Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dr. Ricardo Alegria - 1911 - 2011

On Thursday, July 7, 2011, Puerto Rico lost one of the giants in its history. Dr. Ricardo Alegria passed away from cardiac failure. He was without doubt one of those individuals that defines a nation. His accomplishments were magnificent to say the least.

I had the honor to have met and talked with Don Ricardo on a couple of occasions. He impressed me from the first time that i heard about him and his tenure as the director of the Institute for Puerto Rican Culture (ICP) for 18 years beginning in 1955. I came to become acquainted with Puerto Rican culture on my own here in the US. I have been living here since 1966, when my family moved here and I was 10 years old. I was bitten by the Puerto Rico culture bug in the early 1970's and by then Dr. Alegria had left the ICP and it was then that I learned about the Taino Native American and the African heritage of our people. It was then that I also became politically conscious and joined the movement to liberate Puerto Rico from the US.

Dr. Alegria defined to me Puerto Rican history and culture. His studies and legacies allow others to dig deeper into who we are and where we come from. He was a sympathizer of the independence movement and in the mid 1990's was a major figure in the events that came to be known as the "March of the Puerto Rican Nation". Dr. Alegria's was director of the ICP at a crucial time in the history of Puerto Rico. The independence movement was strong then. The Nationalist Party was still under the leadership of Don Pedro Albizu Campos, even though Don Pedro was in jail at the time.

Dr. Alegria to me can be credited with providing the intellectual arguments against those that claim that Puerto Rico does not have a history or a culture. He should be credited with allowing us to define for ourselves that at least on a cultural and historical basis we are not a part of the United States and should be an independent nation.

Below I reprint a short bio of his life and accomplishments so that we may honor him one day.

By Mariela Fullana Acosta / Primera Hora Newspaper, PR
(Our Translation)

Ricardo Alegria Gallardo was born in San Juan (Puerto Rico) on April 14, 1921. His childhood and adolescence was spent between San Juan and Loiza Aldea, where his grandmother had a farm in which he spent the summers. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras campus, and then obtained a master's degree in anthropology from the University of Chicago.

In the 1950's he gets a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship which enabled him to pursue his doctorate at Harvard University where he earned his degree in anthropology and history.

Back in Puerto Rico, Alegria was noted for his studies of the indigenous history of Puerto Rico, embodied in many different archaeological research and academic work.
Within the study of ancient history in Puerto Rico, Ricardo Alegría deepened the study of the mix of Hispanic and African traditions that were found in the islands, with special attention to the survival of these traditions in the customs, lifestyles, folk art , religion and folklore of Loiza Aldea.

In his authorized biography, Ricardo Alegria: A Life, written by Dr. Carmen Dolores Hernandez, she notes that Alegria became the first professional anthropologist of Puerto Rico in 1947 when he was 26 years old. A year later he was appointed to the position of Assistant Director of the Museum of History, Anthropology and Art at the University of Puerto Rico, where he led efforts to document indigenous Puerto Rican prehistory.

In 1949, as property director, Alegría turned this space into the first art museum of the the country and an important center of anthropology and history.
Alegría also established the Center for Archaeological and Ethnographic Research which implemented the program of excavation and research, its main finding that Puerto Rico had two phases of the Arawak culture: the Igneri and Taíno.

The cultural vision of Alegría, according to Dolores Hernandez published in the newspaper El Nuevo Dia, "led the country into a radical awareness of the importance of Puerto Rican culture in all its forms, its strengthening and its conservation."
In 1949 the historian directed the filming of The Feast of Santiago The Apostle in Loiza, being the first full color documentary made in Puerto Rico.

In 1955 the historian is appointed as the director of the newly opened Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, which he directed for 18 years. This institution conducted work of great importance to establish a historic preservation program with which he could achieve the preservation and renovation of Old San Juan.

In 1973 Alegría became director of the Office of Cultural Affairs under the government of Rafael Hernández Colón. In 1976 he founded the Center for Advanced Studies of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. In 1992 he founded the Museum of the Americas. He was also the founder and organizer of the School and Arts Workshops in Puerto Rico, was a promoter of the Biennial of Latin American Prints and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Puerto Rico.

Alegría, according to Dolores Hernandez, founded and directed important institutions, cultural centers and programs, established and directly contributed to the arts, archeology and historiography through books, plays, films and other cultural products.

As recently as last year, Alegría has published five volumes of a series of studies of historical documents of the sixteenth century. One unfinished project is for Puerto Rico to become part of UNESCO.

