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The Allentown Morning Call
Enrich Puerto Rican Celebration With Island's Culture
By Rev. Nelson Quinones, Special to The Morning Call - Freelance
August 1, 2004
"Borinquen (Puerto Rico): the land of Eden
who the great Gautier called
the Pearl of the Seas,
now that you are dying with your sorrows
let me sing to you as well, as well"
-- Rafael Hernndez,
"Lamento Borincano," 1929
On Puerto Rico, citizens and politicians are battling some serious problems: escalating crime rates, increasing gang violence, disappearing habitats for endangered species like the Iguaca parrot. How did Allentown's Puerto Rican community respond to issues like these during the recent Puerto Rican pride celebrations? Well, they went bowling. And played a few rounds of pool.
The Puerto Rican Cultural Alliance, formerly the Puerto Rican Day Parade Committee, presented a week of cultural events. They included honors to deserving community leaders, musical performances, and various tournaments -- including bowling and billiards.
No doubt, the Puerto Rican Cultural week activities came together with the dedicated efforts of community volunteers. For the past three years the parade has been a success, ever since former City Councilman Ernie Toth wanted to cancel the festivities because vandals desecrated the American flag after the parade several years ago. One needs to congratulate PRCA President Beverly Rivera and vice president Felix Molina for all their hard work. Their board aims to enhance Puerto Rican culture, with the collaboration of the community at large.
But, how do bowling and billiards celebrate more than 500 years of Puerto Rican culture since Christopher Columbus landed in the island? I must be missing something. Am I unaware of some ancient, communal heritage brought forth by throwing gutter balls or scratching into a corner pocket? The activities also came as a surprise to a few of my comrades. Since I know the PRCA members as intelligent and passionate people toward Puerto Rico's traditions, I assume this is no more than inattention. They know bowling has nada, nothing, to do with the Puerto Rican culture. If these events were used to fill the week with activities, that's fine, and add a domino tournament, as well.
I think the committee could add a more scholarly approach. Here are some ideas for next year:
A talk by Kutztown University Professor Dr. Louis Rodriquez on "Minorities in American History," particularly the U.S.-Puerto Rican experience of a dual national identity.
A tour with Ricardo Viera, Lehigh University's curator, at Zoellner Arts Center, which has a permanent collection on Puerto Rican Taino artifacts. Also, a seminar on the folk art carvings of Puerto Rico by master woodcarver Don Emilio Rosado, Puerto Rico's Maestro Artesano, whose work was exhibited in 1998 at Zoellner. (Currently on exhibition is Puerto Rican Hctor Mndez Caratini's three decades of photography and videos. The collection was organized by Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, and curated by Viera.)
Invite local writers to speak: Ana Adams, who published "Hidden History: The Latino Community of Allentown," and Peter J. Antonsen, who wrote "A History of the Puerto Rican Community in Bethlehem, Pa." Either professor can provide an overview of the Puerto Rican cultural condition in the Lehigh Valley.
Teach our youth to recite the poetry of Luis Pals Matos who added African rhythms and words to the Puerto Rican poetic idiom; to perform the plays of the distinguished playwright Ren Marqus; to experience the music of Rafael Hernndez, including "Lamento Borincano," "Preciosa," and "Capullito de Alel"; to read the literature of Rosario Ferr, Luis Rafael Snchez, Ana Lydia Vega, and Manuel Zeno Ganda.
Offer a percussion clinic with Jos Cooper on Puerto Rico's instruments or the pleneras, conga drums, the giro gourd, and the cuatro guitar. Perhaps such a workshop may be done in collaboration with the Allentown Art Museum on a family Sunday event.
Hold a panel with Attorney David Vaida to explore the relationship between Puerto Rico and the Sephardic Jews; use a visit to Zion's Reformed Church in Allentown, to consider why a replica of the Liberty Bell is located in San Juan's Muoz Rivera Park.
The Puerto Rican Cultural Alliance knows Puerto Rico's rich cultural history is more than fun and games. Unfortunately, the public witnessed Puerto Rican Cultural week beginning and ending with a party.
In 1929, Rafael Hernndez's song "Lamento Borincano" expressed the socio-economic conditions of the Puerto Rican jibarito of his day. Today I, too, lament, as Puerto Rico's youth continue to kill each other; the iguaca parrot faces extinction; and the culture persistently devalues sensitivity.
The Rev. Nelson Quiones is assistant pastor at St. John's Lutheran Church, Allentown.
"The Puerto Rican Cultural Alliance knows Puerto Rico's rich cultural history is more than fun and games."