Archive | April, 2010

La lucha de los de abajo

Posted on 18 April 2010 by alejandro

loiza2

Bárbara J. Figueroa Rosa / Primera Hora

Vienen desde abajo, desde las esquinas marginadas del país. Vienen desde esos rincones que los de arriba, sean de derecha o izquierda, saludan cada cuatro años buscando números para los partidos políticos. Vienen de esos lugares que permanecen en el anonimato hasta que las estadísticas los señalan como de alta incidencia criminal.

Son ellos los que muchos miran por encima del hombro pero que con coraje defienden su historia y tienen el compromiso de preservarla a través de las generaciones. Son comunidades que se levantan, que defienden sus derechos y que construyen día a día y a pulmón su futuro.

Son la gente buena de barrios como Piñones (Loíza), Sabana Seca (Toa Baja) y la Península de Cantera (San Juan), unas zonas que -sin querer tapar el sol con un dedo porque sí, es cierto-, tienen plasmadas las huellas de la violencia al ocupar las primeras posiciones en crimen, incluyendo asesinatos, según datos de la Policía. Pero, cierto es también que son lugares donde se forjan líderes y proyectos comunitarios que pretenden cambiar el estigma que se tiene de sus territorios.

intensa la batalla

Pero la lucha no se dio de la noche a la mañana. No fue fácil. El proceso tomó su tiempo y de eso pueden dar fe los líderes comunitarios y trabajadores sociales que se lanzaron a las calles a adentrarse en el barrio, a olfatear a la gente, conocer sus necesidades pero, sobre todo, a apreciar sus habilidades.

“Lo primero que hicimos nosotros fue un proceso de inserción para conocer el barrio con todos sus sabores y matices. Queríamos saber cómo es su gente… desde que se levantan hasta que se acuestan. Queríamos saber quiénes eran sus líderes comunitarios, pero queríamos que ellos también nos conocieran”, recordó Alejandro Cotté, director de participación ciudadana del proyecto Enlace del Caño Martín Peña, en San Juan. Este proyecto es una iniciativa que surgió hace 12 años para unir los esfuerzos de la comunidad, el sector privado y el Gobierno para mejorar la calidad de vida de los 27,000 habitantes de las ocho comunidades aledañas al caño, y rehabilitar este cuerpo de agua.

Al principio, recuerda Cotté, fue cuesta arriba. Pero el tiempo se convirtió en aliado del proyecto y la confianza fue el ingrediente que comenzó a abrirle las puertas.

“Ése fue el primer reto porque la gente no confía y tuvimos que hacerles entender la importancia de participar en la toma de decisiones. Y es que estaban acostumbrados, o los acostumbraron, a que las cosas se rigen desde arriba. Con nosotros la cosa fue diferente, desde abajo, fuimos trabajando y construyendo juntos muchos proyectos”, explica sobre las ofertas que abarca Enlace y que cubren aspectos económicos, sociales y culturales.

Mencionó como ejemplo de lucha una actividad llamada Reclamando el derecho a la tranquilidad”, donde cientos de niños marcharon por las calles llevando un mensaje de no violencia, ante una serie de eventos violentos -incluidos asesinatos- que han impedido que durante los pasados meses los niños salgan a jugar a las calles.

“Quisiéramos que no hubiesen tiros al aire, que no mataran personas, que nos lleváramos en paz, que nosotros los niños de estas comunidades pudiéramos jugar en las calles, que no tuviéramos miedo al salir de nuestras casas y que tengamos paz”, era el reclamo de los nenes.

“No se puede partir de las necesidades”

Sin embargo, para lograr el empoderamiento de una comunidad, como lo hicieron los niños de Cantera, sus líderes tienen que aprender a no juzgarla. Aquí el juego es otro y debe partir de lo positivo. Al menos ésa ha sido la fórmula para el fraile franciscano Eddie Caro, director ejecutivo del proyecto comunitario Niños de Nueva Esperanza, del barrio Sabana Seca en Toa Baja.

