2017 Loisaida Festival & Puerto Rican Day Parade

- New york

Talk about The Loisaida Festival parade and pageant 2017.

I was lucky enough to be part of the team brought in by the Loisaida Center, to create a parade and pageant about lower east side history, and immigrant (especially Puerto Rican) culture in the lower east side. 

 

After meeting with and interviewing the local gardeners and activists, we quickly realized that our story was about the continuing struggle for community gardens, public spaces and affordable housing. 

 

Our job was to absorb the stories of the local history and struggles, distill those stories into beautiful large scale images, created with the community in a series of free open workshops, made out of locally sourced recycled and garbage materials, and then gift those images and stories back to the community in a celebratory parade through the neighborhood, and a giant puppet and mask pageant at La Plaza Cultural, one of the community gardens still enjoyed by neighbors today, because of the hard work of the very garden activists honored in our performance. A dream job!

I was tasked with creating a series of Cabezudos, giant head masks, that were portraits of local unsung heroes, no longer with us, artists, activists, gardeners and poets, who had helped to shape the neighborhood, and fought for community spaces. In the pageant’s opening invocation, the Cabezudos processed out solemnly, and we asked audience members to introduce each one and speak about their accomplishments. 

I directed the pageant which, in part, told the story of the destruction of  Esperanza Community Garden. It was in the days of Mayor Giuliani (the villain of our story), when the Mayor and his developer friends were trying to eat everything for themselves. The garden defenders constructed a giant coqui (the native frog of Puerto Rico), and chained themselves into it. As the state attorney general was trying to save the garden in the courts, the cops were cutting the chains, dragging out the defenders, and smashed up the garden with bulldozers. This led to the judge putting a temporary restraint on destroying more gardens which lasted through the end of Giuliani’s term, and is part of why we still have gardens to enjoy in the LES today. The image of the tiny coqui raising their little voices together into a loud cry of resistance became a main image in our story. 50 hand painted coqui were gifted to members of the audience, who were asked to raise their frog in solidarity whenever powerful forces threatened in the show.

 

We were also inspired by an exhibit that was up at the Loisaida Center called “La Lucha Continúa” (the struggle continues), photographs of a series of murals which had been painted in the neighborhood in 1985, depicting the continuing struggles of gentrification, displacement, drug addiction, conflict with police, and injustices around the world. We made puppet versions of some of the murals, creating “living murals” that marched in the streets and came together recreate the original murals, and serve as a celebration of our survival, and a reminder that even now in 2017, the struggle still continues.

The team for this project was Daniel Polnau, Pablillo Varona Borges, and I, under the auspices of Junktown Duende collective, and along with the special collaboration of amazing costume maker and genius of fabrics, Daniela Fabrizi, not to mention the help and participation of so many local artists, and all the community volunteers who joined us.

 

Stay tuned for the next Loisaida Festival Parade and Pageant in the spring of 2018!