Memorial Day Weekend oozed Puerto Rican and Latino with the 2014 Loisaida Festival edition that transformed the Lower East Side’s Loisaida into a celebration of art, culture, and community. From May 23rd to May 25th, #LoisaidaFest celebrated Latino historical and contemporary contributions to downtown, bridging cultural and generational divides.
Friday, May 23, kicked off the three days of celebrations with Performing Loisaida: A Poets’ Jam in the Spirit of the New Rican Village at City Lore, 56 E 1st Street. The evening brought together six virtuosos of Downtown poetry, Urayoán Noel, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, David Henderson, Sandra María Esteves, Jesús “Papoleto” Meléndes, and Edwin Torres in the spirit of the lesser known conceptual space, the New Rican Village, which catalyzed many community-centered fusions with a utopian sensibility. Latin Jazz master Bobby Sanabria accompanied the poets with his precise, elegant sounds. The dynamic, raw and successful literary evening captured the neighborhood’s ethos.
On Saturday, May 24, The Production of Nabe: Loisaida’s land-use and environmental activism, past and present took place at the New Loisaida Center, 710 E 9th Street. The afternoon opened with a screening of three vintage documentaries about Loisaida’s sweat equity, community garden and environmental initiatives in the 70s followed by the oral narratives of old-time activists and players from Loisaida’s urban appropriation movement. The event concluded with a presentation of the Festival’s resident artists—Papel Machete—on their work with Loisaida residents in the creation of a music, visual art and narrative piece about the stories of community struggle and resistance in the neighborhood. Throughout, the day made clear that the DIY spirit the Lower East Side has come to be known for can be traced back to Loisaida, its people and their struggles.
On Sunday, May 25th, Loisaida Inc. celebrated the 27th Annual Loisaida Festival, held from 6th to 12th Streets in the Avenue C commercial corridor from 12:00pm to 5:00pm. Puerto Rican and Latino cultures came to life on this day through music, cuisine and arts. Emceed by Ismael Cruz Córdova of the “The Good Wife” and “Sesame Street,” and Nicole Betancourt of Steven Soderbergh’s “The Argentine,” the Festival’s Main Stage offered a diverse musical lineup: The Afro-Caribbean-meets New York City bomba and plena rhythms of Los Pleneros de La 21, the nostalgic big band revival of Rafael Hernandez’ greatest hits by Teatro Sea’s Romance, the alternative Latino-Jamaican grooves of award winning Puerto Rican singer Mimi Maura, and the jazzy and baroque arrangements of Flor de Toloache, the first all-woman mariachi in NYC, and the old-school salsa brava of the legendary Henry Fiol, a Loisaida neighbor for the first time performing on its stage.
The Festival also re-instated the Loisaida Awards to recognize those who’ve left their mark on Loisaida. This year’s awards went to City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito; Council Member Rosie Mendez; Street Artist, Antonio “Chico” Garcia; Owner and Chef of Loisaida’s iconic Casa Adela, Adela, and a posthumous recognition to foundational Nuyorrican poet and community organizer Tato Laviera.
The Street Level experience brought a mix of high human energy and “low-tech” artistry that displayed cultural traditions. Diverse workshops in movement, performance, folklore, arts and crafts showcased the work of independent artists and artisans that represent diverse ethnic groups and nationalities. Capoeira demonstrations coexisted with a ‘Pimp my Piragua’ urban performance by artist Miguel Luciano at Loisiada.
As part of the programming, Papel Machete debuted its finished piece at La Plaza Cultural Community Garden, located at 9th Street and Avenue C, where Loisaida Inc. produced its first Theater Lab hosted by Yarani del Valle with some of the city’s cutting-edge Latino theater companies that included Pregones Theater/ Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, One-Eighth Theater, Caborca Theater, and Teatro SEA.
The Festival featured a revamped culinary experience with an array of delicious home-made ethnic cuisines that included Puerto Rican and Latino staples and incorporated local businesses joining the festival for the first time such as El Castillo de Jagua, Rayuela, Macondo, and Pushcart Coffee, amongst many others.
The three day Loisaida Fest curated by urban anthropologist Libertad Guerra marked the beginning of a new and transformed festival committed to building and fostering culture, channeling the resilience and character of the neighborhood in a contemporary way.