“No se puede partir de las necesidades y ése es el desafío más grande: poner la mirada hacia las habilidades y fortaleza. Es la única forma en que comienzan a fluir las ideas”, asegura el fraile, que llegó a Sabana Seca en 1998 como parte de un menester religioso que ofrece servicios educativos, psicosociales y socioculturales en la que participan niños y adultos.

“Los hechos difíciles pueden desanimar y eso es una tentación que tenemos que bloquear”, analiza al expresar que las comunidades pobres poseen la virtud de ser organismos vivos que se protegen entre sí para poder sobrevivir.

a ganar respeto

Una vez se goza de la confianza del vecindario, el próximo paso, según Maricruz Rivera, directora de la Corporación Piñones se Integra, en Loíza, es educar a las otras personas.

“Tenemos que lograr que nuestros jóvenes y los que nos visitan nos vean con respeto”, dice al sugerir que ese escalón se sube convenciendo al barrio de que “no puedo cambiar la mirada de otros si no lo trabajo”, por lo que hay que integrar en las gestiones comunitarias con los residentes.

“Toma tiempo, es trabajoso, hay que tocar muchas puertas y algunas se cerrarán, pero no nos podemos rendir… ésa es la clave”, asegura Rivera.

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30 Years of Resistance: NBHRN Commemorates Legacy of Political Prisoners at “Jornada 360”

Posted on 18 April 2010 by alejandro

360

Magdaleno Castañeda


On April 3 National Boricua Human Rights Network (NBHRN) hosted “Jornada 360: A Commemoration of 360 Months of Incarceration and a Celebration of Resistance,” which brought people of all ages from both the community and beyond to recognize the activism and resistance of the Puerto Rican political prisoners and those who have worked towards their release. The event, which was held at Batey Urbano, showcased art work by the political prisoners and literature about their case which comprised an exhibition that covered every inch of the walls inside the Batey.

The event included reflections by former prisoners Alicia Rodríguez, Luis Rosa and Ricardo Jiménez, as well as family members of the prisoners and lawyers who have dedicated themselves to defending the release of the political prisoners, including Jan Susler. This celebration also served to continue raising awareness and support for Oscar López Rivera and Carlos Alberto Torres, who have spent 30 years in prison making them two of the longest held political prisoners in the world.

“Jornada 360” began with Michelle Morales, coordinator of NBHRN, welcoming the audience and introducing former political prisoner Alicia Rodríguez. “It’s good to be here and look at the faces of people that challenge the system,” said Rodríguez. She added, “This is a moment to reflect and give gratitude to all those years of struggle.” Rodríguez congratulated the community for “flourishing and expressing the spirit of Oscar and Alberto,” and noted that her ability to be physically present at the event was a testament to the tenacity of the campaign to free the prisoners. Before ending her reflection, Rodríguez addressed the youth in the audience. “When there is nobody to turn to, you must turn to yourself,” she said. “The ability to endure needs to be passed on to the next generation.” 

Luis Rosa was the second former prisoner onstage and in his reflection he acknowledged all the support received by family and friends. “Sometimes we get credit for a lot of things, but there are people who do not get credit and they carry the same burden and do time with us,” he said. Rosa also applauded the community for continuing the legacy of the political prisoners. “It pleases me to see young faces here. If anything guarantees that we will be here tomorrow, it’s you.”

Ricardo Jiménez was the last former political prisoner presented onstage after being “symbolically released,” as Michelle Morales stated, from a of a prison cell located in front of the Batey. Jiménez was the last of 15 individuals who spent 24 hours in the prison cell in solidarity with Carlos Alberto Torres and Oscar López Rivera. Jiménez thanked everyone for supporting the campaign, in particular the Puerto Rican Cultural Center Executive Director José López and Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Puerto Rican High School Principal Matthew Rodríguez. Following Jiménez’s reflection the audience sang happy birthday to Jiménez, who was presented with three birthday cakes.

López was next onstage and he invoked the presence of his mother and brother Oscar López Rivera in awarding original silk screens from several of the prisoners to community leaders Irma Romero, Michelle Morales, Alejandro Molina and Jaime Delgado in gratitude for their commitment to the campaign to free the political prisoners and their dedication to the Humboldt Park community. The recipients were both surprised and thankful for receiving the beautiful artwork. Regarding the campaign López said, “These 30 years have been of continuous work without a day of rest.” “Jornada 360” was a well deserved celebration of these three decades of sacrifice and resistance, and also served as motivation to keep on working for the release of Oscar and Carlos Alberto because as López said, “To be fully human, is to be fully free.”


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“72 Block by Block” Diabetes Empowerment Center Opens on Paseo Boricua

Posted on 18 April 2010 by alejandro

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Jaleen Starling


After much anticipation, the “72 Block by Block” Diabetes Intervention Campaign will open the doors to its Diabetes Empowerment Center located at La Estancia (2753 W. Division) on Friday, April 23 with a community event from 2 to 4 p.m.

At the grand opening visitors will have the opportunity to experience the new space and get information on all the benefits and services that it will offer the community. The Empowerment Center will be a place where community members can learn about diabetes, a disease that affects many Humboldt Park residents, and also be informed on ways to prevent diabetes, like maintaining a healthy diet. The event will also offer diabetes screening tests.

Jaime Delgado, project director of “72 Block by Block” is excited to see the campaign around this serious health issue take a giant step forward with the opening of the Empowerment Center. “Diabetes is a serious problem in the Puerto Rican community,” said Delgado. “We need to take action and control to help prevent the high rise of the disease.”

For those that are interested in helping reach out to the Humboldt Park residents about the diabetes campaign there will be a “72 Block by Block” Kick-off event on Saturday, April 17 at La Estancia from 12 to 3 p.m. where volunteers will be needed to distribute flyers in the community.

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A Prison Behind a Glass Window: A mock cell in Humboldt Park is bringing attention to the plight of the Puerto Rican Political Prisoners

Posted on 18 April 2010 by alejandro

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Xavier “Xavi” Luis Burgos


Passing Western Avenue and entering through a humongous steel Puerto Rican flag, marking the entrance to Paseo Boricua and Humboldt Park, what one sees is totally dependent on who you are talking to.

Some see a ghetto. Others see a strong community, and there are those who listen to their iPods and stay clueless. What I guarantee most do not expect to find as they pass old men wearing well-pressed guayaberas is a window-front prison cell with volunteer prisoners.

In 2006, National Boricua Human Rights Network (NBHRN) thought of an idea to bring the issue of the Puerto Rican Political Prisoners to the forefront of the community’s and city’s consciousness.  The organization, which focuses on issues of human rights in the Puerto Rican community in the U.S. and on the island, decided on a new type of performance art that would engage residents, activists, and of course the federal government. At that time one of the two political prisoners, Oscar López Rivera, was completing 25 years in jail. So NBHRN built a mock cell at the window-front of the Café Teatro Batey Urbano Youth Space, exactly 6 feet by 9 feet, with prison bars, a bed, and a toilet. For 25 days straight a volunteer stayed imprisoned for 24 hours with only books, paper, and pen to pass the time. The event even reached the pages of the Chicago Tribune.

“The response was overwhelming,” said NBHRN National Coordinator Michelle Morales, 34. “From the media [to the] community and it was positive! We decided to revisit it this year for the 30 years of incarceration of [political prisoner] Carlos Alberto Torres.” Now, four years later, as one walks down Division Street, white-shirt prisoners can be viewed again, imprisoned behind glass.

On one of my visits to the cell, I met a young woman sitting solemnly on the bed who was very much proud of her contribution. When first hearing about the prison cell project, Julia Montañez, 17, thought, “I wish I could do that. I want to be part of this movement to free the political prisoners.” When asked what her family thinks about her doing this, she said, “They support this and visited me. They support the movement also. We’re a very politically aware family.”