He received several awards and honors throughout his life, including the award-Shield-Cronic Award, awarded by the National Trust for Hispanic Preservation of the United States.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

2012: The beginning of a new era, Taíno spirituality and you

Apparently the world has not come to an end. But earthshaking changes are coming. We may not know what those changes are but we want to be ready. And this is one of the motivations for the event on Thursday, May 26: 2012: The beginning of a new era, Taíno spirituality and you. This is an event that's been in my mind since last year. That's when my friend José Muñoz and i started collaborating on several Taíno workshops that brought to the community some of the basic foundations of Taíno culture, the foundations that allow us to identify as Taíno and to actually go out and let the world know that the Taíno are still here.

The Taíno, as many Native people, have a special affinity with nature and things that are not of this world. The Native people of this hemisphere developed knowledge conocimiento that we can only imagine. The Maya for one developed a calendar that is very particular and takes into account certain events that only a very advanced civilization could know. Their calendar takes into account the movement and alignment of heavenly bodies that they knew and abserved hundreds and thousands of years ago but that we with our "superior" technology are only now "discovering".

The Taíno, being the Native people of the Caribbean, had contact with the Maya and the Aztecs and with other Native people of the continent. They were not an isolated civilization living in desolate islands. There was plenty of trade and contact going on between these civilizations. In fact this hemisphere had as many people if not more than the European continent. There were cities in the middle of Bolivia and in the jungles of what is now Guatemala that were bigger than any cities in Europe, bigger than Paris or London.

We are finding out that the Native peoples of this continent, even though they may have had differences in language, customs, religious beliefs, etc., were still very much in tune with nature. The workshops that José Muñoz gave actually opened up our eyes and minds to the fact that the Taíno had a certain knowledge of supernatural things that were also known by other people in the remotest parts of the world. That the same deities that were worshipped by the Taíno were also worshipped by the Aztecs and the Egyptians and the Greeks and the Chinese, etc....but they knew them by different names.

Among the knowledge that was shared was the Maya calendar. This is a calendar not of the end of the world in terms of disasters and fire and brimstone but in terms of the end of a spiritual age and the beginning of a new one. What will this new age mean to you is what 2012: The beginning of a new era, Taíno spirituality and you is about. It's not about telling you that a particular change will come but to prepare you to accept the changes and be ready for the new you...

Cemí Underground, Taller Boricua, Comité Noviembre and Taíno Gnostic Circle
2012: The beginning of a new era, Taíno spirituality and you
A lecture presentation by Jose Bohiti Muñoz about the Maya Calendar predictions from a Native American Taíno perspective.

Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 7:00pm
$7.00 at the door

1680 Lexington Avenue at Taller Boricua’s Multi Arts Space at the
Julia de Burgos Cultural Center (Lexington Ave., 106th St., El Barrio, NYC)

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Find Artisans at the Following Events

Arts & Crafts at Taller Boricua's Salsa Wednesday
Taller Boricua - 1680 Lexington Avenue, NYC.
tel: 212.831.4333
email: contact@tallerboricua.org
Directions: #6 Lexington Avenue train to 103rd St.
More information on Arts & Crafts send an email to: info@cemiunderground.com

Union Settlement Association's 19th Annual Ethnic Festival - Celebrating the Cultures of the World
Saturday, May 21, 2011, 11am to 6pm. East 104th Street between 3rd Avenue and 2nd Avenue, NYC. Vendors call 212-828-6052 to reserve a spot!
You can also check their website: www.unionsettlement.org

Loisaida Festival -Sunday, May 29, 2011, from 11am to 5pm in Avenue C, Manhattan, between 6th and 12th Streets. More info and vendor application at their website: www.loisaidainc.org

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


DATE: April 26, 2011

TO: All Puerto Rican/Hispanic Civic, Social and Community Organizations

FROM: Teresa A. Santiago, Chairperson, Comité Noviembre

SUBJECT: First Annual The Word/ Festival de la Palabra in NY

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Comité Noviembre, CN. To celebrate and commemorate this very important milestone in our history CN will be hosting, co-sponsoring, and participating in a series of events beginning in May and culminating next year in November of 2012. Our first such event is The Word/Festival de la Palabra.

Comité Noviembre and the Institute for the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Elderly, Inc., in co-sponsorship with Salón Literario LibroAmérica de Puerto Rico invites you to the official launch and kick-off press conference of The Word/Festival de la Palabra on Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at the Institute for the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Elderly, 105 East 22nd Street – 4th Floor in Manhattan at 1PM.

I urge you to attend and support this important event the first The Word/Festival de la Palabra in New York the only festival of its kind in the world that begins in one city and ends in another, featuring poets and writers from the Caribbean, South America, Europe, and the United States.

The 2011 festival will begin in San Juan, Puerto Rico on May 4, 2011 and will end in New York on May 12, 2011. I hope that you will celebrate the power of the word with us and enjoy the sophistication, beauty and lyrical legend of Puerto Rican words and of the world, as they deserve to be celebrated.

