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Forum on Puerto Rican Creativeness for Social Change and Economic Development a Success

About 100 guests, including scholars, elected officials, artists and community leaders attended the Puerto Rican Creativeness for Social Change and Economic Development forum on June 5 at the Silberman School of Social Work in East Harlem.

Centro, the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration Northeast Regional Office and the National Puerto Rican Day Parade joined forces for the daylong forum exploring the success of using the arts to promote social and economic change by Puerto Ricans and opportunities to develop meaningful projects to empower the community. The forum included three panel discussions on key issues impacting Puerto Ricans today.

One panel coincided with the launch of the new Centro book Puerto Ricans at the Dawn of the New Millennium, edited by Centro Director Edwin Meléndez and researcher Carlos Vargas-Ramos, was the topic of a Centro-hosted panel moderated by Vargas-Ramos. The book presents new research on social, economic, political and health conditions of the Puerto Rican population in the United States and highlights the improvements and the challenges in this rapidly changing and growing community.

The Centro researchers, who had contributed to the book, spoke about the conditions that continue to constrain economic development for Puerto Ricans on the island as well as in the United States. They included Meléndez and Kurt Birson, Patricia Silver, Luis O. Reyes and Harry Franqui-Rivera and Carlos E. Santiago, an economist, who served as the discussant.

Among the topics they focused on included the current dispersion of Puerto Ricans to communities across the United States, with special interest in Central Florida as the epicenter of the new migration influx.

Meléndez noted that today’s Puerto Rican migration story is different from the one we used to know. While it is generally recognized that the South, particularly Central Florida, is the major destination for Puerto Ricans moving from other parts of the United States as well as from Puerto Rico, it is expected that in just a few years more Puerto Ricans will live in Florida than in New York. Though New York is still home to most Puerto Ricans, with more than one million, Florida is already close behind with nearly 850,000 and poised to take the lead.

Researchers also spoke of how Puerto Ricans are overrepresented in the military and how economic conditions are impacting Puerto Ricans on the island and in the United States and what that means for economic and community development.

“The Puerto Rican story is one of resiliency,” Santiago said.

The book Puerto Ricans at the Dawn of the New Millennium is available for purchase at theCentro Store.

Another panel, moderated by Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, president of Hostos Community College in the Bronx, highlighted initiatives led by Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico and the United States that have resulted in positive economic and social change.

Some of these successful programs were represented by panelists Jose Lopez of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center Juan Antonio Corretjer in Chicago, Frances Lucerna of El Puente de Williamsburg in Brooklyn and Marta Moreno Vega of the Caribbean Cultural Center in Manhattan. They spoke on the importance of having a dialogue among Puerto Ricans in the diaspora, claiming, building and sustaining our institutions and reinventing ourselves as a community.

Moreno Vega said Puerto Ricans need to be more visible and continue to build and support institutions built with core values such as the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater in New York, which has a mission to educate and acquaint the public with the important contributions by Puerto Rican and Latino playwrights, present and produce bilingual professional theater and offer artistic development to emerging and established artists.

Lucerna said it is instrumental for Puerto Ricans to reaffirm their commitment for generations to come by “galvanizing the community to understand who they are, their values and say that is the power we have,” adding that it is also key for Puerto Ricans to reclaim their space in their communities and say, “We are still here.” The arts, she said, offer Puerto Ricans an excellent opportunity to “connect passion and person.”

The third panel discussed current projects and trends in Puerto Rico and the United States to generate future collaborations and initiatives to. Meléndez moderated this panel. Presenters were Edwin Torres of the Rockefeller Foundation, Carlos Bobonis of Design in Puerto Rico and Liz-Ann Acosta of the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting.