Puerto Rico is in our hearts and minds these days, both as the island continues to work towards a sustainable recovery after Hurrican Maria, and with the upcoming federal holiday named for Christopher Columbus. Columbus landed on Puerto Rico in 1493, which was already populated by the Taino people, whom the Spanish also referred to as Borinquén. Mass migration of Puerto Ricans to New York began a little over four hundred years later, after World War I, with the East Village and Lower East Side one of the most prominent communities where Puerto Ricans located.
According to Libertad Guerra, from the Center of Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College webpage,:
The Lower East Side of Manhattan became Loisaida after Bittman “Bimbo” Rivas’ poem gave it the name in 1974. The name captured the neighborhood’s importance to the development of Puerto Rican cultural identity in New York City. A number of important Nuyorican intellectuals, poets, and artists called Loisaida home during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, including Nuyorican poets Tato Laviera, Miguel Algarín, and Miguel Piñero, as well as musician Ismael Miranda. But the demographic has changed several times in recent decades, and today it is a multicultural neighborhood, still with an important Puerto Rican presence.
One longstanding place for the culture and performance in our area has been the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Over the last 40 years, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe has served as a home for groundbreaking works of poetry, music, theater and visual arts. A multicultural and multi-arts institution, the Cafe gives voice to a diverse group of rising poets, actors, filmmakers and musicians. The Cafe champions the use of poetry, jazz, theater, hip-hop and spoken word as means of social empowerment for minority and underprivileged artists. Our community of spectators, artists and students is a reflection of New York City’s diverse population; Allen Ginsberg called the Cafe “the most integrated place on the planet.”
And for the next few months, the Cafe will also donate to Puerto Rico relief efforts a portion of each ticket and drink purchase from the Friday Night Poetry Slam, Wednesday Slam Open, Open Mic Monday, Latin Jazz and our other recurring events.
If you want to dine on good Puerto Rican cuisine, you are fortunate to have a variety of options. On Avenue C you can check out Casa Adela, one of our Business of the Month honorees. On East 10th is El Rinconcito, and there are plenty more choices in the neighborhood.
Walk it off and visit one of the many of the community gardens that retain their Spanish language names, reflecting the deep involvement of the Puerto Rican community in the founding of verdant spaces on formerly abandoned lots. The most recently dedicated garden was named after well known local Carmen Pabon. There are also El Jardín del Paraíso, Parque de Tranquilidad, and many more.
This is just an extremely small sampling of ways that you can experience Puerto Rican community as a vibrant continuing presence in our neighborhood. Check out Fantasy Island, an exhibit at The Loisaida Center now through November 18.
GVSHP recently cosponsored the AbrazARTE Puerto Rico benefit organized by Loisaida Center and many others to aid the people of Puerto Rico in their recovery from the Hurricane and to support grassroots and frontline relief initiatives. This was an impromptu initiative, bringing together artists, performers, cultural entrepreneurs, local businesses, and organizations, as well as myriad individuals who harbor goodwill towards Puerto Rico. There will be a silent auction online soon to augment the day of sales of donated art, including two of our photos.