Miguel Trelles, one of the hands behind the scenes of Festival Borimix, is the kind of New Yorker who gives you hope.
After Sandy blacked out and knocked us off our hinges — like the Lower East Side and the rest of the City, Borimix 2012 Puerto Rico Fest picked itself up dusted off and now also in the aftermath of a contentious racially and sexually charged but hopefully empowering election, from the Belly-ache opera to the Mexican Pinocchio, Miguel and his cohorts at the Clemente Vélez Soto Cultural Center and elsewhere unleash a real let your hair down rest of the month celebration of Puerto Rican and New York City culture — Borimix 2012 Puerto Rico Fest.
Visionary playwright, director, actor Manual Moran has "been doing bilingual puppet theatre for twenty-five years." As a visual artist Miguel Trelles mixes Salsa with 12th and 13th Century Asian landscape. They got together seven years ago; "We wanted to do a little festival — a little yearly Pow-Wow.
Puerto Ricans are called Boricua this — Boricua that. It is the original name of the island as given by the Arawakan Indians known as Taino today. I coined the term Borimix because I wanted the sense that Boricua, the Puerto Rican thing would get mixed with anything and everything — the Germans, the Jews, the Africans, the Chinese."
Waylaid by the storm never has the festival faced such restructuring but the show, like the city must go on. Over the years, like a grown child Borimix Puerto Rico Fest exploded beyond the boundaries of its Lower East Side and its institutional home, but in these urgent times, it's as if it never left.
The festival this year is taking place on the Lower East Side and among the culminating events will be Family Day 12-5 p.m. this Sunday November 18th and a month long display of artwork of artists from the birthplace of Borimix, the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural Center.
Check out details on Family Day and other weekend events
Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural Center
For Miguel Trelles and many others, the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural Center has become hallowed ground. As a long time Lower East Sider, I've been both aware of and ignorant about it, for as long as I can remember. At 107 Suffolk Street, right off Delancey — Clemente Soto Vélez is hard to miss. The hulking former P.S. 160 takes up about half the block.
The Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural Center features Teatro (theater) SEA, dance, art and rents about forty to fifty affordable studios to community artists.
Radiating an energy and reverence discussing the institution's history — shifting into professorial mode (he teaches at Hunter, Southern Connecticut State University) Miguel told me that leading public school architect C.B.J. Snyder designed and constructed the Dutch neo gothic styled school in 1898. Neighborhood streets then swelled with poverty and recently arrived Eastern European Jews. "[The school] was a beacon of hope for immigrants — looking for a better chance than could be afforded in Europe at the time. The place was overhauled in 1930s" (among other things then installed were modern bathrooms.)
A mishap — perhaps a fire, maybe even set — occurred in the late 1960s. The school was abandoned. A modern box like building virtually next door Marta Valle High School soon replaced it.
"Sometimes the jewels you have in your own hand and — own pocket go under appreciated."
In the 1970s the neighborhood became very Puerto Rican — and also beset by woes, poverty, urban blight, whole buildings drug supermarkets, bodegas that didn't sell food...
The old school building fell into dereliction. In the 1980s a small group of urban guerillas developed Solidaridad Humana, a bilingual education program and a place in the community where people could get a leg up. Sadly the program ended In the midst of the crack epidemic after someone absconded with a federal grant. A small group remained as a cell. Out of pocket they built, cleared and cleaned the abandoned building and constructed a theatre. The year after Miguel arrived, 1993 they signed a month to month lease with the city and created the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural Center. They named it after an inspirational Puerto Rican poet, writer and stalwart community activist who passed away that year. For a brief bio of Clemente Soto Vélez, visit the New York State Archives website.
Clemente Soto Vélez wrote this poem while incarcerated in the federal penitentiary.
I came to know him,
like an h imprisoned in the honey of his bees,
but the bars of honey were bittersweet,
he lost himself
in love with liberation,
and because he did not abandon
his love nor she her lover,
the earth for him
is a hurricane of persecuted stars,
since liberation cannot
except whoever loves
the earth, its sun, its sky.
On the roof top of the CVS Cultural Center I asked Miguel if super storm Sandy and her affects on Borimix 2012 was a once in 7 years experience?
"I truly hope a once in a life time or at least once every twenty-one," he said, "but hey, if we must deal again, we shall…"
Here's the revamped Festival Schedule, enjoy.