Exploring 'Loisaida' And Latino Culture In NYC

I planted the seed... and I was hoping that our trip to El Barrio would make Nici and Bryce get a little more interested in our culture. A few days after our road trip, I got a call from Jennifer (the kids’ mom and Capicu Culture's administrator) thanking me for taking the kids to El Barrio. She told me that the kids came back excited about all the things they learned about Puerto Rican culture and now wanted to find out more about their Costa Rican roots. I then thought maybe another road trip was in order. So I extended an invitation for a mid afternoon trip to another historically Latino neighborhood in NYC, the Lower East Side, or “Loisaida” in Spanglish, a nickname coined by a local Nuyorican poet Bimbo Rivas.

Like El Barrio, Loisaida was an extension of Puerto Rico in NYC. Where El Barrio was a place that really influenced political change, Loisaida flourished in the arts becoming a mecca for poets worldwide when The Nuyorican Poets Cafe was founded in a small apartment of writer and poet Miguel Algarin with the assistance of his friends Miguel Pinero, Bimbo Rivas and Lucky Cienfuegos.

Between 1975 and 1980, the Nuyorican audience grew to the point where Miguel Algarin was forced to move it several times eventually ending up at its current home on 236 East 3rd Street. The Nuyorican Poets Cafe was a garden that cultivated literary greats such as founders Miguel Algarín, Miguel Piñero and Lucky Cienfuegos. Jorge Brandon aka El Coco que Habla, Sandra María Esteves, Pedro Pietri, Bimbo Rivas, Victor Hernández Cruz, Tato Laviera, Piri Thomas, Jesús Papoleto Meléndez, José Angel Figueroa, Nancy Mercado and Martn Espada. The Nuyorican Poets Cafe is also the inspiration behind the cultural showcase I co-founded with my business partner Juan “Paposwiggity” Santiago called Capicu Cultural Showcase.

Speaking of gardens... thanks to a local housing worker, we had an opportunity to visit La Casita Los Amigos or Los Amigos Garden, a Boricua oasis in this urban landscape that features a Puerto Rican style house and serves as a community “backyard” to host all kinds of events to celebrate our culture via music, art, spoken word and our culinary traditions. The garden has a beautiful mural by local artist Chico depicting El Morro overlooking the Caribbean as a reminder of how we should continue to defend our cultural legacy here in NYC.

Just like El Barrio, I was inspired by the interest both Nici and Bryce demonstrated as we traveled thru the neighborhood talking about the history of Loisaida. I encourage each of you to invite some young people to explore your personal landmarks that shaped your life.

Want to know more about the Latino history of NYC? Feel free to follow me, @UrbanJibaro on Twitter or visit my website