothers in the United States with over 2 million monthly readers. Johanna stands for a new generation of powerful Puerto Ricans in the United States committed to getting our stories out to the world. She is the first of a series of digital and social media leaders we will introduce through the season.
From digital instruments to share our voices, we move to a trued and tried method for connecting our past with our present voices: music. Music has the capacity to strongly carry the different cultures that make up puertorriqueñidad. Specifically, we bring you the story of Eguie Castrillo, a Puerto Rican percussionist who has played with the likes of Ray Barreto, Ruben Blades, Steve Winwood, Mongo Santamaría, and Tito Puente. Eguie Castrillo spent his formative years in Puerto Rico, where he fine tuned his passion for percussion at the Escuela Libre de Música. From there, he jumped from New York to Miami, where his career took off. Today, Eguie Castrillo is the only Puerto Rican musician teaching at the Percussion Department at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. He shares with you the importance of tracing back our roots, of understanding them in order to go forward, be it individually or as a community, in music or life.
This week’s Puerto Rican voices bring you the tales of spaces and methods through which our stories, of past and present Puerto Ricans in the U.S., remain connected, intertwined. It’s in those spaces that we breath life over and over to our individual and collective Puerto Rican identities.
© Center for Puerto Rican Studies. Published in Centro Voices on 2 October 2015.