HYPER-HYBRIDIZED CUMBIAELCTRONICA BACHATA-HOP BEATS
Nuyorican poetry and El Museo del Barrio were born around the same time— parallel gritos demanding that Latino art in New York should be seen and heard.
By the 1960’s, a generation of Puerto Rican workers had already lived out their adult lives in the city, and birthed children who had no recollection of the island’s sights, sounds and smells. These children began to create poetry, paintings, and performance art out of their big-city experience. At the same time, those who remembered la isla worked to preserve the often-overlooked legacy of its artists— poets like Julia de Burgos, Pedro Pietri, and Clemente Soto Vélez, and artists like Rafael Tufiño, Marcos Dimas or Carlos Osorio.
The epicenter for this Nuyorican arts movement was the East Harlem neighborhood of El Barrio. In 1969, Raphael Montañez ortiz, with the help of community leaders, teachers, and local families, founded El Museo del Barrio as a platform for the Puerto Rican art that was then invisible in the city’s major museums. For the first time, New York’s children could see at El Museo that our people painted, drew, and sculpted, and had been doing this for millennia. That same year, the homegrown revolutionaries known as the Young Lords illegally took over the neighborhood’s First Spanish Methodist Church to
set up breakfast and education programs for local families. In that church, Nuyorican poet Pedro Pietri performed the searing debut of his Puerto Rican obituary—a classic that went on to inspire countless other young Latino poets. As Urayóan Noel once said, “Until Pedro Pietri, I didn’t know we wrote.”
out of this rich shared history, El Museo and the Nuyorican poetry scene evolved along similar paths. Both have grown to embrace not only Puerto Rican artists, but also the incredible variety of Latinos who have since arrived in the city, from Sephardic Jewish Argentines to Afro-Dominicans to Mexican mestizos.
As third, and even fourth, generation Latinos mingle with recién llegados in this constantly shifting global crossroads, Latino visual artists and spoken word poets are now spawning work that speaks three or more languages and sings to hyper-hybridized cumbiaelectronica bachata-hop beats.
As identities become even more hyphenated and our cultures absorb each other, it’s no surprise the line between visual arts and poetry has also blurred allowing for the rise of performance art, a major part of El Museo’s programming. At
the same time the definition of art museum has evolved as well, with the expansion of El Museo’s public programs – including poetry and literary series among others.
In recent years, El Museo has taken an active role in the city’s poetry
scene. Through our monthly Speak Up! spoken word poetry series, we’ve hosted spoken word artists including this collection’s editor, Emanuel Xavier; and contributors Edwin torres, Caridad de la Luz (“La Bruja”), Rigoberto González, Urayoan Noel, Frank Pérez, and Roberto “Simply Rob” Vassilarakis, among many others. Starting in 2007 with a single poetry evening at the museum, we now present eight spoken word programs per year, with about five poets performing at each one—plus open mic sessions where new poets are welcome. We’ve also begun a series of poetry-writing workshops for youth, led by the Peace Poets and La Bruja. And in our permanent collection exhibition celebrating our 40th anniversary, we’ve included a live video of Pedro Pietri performing at the Young Lords’ church. History comes full circle, here, in the neighborhood where the whole revolú began.
It only makes sense, then, that El Museo should present Me No Habla With Acento. This, our first venture into publishing poetry, is just the natural evolution of 40 years of Latino visual art and poetry growing up together in New York. to paraphrase Pedro Pietri, “here we come, here we come, donde
our roots are from.” Enjoy!
Director of Education and Public Programs, El Museo del Barrio