Over the weekend of July 28, thousands of guests gathered in celebration of Afro-Latino culture in New York during the latest edition of the “Fiestas Tradicionales en Honor a Santiago Apóstol,” fondly known as the Loiza Festival, after the Puerto Rican city that inspired the festival 50 years ago.
The three-day cultural blast brought Afro-Latino and African diaspora practices to East Harlem–El Barrio. Performances by Milteri Tucker and Bombazo; Danza Fiesta; Mateo y Cumbalaya; Bronx Charanga, Son del Monte, Johnny “Dandy” Rodriguez (of the Tito Puente orchestra), Legacy Women, Los Pleneros de la 21, Nelson Ramirez y Herencia de Mi Tambo, and Flaco Navaja and the Razor Blades, among many others. Bomba y plena, salsa, handicrafts and foods rooted in Afro-Puerto Rican fare transported festival goers to the city of Loiza, Puerto Rico, founded by cimarrones or maroons.
Among the festival highlights was the renaming of the street and unveiling of the street sign in honor of Aida Perez, one of the founders of the Loiza Festival. The naming took place at 105th St. and Lexington Ave., the original site of the festival, that will now serve as a lasting reminder of the Afro-Boricua roots alive in El Barrio.
Among those in attendance at the unveiling were Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez, Aurora Flores (communications specialist for speaker of the New York City Council Melissa Mark-Viverito, a long-time resident of El Barrio), as well as Debbie Quiñones, vice chair of Community Board 11 in El Barrio; as well as other leaders and members of the community.
On Sunday afternoon, guests honored African ancestors with the traditional Processional of the Saints. A hallmark of the festivities in Puerto Rico, the procession serves as a bridge for Afro-descendants in the Caribbean and in the United States. The practice of marching with the saints made for a moving and liberating experience that confirmed the power of celebration in African diaspora communities.
Since 2012, the original organizers of the festival, Los Hermanos Fraternos de Loiza, have been working in partnership with the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI) and in association with Taino Towers to strengthen and grow the festival each year. The result has been an event that celebrates local artists and maintains a global sensitivity. Proof of this is the yearly tradition of inviting musicians of another country with African roots to perform at the event. This year, the honor went to Cuban performers, Melvis Santa y Ellas Son.
Connecting past traditions to the realities of the African diaspora in the city, the Loiza Festival offered an intergenerational audience a quintessentially New York experience.