Although all this began in Chicago, it is spreading throughout the country. “I’ve been involved [in NBHRN] for 8 years and this is the first time I see the campaign in an upswing. We’ve developed new chapters in Detroit, New York City, and New England,” said Morales. New York City is also conducting a similar prison cell project in the El Barrio/East Harlem community.

On April 3 the last volunteer prisoner was released from the mock cell followed by a commemorative event at Batey Urbano. That date was chosen because it marks the 30th anniversary of the capture of Alberto Torres alongside 10 other political prisoners. After decades of activism and a swelling movement, all were released by presidential clemency in 1999, except Oscar López Rivera and Haydee Beltrán (who was released last year). April 3 is also the birthday of the last volunteer prisoner, who at one time was a real political prisoner in federal prison.

Ricardo Jiménez, 53, was 23 years old when he was captured by the police in Evanston, Illinois in 1980. “Based on international law, colonialism is a crime against humanity. We were part of a national liberation struggle for Puerto Rico,” said Jiménez in a strong tone. “The 11 who were captured in 1980 were sentenced with a peculiar crime called “seditious conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government.” Though they were not charged with any particular violent crime, the group received sentences ranging from 55-105 years. Jiménez was sentenced to 98 years.

Now Jiménez spends his time ensuring that his two imprisoned compañeros get released just as he was. “We must bring them home,” he says with determination. He recently traveled through the East Coast with the NBHRN sponsored play, “Crime Against Humanity,” visiting the multiple NBHRN chapters, speaking at community centers and universities. The play, which offers firsthand accounts of the suffering the political prisoners experienced while in incarcerated, is co-authored by former political prisoner, Luis Rosa, who was also at the April 3 event.

When asked what she would say to Oscar López Rivera and Carlos Alberto Torres if they were released, Julia Montañez paused and thought carefully for a moment, and with a smile uttered, “I’d say, ‘We did it!’”


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20th Annual Abolition of Slavery Concert Dedicated to La Plena: Local Humboldt Park Musician Ángel Fuentes Honored

Posted on 18 April 2010 by alejandro

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Marisol Rodríguez


On Saturday, March 20 Park West Theater was filled with Puerto Rican music enthusiasts and local community members for Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center’s annual Abolition of Slavery Concert, which featured plena music performances as well as an awards ceremony in recognition of talented pleneros of Chicago.

This year’s concert marked the 20th annual celebration of the abolition of slavery in Puerto Rico by Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center (SRBCC), a Chicago institution promoting the African influence in Puerto Rican music and culture for the past 39 years. The concert opened with performances by local bomba y plena group Nuestro Tambó as well as Los Pleneritos Del Son, youth pleneros/as between the ages of 10 and 14 who traveled all the way from Puerto Rico to be a part of the celebration.

A significant part of the evening’s program was dedicated to the awards ceremony during which Mirely Rodríguez, SRBCC Program Coordinator and Agustin Maldonado, SRBCC CEO/President recognized the following plena musicians: Ismael ‘Cocolay’ Rivera González, Félix Díaz, Hector ‘Tito’ Matos, Jorge Emmanuelli Nater, Victor Emmanuelli Nater, Ángel Fuentes and Mario J. Donate Jr.

Mirely Rodríguez noted that the musicians, who were each awarded a pandereta drum inscribed with a personalized dedication, were chosen from public open nominations. “[The awards ceremony] was an opportunity to acknowledge peers that met criteria that wasn’t just about being a great musician but also doing community work,” said Rodríguez.

One of the awarded musicians Ángel Fuentes has been creating bomba y plena in the Humboldt Park community for many years as part of Nuestro Tambó, which recently released their first album, “Otras Historias de Elena.” Fuentes explained that he, along with the other musicians, were highlighted for their skill as requinto drummers (the requinto is the drum in plena that improvises over the main beat of the seguidor and punteador drums).

