Cultura y conciencia

Dominican Culture in the Lower East Side

Nelson Santana

Dominican Arts Festival: Educating the Youths Through Music and Cultural Activities

Written by Nelson Santana

June 29, 2010

In the United States the summer kicked off on June 21st. The beginning of summer means the arrival of numerous parades and carnivals in which the richness of Dominican culture is celebrated. Between July and August the cities of Perth Amboy, Haverstraw, Miami, Allentown, Lawrence, and Providence among others, and the boroughs of the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn in New York, will celebrate ecstatically Dominican heritage.

This past Friday, June 25th through Saturday, the Dominican Arts Festival took place, an event held to honor the culture and traditions of the Dominican Republic.

Most Dominicans who make New York their home are concentrated in the Bronx and the Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights. This event broke the standard protocol as for the first time it took place in the Lower East Side in Manhattan at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural & Educational Center, and was sponsored by the New York Council on the Arts (NYSCA) and the Dominican Consulate in New York. Fabiola Goris was the principle organizer and Jan Hanvik, director of the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural & Education Center, was instrumental in the event taking place.

Different aspects of Dominican culture were brought to light and celebrated including the music and craftsmanship among other things, and through the documentary ¡A golpe de güiro y tambora! audience members familiarized themselves with some of the most trendsetting Dominicans who at one time or another lived in the United States, specifically New York City. Some of the personalities in the documentary are the painter Scheherazade Garcia, designer Oscar de la Renta, jazz pianist Michel Camilo and author Junot Diaz among many other trailblazers.

Those present had the opportunity to enjoy some of the finest tunes in merengue típico courtesy of Berto Reyes’ trio of accordion, güira and tambora. For many in attendance the most nostalgic moment of the festival was the astonishing performance given by the group. As is customary in Dominican Republic, from the countryside to the tourist areas of Santo Domingo, the perico ripiao of Reyes serenaded all who passed by the entrance of the building, very much like in Dominican airports when merengue tipico groups welcome airplane passengers once they exit the airplane and grace Dominican land.

The festival was an event for children, adults and the whole family as there were workshops and more or less a little bit of everything for everyone.

Mercedes Peralta Polanco showcased her artistry of Taino creations. Her masterpieces are not all Taino but also include other pieces such as the Dominican island. Of course, the collection does not consist of real Taino artifacts as such practice is illegal and those artifacts belong to the country since legally it cannot be owned by an individual, but her creations are replicas of Taino artifacts made from newspapers.

Joel Brujan and his colleagues spent most of their time teaching those in attendance how to make carnival masks. But for many children and even adults, the most memorable moment of the festival was the Dominican carnival performance by the Unión Carnavalesca de Nueva York, led by Brujan.

For the teenagers, the most memorable exhibit was the artwork of the comic artists. Two entrepreneurial brothers of Dominican descent, Christian and Tony Montalvo, along with their colleague Wilson Ramos Jr., showcased sketches and an oversize mural of images they drew for their comic ¡Fwácata! ¡Fwácata! tells the story of the early inhabitants of Latin America be it Tainos, Aztecs or Incas; the Africans who were subjected to slavery; and the Spaniards. The story then cuts to the present-day. Nevertheless, the message at the end is about hope and how the youths can grasp the world with their hands and have the power to change it.

Some people are under the impression that cultural events in New York City are overly saturated. All to the contrary, the exact opposite is true. Many youths are forgetting their culture and others will never be fully exposed to their culture. Parents, mentors, and educators must take it upon themselves to keep alive Dominican culture and support each other to preserve the culture and history of Quisqueya. Events like the Dominican Arts Festival are events that must not be left to “next time,” because all too often “next time” never comes.