In September 2017, Hurricane María struck Puerto Rico, leaving its entire population in complete darkness and scrambling for basic resources. Consequently, hundreds of thousands of people left Puerto Rico to the continental United States in an effort to improve their quality of life and escape chaotic conditions. In fact, estimates show that more than 4% of the population left the Island, out of which tens of thousands alone came to New York State.1
As part of our mission to be responsive to cultural shifts, Humanities New York proudly supported Puerto Rican Migration Then and Now Through the Lens of Contemporary Art, 1950-2019, organized by the Puerto Rican and Latino Studies Department (PRLSD) of Brooklyn College. The initiative brought together music, art, academia, and activism as a way to shed light on the past and current history of Puerto Rican migration to New York, where this group now represents around 10% of New York City’s overall population. PRSLD Professor Reynaldo Ortiz-Minaya, who coordinated the program, writes that it:
“provides a unique opportunity to tell the story of the historical and ongoing struggles of the Puerto Rican community’s experience on the Island and in its migratory waves to the United States. The exhibit, Montage Quotidien: The Photographs of Máximo Rafael Colón, is the first part of a larger multi-disciplinary project which seeks to further enrich the social awareness of the Puerto Rican urban experience in the United States with particular attention to New York City during the post-World War II period until the present day. The exhibit documents both the cultural and historical experience of the Puerto Rican community on the Island as well as in the New York City metropolitan area. Given the recent catastrophic impact of Hurricanes Irma and María, the exhibition and subsequent public programs will illustrate and problematize the multi-faceted aspects of the cultural transformation, socio-economic challenges, and political implications of the current realities of [Puerto Rico]”
The events took place during the Spring 2019 semester, included screenings of two documentaries: “Antonia Pantoja, Presente!” (2009), and “Pa’lante, Siempre Pa’lante!: The Young Lords” (1996), each followed by discussion. In addition, the PRLSD hosted a workshop and discussion with artist Máximo Colón and University of Puerto Rico Professor Laura Bravo on the relationship between arts and social justice.
Humanities New York Development Officer Antonio Pontón-Núñez attended the panel discussion where Professor Bravo presented on numerous works by contemporary artists addressing Puerto Rican migration. These works were included in an exhibition that sparked the PRLSD initiative, Ida y vuelta: Experiencias de la migración en el arte puertorriqueño contemporáneo (University of Puerto Rico’s Museum of History, Anthropology and Art, 2017-19).
Professor Bravo stated that these works “approach migration by raising diverse perspectives around it, starting with the risks of embarking on this complicated adventure, and also glossing through conflicts, especially those rooted in identity, which usually lead to coexistence in a geographical space outside of one’s birthplace.” Bravo concluded that the current Puerto Rican economic crisis coupled with the environmental catastrophe caused by Hurricane María present a ripe moment for New Yorkers to engage with the history of Puerto Rican migration, as told by artists and historians. For further reflection, below are some of the artworks Dr. Bravo discussed.
By Antonio Pontón-Núñez, Development Officer
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