Fuentes first learned about bomba y plena as a 16-year-old student at ASPIRA Antonia Pantojas High School where he took Puerto Rican history and culture classes taught by AfriCaribe Director Tito Rodríguez. “I remember hearing the drums and learning that it was our [Puerto Rican] music, said Fuentes. “The drums kind of called me.”

For more information on Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center visit: www.ruizbelvis.org and for more information on Nuestro Tambó visit: www.nuestrotambo.org

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“Úteros” Exhibit at IPRAC Showcases Eclectic Paintings of Richard Santiago

Posted on 18 April 2010 by alejandro

Uteros-2010 - web

Eric López


The Institute of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture (IPRAC) opened a new exhibit entitled “Úteros” by the artist Richard Santiago on Saturday, April 3.

Santiago is a renowned Puerto Rican painter and filmmaker who resides in Puerto Rico and has exhibited work in galleries all over the world.  He has a B.A. in Art from Marist College in New York and an MFA in Painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art.

The artist recently returned to painting, after pursuing film for several years.  His return to this medium coincided with the birth of his son.  Santiago spoke about the symbolic meaning of pregnancy and compared the universe to a womb. He poses that there is a cosmic connection between women and the

universe.

“Úteros” is a collection of over 20 paintings that contrast retrospective pieces from the period before Santiago stopped painting with his most recent work.

The images in Santiago’s paintings range from surrealistic landscapes with human figures to cosmic phenomena like black holes.  Whether using vibrant colors to create abstract representations of space or depicting Puerto Rican peasants from the 1940’s, Santiago’s images are captivating and powerful.

The pieces in this exhibit show sensitivity to and an acute awareness of the intersection and inter-relatedness of the human experience, the universe, art and Puerto Rican historical memory.  “Úteros” can be viewed at IPRAC until June.

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Community mobilizes to keep Cocineros in Humboldt Park

Posted on 18 April 2010 by alejandro

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The Cocineros Unidos de Humboldt Park’s presence in the park was threatened when Park Concessions Management, a private company contracted by the Chicago Park District to manage its concession vendors, attempted to double their rent.  The Puerto Rican Agenda worked closely with the Cocineros in developing a response, and with the support and advocacy of 26th Ward Alderman Maldonado a victory was won in keeping the Cocineros in the park this year. Next year a new contract will have to be negotiated and the goal is to work with the Alderman, the community and the Chicago Park District to ensure that the Cocineros Unidos de Humboldt Park continues to be a institution of the Puerto Rican community in Humboldt Park for decades to come.


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Puerto Rican Restaurant Summit: A Success on Paseo Boricua

Posted on 18 April 2010 by alejandro

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Eduardo Arocho


The Division Street Business Development Association (DSBDA) hosted the first Puerto Rican Restaurant Summit at the famous Teresa Roldan Apartments on the corner of Campbell and Division. Over 50 business owners and entrepreneurs participated in the meeting on Wednesday, March 17. The goal of the summit was to present to Puerto Rican restaurant owners the idea and the benefits of opening a Restaurant on Paseo Boricua.

Since 2001, DSBDA has been working to create a Puerto Rican Restaurant District on Paseo Boricua. Among the presenters was 26th Ward Alderman Roberto Maldonado, who supports the Puerto Rican Restaurant District and made a presentation on the Small Business Improvement Fund (SBIF) program to assist business owners.

If you’re interested in opening a Puerto Rican Restaurant on Paseo Boricua or would like more information on future meetings or our Fast Trac to Business Planning course being offered on April 14. Please contact DSBDA at www.dsbda.org,  773.782.0454 or info@dsbda.org. Our offices are located at 2459 W. Division Street.

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Fíjate: Is Latina/o a Race?

Posted on 18 April 2010 by alejandro

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Xavier “Xavi” Luis Burgos


“I’m going to put Black as my race,” says Andrew Torres, 16, a student of the Barrio, Arts, Culture, and Communications Academy after school program in Humboldt Park. “But, you look white and got red hair!” I exclaimed with a smile of interest. “Yeah, but don’t Puerto Ricans got Black in us?” he responded with a look of confusion. “Yes we do,” I said.

