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San Jose Mercury News

Exploring African And Latino Ties: The Puerto Rico Connection

By Marian Liu

January 29, 2003
Copyright © 2003
San Jose Mercury News. All rights reserved. 

When they were preparing for this year's Black History Month celebration, officials at the Mexican Heritage Plaza asked, ``What do Mexicans have to do with black history?''

A lot, they found out.

``There is a strong history of African traditions in Mexicans, such as the polyrhythmic structure of mariachi music is African in origin,'' says Laura Esparza, artistic director of the Mexican Heritage Plaza.

``There is a root of racism that runs not only through North America but through South America that prevents us from truly embracing the richness of African-American influences. I hope that what we're doing is actually creating an active, peaceful world that is beginning to lose that, to show people what they have in common.''

The 3-year-old Mexican Heritage Plaza chose Puerto Rico as a way to connect the Latin and African cultures for its Black History Month celebrations, which begin Friday and run through mid-March. In previous years, Brazil and Mexico were highlighted.

Organizers hope the six programs of art, music and dance will show how similar these cultures are.

The schedule:

Voices of Praise: Spiritual music fused with bomba y plena (African rhythms and Indian chants in Puerto Rican song). The program includes Dawan Abdul Muqaddim (jazz), Allyssa Peterson (dance), Sisters 4 Christ (gospel) and Bay Area Boricua (folk music and dance of Puerto Rico). 7 p.m. Friday; theater; $5, available at the door. The evening begins with a free exhibit by artists Peter Maiden and Latoya Reed. 6 p.m. Friday.

Puerto Rico: People, Art and Culture: Cultural exhibit that includes historical artifacts, a collection from the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum and expressionist paintings by Poli Marichal and Yvette Mangual that depict the music and dance of Puerto Rico. Former San Francisco Giants players Orlando Cepeda and Tito Fuentes are scheduled to appear at the opening. Exhibit opens 6 p.m. Saturday and runs through March 16; museum; free.

The Sounds of Puerto Rico: Listen to Son Boricua, a group of Puerto Rican musicians from the Bay Area who play bomba y plena, salsa and folk songs. The evening concludes with a salsa dance with Conjunto Alegre, a group of Puerto Ricans from Hawaii. 8 p.m. Saturday; theater; pavilion; $20 for entire evening, $12 for just the dance, which begins at 10 p.m.

Afro-Latin Jazz Workshop: Bring your instrument and learn from the professionals. Latin jazz pianist Rebecca Mauleon, San Jose State University professor Dan Sabanovich and trombone player Wayne Wallace will lead workshops in the history of Latin jazz, instrumentation and rhythms. A concert with the Buchser Middle School jazz band from Santa Clara and the San Jose State's Afro-Latin jazz ensemble will follow. Workshops are 1 to 5 p.m. Feb. 8; free. Concert is at 6 p.m. Feb. 8.; $5; theater; (408) 928-5521.

``Waiting To Be Invited'': Sherry Shepherd-Massat's film about four Atlanta women who start a demonstration at a whites-only lunch counter in the 1960s. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 14-16 and Feb. 21-23; theater; $15-$20, $25 for the gala reception at 6 p.m. Feb. 15 ; theater; (408) 272-9924.

``Raices'': Video screening and discussion of a film about Puerto Rican dance and music. Also, a display of projects from a cultural exchange between high school students in San Jose's Oak Grove district and Puerto Rico. 7 p.m. Feb. 17; theater; free.

Cultural Connections

The African Spirit in Latin America

Where: Mexican Heritage Plaza, 1700 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose

When: Friday through March 16

Information: (800) MHC-VIVA or

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