Puerto Rican Migration: Then and Now Through the Lens of Contemporary Art, 1950-2019 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 the Puerto Rican nation.
This photographic exhibit serves as a vital reminder of the varied yet shared common struggles of (im)migrant communities from “all walks of life” as shared in their quest for a better material life for their offspring. While the showcase primarily focuses on the Puerto Rican people and their “everyday life”, the exhibition equally illustrates the fight for the preservation of culture and traditions by other ethnic populations within an everchanging urban mosaic . Mr. Colón’s artistic expression surgically captures the human character of adversity while also encompassing the expression of life itself regardless of such hardships. His photos blend both the political and cultural aspects of a community that has faced and continues to endure significant levels of structural neglect. Yet, Mr. Colón’s work also documents the way in which Puerto Ricans who initially migrated to urban spaces, such as New York City, struggled to not only claim their history, but do so on their own terms. In such regard, the exhibit craftily demonstrates the ways in which young Puerto Rican pioneers in struggle with other ethnic communities paved the way for the making of a better material life for future generations. Although the Puerto Rican community on the Island and in exile in the United States is still in search of such destination, this exhibit exemplifies a part of that journey in the everyday material life of the Borinken community.
The series of related events scheduled during the spring 2019 semester complement Colón’s exhibit. The second and third events are the screening of the two documentaries: “Antonia Pantoja, Presente!” (2009) with filmmaker and activist, Lillian Jiménez and, “Pa’lante, Siempre Pa’lante!: The Young Lords” (1996) with filmmaker, lawyer, educator, and activist, Iris Morales.
A workshop with featured artist Máximo Rafael Colón on the relationship between photography and social justice, as evidenced by his personal history, will be the fourth program. An academic exchange with past and current leaders and scholars of the Puerto Rican community from both the Island and New York City on the present challenges follows Colón’s workshop. The project concludes with a special evening ensemble of Latin/Puerto Rican jazz music hosted by the Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music.
Dr. Reynaldo Ortíz-Minaya
Department of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies
Brooklyn College, City University of New York