The U.S. Congress requires for the counting of every person in the United States every 10 years and the U.S. Census Bureau puts a lot of work in making this happen. After everyone is counted the results play a very large role in deciding on how much funding is allocated to schools, special projects, political representation, among other important things. In many ways, the relationship between the government (on all of its levels) and communities are determined by who and how many live in those areas. For Latinas/os, the census plays a unique role.

Now that “Hispanic” and “Latino” are official options in the census since 1970, they are still ethnic options, not race options. In other words, the U.S. government recognizes that there are Latinas/os in the U.S. (now more than 40 million of us and growing!) but we are not at the level of “white,” “Black,” or “American Indian” as a category.

First of all, the idea of race is different in Latin America. My student could easily pass for white, but his entire life is not that of a white person, but of a Puerto Rican growing up in Humboldt Park among people of color. He also recognizes that Puerto Ricans are a mixed people – Taíno Indian, European, and African. The U.S. Census Bureau’s neat categories do not fit the Puerto Rican or Latin American reality of a beautifully mixed people. That is why we are forced to choose, but is that choice really reflective of our history; of our experiences?

I consider myself a “Black” Puerto Rican – my African ancestry is more obvious in my skin-color and facial features more so than other Boricuas, but is my experience the same as an African-American? What about my uncle Junior? He is very light-skinned, but was called “spic” when he was in the South because they knew he was not white. Is he going to put “white” on the census?

It also must be noted that being Puerto Rican is different from being Mexican or Dominican or any other ethnic group from Latin America. The grouping of all these different nationalities into one category like “Latino” is limiting, but making them all separate races will not solve anything. “Latino” is empowering. There is much that makes us distinct, but there is so much that binds us. The great show of solidarity between the Puerto Rican and Mexican communities in the Immigration Movement proves that.

In the end, my people, put on the census that you are “Latino” and do it proudly. We all must be counted – only then could we tell this country that we are a people to be recognized and our issues must be taken into account, from immigration to gentrification. Also, make sure you put what Latina/o grouping you are from. In communities like Humboldt Park, which is experiencing displacement because of rising rents and property taxes we need to know how many Puerto Ricans are still here so we can continue to build what we have struggled so much to build. Those Paseo Boricua Flags are not going anywhere! “¡Boricua, Házte Contar!

As for the “race” question, put what you like. I put “other/ mixed” because that is what I/we are. As a Mexican educator put it, we are la raza cósmica, the cosmic race.

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PACHS Principal Speaks at Harvard University Education Conference

Posted on 18 April 2010 by alejandro

matt-web

A Reflection by Raymond Rodríguez


On February 26 I went to Boston, Mass. to see Matt Rodriguez, Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School principal, speak at Harvard University. He was one of four principals invited to speak about how the school practices social justice. I have been teaching Mathematics at PACHS for three years now. When I listened to Matt speak, I was very proud of our school. We are by no means a perfect school. We have many things to improve on, but I never realized all of the things that we are doing successfully.  

I felt like I was part of a process that helps students realize that they are human beings that deserve dignity. I never realized that we practice social justice because as Matt said, “Social Justice is not a book you can open up and do word problems from.” It is the words you use, the way you stand, the tone of your voice and how you answer questions. Social Justice is the way you live. When Matt was speaking, I could see the faces of the students that have been in my classroom over the past three years. I recalled the lessons I taught and how they have evolved from, “Let’s do this problem,” to trying to figure out, “How does this problem relate to my students?”

Then, Matt recognized one of our school’s founders Ricardo Jiménez (who was also in the audience) and I was forced to think about how many lives our school has touched over the past thirty-eight years. This school has not only improved the lives of our students, but of the teachers as well. Teachers and staff struggle through what social justice is and what it is not at PACHS. We challenge each other’s definitions almost weekly. This critical thinking has helped each one of us develop our own teaching philosophies and our students have helped us refine our teaching styles by always reminding us of the reality we face.

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