The Word/Festival de la Palabra will take place on May 10th, 11th, and 12th in various venues throughout Manhattan. See schedule below or visit: http://www.festivaldelapalabra.net/puerto-ricos, for more information and festival schedule.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011 @ 1PM @ Institute for the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Elderly, 105 East 22 Street - 4th Floor, NYC,

Contact: Angel Santini 212 677-4181 and Teresa A. Santiago 914 263-6599

Participating Writers

Moisés Agosto, (Puerto Rico)
Miguel Algarín, (Puerto Rico)
Yolanda Arroyo, (Puerto Rico)
Josefina Baez, (Dominican Republic)
Arnaldo Cruz-Malavé, (Puerto Rico)
Joao Paulo Cuenca, (Brazil)
Tere Dávila, (Puerto Rico)
Martín Espada, (USA)
José Manuel Fajardo, (Spain)
Juan Flores, (Puerto Rico/USA)
Francisco Font Acevedo, (Puerto Rico)
Santiago Gamboa, (Colombia)
Magali García Ramis, (Puerto Rico)
Jessica Hagedorn, (Phillipines/USA)
Guillermo Irizarry, (Puerto Rico)
Karen Jaime, (USA)
Eduardo Lago, (Spain)
Elvira Lindo, (Spain)
Valter Hugo, Mãe (Portugal)
Vanessa Martir, (USA)
Ana María Matute, (Spain)
Lina Meruane, (Chile)
Juan Moreno, (Puerto Rico)
Antonio Muñoz Molina, (Spain)
Andrés Neuman, (Argentina)
José Manuel Prieto, (Cuba)
Claudio Remeseira, (Argentina)
Charles Rice-Gonzalez, (Puerto Rico/USA)
Raquel Rivera, (Puerto Rico)
Bonafide Rojas, (USA)
Mayra Santos Febres, (Puerto Rico)
José Carlos Somoza, (Spain)
Karla Suárez, (Cuba)
Charlie Vázquez, (USA)
David Unger, (Guatemala)
Alfredo Villanueva, (Puerto Rico)

Monday, January 08, 2007

Culture As An Act of Resistance

I was listening to a CD that just came out from Puerto Rico called "La Nueva Escuela" (The New School). It is a CD of protest music just released and it pays homage to the recently murdered Comandante Filiberto Ojeda Rios of the clandestine group the Macheteros. I was struck by one of the cuts in the CD, a speech by Comandante Che Guevara who in 1964 he addressed the United Nations and spoke in support of Don Pedro Albizu Campos and the independence struggle in Puerto Rico. I was struck by how his statements still ring true today.

In his speech he talks about Don Pedro Albizu Campos having spent a lifetime behind bars, tortured, alienated from his family and people and all the while resisting US Imperialism. Don Pedro's actions he goes on to say, are symbolic of the fact that the people of Puerto Rico have steadily resisted the attemps by the U.S. to destroy Puerto Rican culture and replace it with North American culture. That the people of Puerto Rico have maintained their language even though with the introduction of English words and phrases into everyday speech. The act of Puerto Rican's maintaining their Spanish and maintaining their culture is an act of resistance to Yankee Imperialism.

The statements by compañero Che Guevara struck me because here we are, a Puerto Rican community, in 2007, in the United States, en las entrañas del monstruo as they say, and we are still resisting the destruction of our culture. The very act of holding an arts and crafts festival is an act of resistance. The fact that this past year we saw the largest crowds come out to support Puerto Rican culture in El Barrio's Trova Festival, at the Bomplenazo at Hostos Community College, at the Comite Noviembre Artisans Fair at Hunter College and at numerous other places where Puerto Ricans gathered to show off to the world the beauty of Puerto Rican culture is proof that Puerto Rican's support their culture and would like it to fluorish. In addition, the success of music groups like Los Pleneros de la 21, Tato Torres' Yerbabuena and the other groups that play bomba and plena around the city and the nation is further proof that Puerto Rican culture will fluorish in the decades to come-and not just in NY.

The increasing popularity of these festivals demonstrates that to raise the Puerto Rican flag once a year is not enough. We need to step back and look at the flag itself. Raising the Puerto Rican flag was a crime in Puerto Rico before 1948. Many people when to jail for an act that we now take for granted. They were resiting US Imperialism. Many Puerto Ricans wear their flag as if it were an article of clothing or a decoration for the car. But, of course we know its more than that, it as another act of resistance yet this message has gotten lost in the commercialism and spectacle of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, el desfile as we say. Unfortunately many Puerto Ricans seem to think that to raise the flag once a year and scream Puerto Rico with pride is enought to show you're Puerto Rican.

To really support our culture and let everybody know you are Puerto Rican you have show more than just a flag. You have to support the artists and artisans who sacrifice their time and energy to learn a new craft or the perfect the perfect bomba rythm or to paint the faces that give character to our nation.

Now, whether Puerto Ricans realize it or not we are resisting Yankee Imperialism. We may not see it that way, we may not even recognize it and I am sure some of you out there may even think that I am losing touch with reality. Nevertheless, the fact that we have many people out there who are dedicating a large part of their lives to conserving traditions handed down from generation to generation is testament to the existence of a community that wants to maintain its identity.

The very act of promoting Puerto Rican culture is an act of resistance.

Friday, December 08, 2006

La pérdida cultural de Puerto Rico

From El Diario/LA PRENSA OnLine Thursday, December 7, 2006. This is a reprint of an article written by Luis R. Cancel, the former Commissioner of the NYC Dept. of Cultural Affairs and presently Executive Director of the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural Center in New York.

This is an important article that demonstrates how important it is for us to know, protect, preserve and promote our cultural heritage. Although Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States we have also developed (against much adversity) our own culture and it is incumbent upon us to protect it at all costs and to teach our children that we have a legacy to preserve.

What follows is the English version of an article by Luis Cancel and published in Spanish in El Diario/La Prensa Spanish daily here in NY.

Puerto Rico’s Cultural Loss
By Luis R. Cancel

News stories can sometimes take on a significance that resonates far beyond their immediate tragic circumstances. That is the case with the news this past week that a fire had consumed the home of the distinguished Puerto Rican artist Antonio Martorell.

The police report that three adolescents had climbed a fence and entered the campus of the University of Puerto Rico in Cayey and subsequently invaded the home of the artist who was in New York at the time. The youths, who ignored dozens of works of art by many of Puerto Rico’s greatest 20th century artists, proceeded to trash the place, seeking consumer items of transient value (cameras, TV’s, sound equipment) and on a whim, decided to burn the home down – using an accelerant, according to the arson investigators, a calculated act of destruction.

Martorell’s historic role as the bridge between an earlier generation of artistic giants (Lorenzo Homar, Rafael Tufiño) and the contemporary artists of today, meant that his home was the repository for unique works and memorabilia that captured a rich history of the Puerto Rican visual arts. Hundreds of drawings, prints, letters, photographs, folk masks and paintings were consumed by the flames – Martorell had carefully preserved all of this material in anticipation of a gift to the University museum and archive. The loss to Puerto Rican art history is incalculable.

Upon hearing this news I was immediately struck by the realization that only Puerto Ricans can destroy Puerto Rican culture. The teens’ lack of recognition for the sacred ground they had entered and their disdain for that space was symptomatic of their parent’s, and the broader Puerto Rican society’s neglect of Puerto Rican art.

How many Puerto Rican adults, either on the island or in the US knows the name of Antonio Martorell? How many would have seen his work? His extensive production, over more than forty years, has included paintings, prints and multi-media installations, have entered many museums and private collections both on the island and beyond, but this is not broadly known by the vast majority of Puerto Ricans.

One can argue that Puerto Ricans are not unique in their ignorance and appreciation of their visual artists – how many Americans could point to and name a painting by Andrew Wythe or Edward Hooper? This lack of informed cultural reference can be attributed to the conflict between mass culture and erudite culture, the former relies on its ally mass media while the latter depends on individual initiative. Nevertheless, it is incumbent on individuals to press their political and educational leaders and institutions to give importance to cultural education and insist that basic instruction in art history is included as part of a well rounded education.

Speaking about Puerto Rican society specifically, it is my opinion that there is insufficient interest in the visual arts to sustain it over the long-term. There is presently no critical mass of collectors willing to purchase and invest in the works produced by the artists of their community, there are not enough venues to exhibit this work and bring it to the public and there is little to no effort by educators to integrate Puerto Rican art history into the core curriculum that will shape the next generation.

The fire in Cayey should be viewed as a warning to all who care about Puerto Rican art and culture – wake up and get involved in efforts to support it or you will lose it, it will be gone with the next generation that can stand in its midst and not recognize it.

Only Puerto Ricans can destroy Puerto Rican culture, by doing nothing to support it, neglecting it and expecting someone else to take the first step. It therefore must be Puerto Ricans, who lead the effort to save it, appreciate it and instruct their children on its importance and value. Martorell has vowed to incorporate the ashes from this fire in the creation of a new work of art. Let his example serve as an inspiration to use this tragic incident as a rallying point for a renewed effort to recognize and preserve Puerto Rican art.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

ICP INTERACTIVO- Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña

ICP INTERACTIVO- Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña This is a great site to vist if you plan to go to Puerto Rico. Here you will find a great listing of cultural events on the island every month.