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Voices Spring-Summer 2006:
Click on the cover for the Table of Contents. Read “Immigrant Arts in Collaboration: Current Community Cultural Initiatives” by Emily Socolov, Gabrielle Hamilton, and Tom van Buren here.
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Volume 32

Immigrant Arts in Collaboration: Currrent Community Cultural Initiatives by Emily Socolov and Gabrielle M. Hamilton with Introduction by Tom Van Buren

The Community Cultural Initiative program has been a central focus for the Center for Traditional Music and Dance since 1990. The program is a collaborative effort with local artists and community-based advocates for traditional performing arts to develop cultural programs and build presentation capacity among the many immigrant, ethnic, and refugee communities of New York City. Each project involves a multiyear effort of field research, planning, program production, documentation, and often organization building. Community scholars, students, and interns participate in the research. Collaborative productions also enlist the help of ethnic media producers, teachers, and community leaders. Many of the projects have resulted in ongoing community cultural events. This three-part article presents the history and methods of the Community Cultural Initiative program, and then delves more deeply into current projects in the Mexican and Peruvian communities.

Procession during Pastorelas y Posadas, New York City, December 2003

Procession during Pastorelas y Posadas, New York City, December 2003. Teens from the dance troupe Los Niños de East Harlem dressed as Joseph, Mary, and the three kings, with dancers from the Concheros Citlaltonac de la Mesa del Santo Niño de Atocha, led by Antonia Guerrero, guide a procession through the streets of Lower Manhattan. The procession simulates Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging (posada), a highlight of this celebration. Photo: Itzik Gottesman
The Center for Traditional Music and Dance has been engaged since 1990 in collaborative projects, known as Community Cultural Initiatives (CCIs), that document, celebrate, present, and—more recently—teach traditional performing arts to youngsters representing a range of urban cultural communities. Over the fifteen-year history of these projects, many different program models have been developed and lessons learned. This is the first update in Voices since 1996, when I wrote about the Arab American CCI, which produced three Arabic arts festivals, or Mahrajan al-Fan, during the 1990s (Voices 17.1–2). Since that time, our organization has changed its name and moved twice, but it has stayed the course with its CCIs. The Center for Traditional Music and Dance has completed earlier projects with as many as five years of collaboration, including the production of numerous festivals and other performance events, several related music CDs, and curatorial programs at Lincoln Center and the Museum of Natural History. Following the Albanian and Arab American projects, the staff has worked in seven other communities—Dominican, South Asian Indian and Indo-Caribbean, West African, former Soviet Jewish, Filipino, Mexican, and Peruvian—and has just begun work on a Chinese CCI.

All the projects share a basic set of goals: (1) to support the practice and perpetuation of traditional, root, and evolved performing arts in specific ethnic communities of the New York metropolitan area through performance projects, publicity, fundraising, and technical assistance; (2) to work in collaboration with community artists, institutions, educators, community organizers, local businesses, and media to achieve the general mission; (3) to encourage access to the program for an audience primarily drawn from the same community; and (4) to see that the various projects become viable, ongoing presences in the cultural lives of their respective communities.

Currently, the Mexican and Peruvian projects are going strong, each following its own agenda, based on the community partners’ interests and strengths. Project directors Emily Socolov and Gabrielle Hamilton present updates from their respective projects, Mano a Mano: Cultura Mexicana sin Fronteras/ Mano a Mano: Mexican Culture without Borders and the Pachamama Peruvian Arts educational program of the Peruvian CCI.

While the early CCIs almost all focused on the creation and development of annual community-based festival programs to showcase traditional arts, not far in the background lay a deep commitment to the education of younger generations and others in the root performance traditions and genres of each culture. Simon Shaheen’s Arabic Music Retreat held each August at Mount Holyoke College was an outgrowth of the Mahrajan al-Fan program. The educational efforts of our Dominican community partners in Washington Heights—such as the Conjunto Folklórico of Alianza Dominicana, under the direction of folklorist Ivan Dominguez—have played a central role in the development of the annual Quisqueya en el Hudson festival of Dominican music and dance traditions. Later CCIs developed significant educational components, as well. The Asian Indian CCI evolved into a training program for students of the Rajkumari Cultural Center in 1999. The former Soviet Jewish CCI presented classes on doira frame drumming and the lesginka Jewish folk dance in 1999 and 2000. While some of these programs were more successful than others, it became clear that teaching traditional arts is a good thing, both for engaging students in learning the performance forms, and for getting master artists excited about sharing their traditions.

Under the initial direction of ethnomusicologist Cathy Ragland, the Mexican CCI led to the creation of the Mariachi Academy of New York in 2002, which offers instruction to children at the Union Settlement Association in el Barrio (East Harlem). In 2002, the Peruvian CCI adopted an educational format, offering classes in music and dance traditions from all regions of Peru to children, primarily from the Peruvian community in Jackson Heights. Keeping in this vein, the Center for Traditional Music and Dance has been partnering since July of 2005 with the renowned Chinese music ensemble, Music From China, to support the group’s music education program in Chinatown. The Chinese CCI offers low-cost instruction on traditional instruments, like the er-hu two-string fiddle and the zheng zither, with master musicians. Instruction is available to children and youth, who might otherwise have little chance of studying a traditional Chinese instrument or learning about Chinese orchestra or opera music. We are poised to expand this program to other partners and to initiate a performance series in 2006–7.

When the Community Cultural Initiative program was launched fifteen years ago, many recent immigrant communities lacked the cultural infrastructure and resources to stage largescale cultural programs. Following the examples set by the Irish, Puerto Rican, and Italian communities, such events represented a focus of community pride and a benchmark of cultural establishment in America. Most of the larger immigrant communities today are more organized and savvy about cultural presentations. At the same time, resources for education and cultural preservation projects are limited, and there are still very few major institutions that actively court immigrant community artists and audiences. The Center for Traditional Music and Dance has adjusted its focus to address these two needs, providing long-term support for educational programs and working in an advisory, and sometimes curatorial, capacity with institutions that include the American Museum of Natural History, the New York City Department of Parks, and the Museum of the City of New York. The heart of the Community Cultural Initiatives nevertheless remains in working to open doors of opportunity, wherever they may be found, to the traditional arts of diverse immigrant communities and to the tireless artists and community advocates who work with them.

—Tom van Buren

Kristy City shows off her Pachamama Peruvian Arts diploma in Andean dance
Student Kristy City shows off her Pachamama Peruvian Arts diploma in the Andean dance, huayno. Photo: Lisa Linhardt

Mano a Mano: Cultura Mexicana sin Fronteras

I joined the Mano a Mano project in time for a set of programs at the American Museum of Natural History in January of 2003. The initiative had been founded in 2000 under the direction of Cathy Ragland. She conducted foundational fieldwork, established the community-based committee, and produced several major events: the flagship “Mano a Mano: Cultura Mexicana sin Fronteras” at the Haft Auditorium; Heritage Sunday at Lincoln Center Out of Doors; and for three weekends at the American Museum of Natural History, “Living in America: The Mexican Cultural Experience.” The Mariachi Academy of New York, a project of Mano a Mano, was inaugurated under her direction in the summer of 2002.

This growing program is now well on its way to independence. Ragland also presented her research on Mexican DJ culture in her 2002 article “Mediating between Two Worlds: The Sonideros of Mexican Youth Dances” (Voices 26.3–4).

In my three years with Mano a Mano, the initiative has experienced growth and transition, has produced and collaborated in a range of events, and with the assistance of pro bono counsel is now incorporated and awaiting not-for- profit status. The dreams are big and the players (aside from myself) are volunteers with busy lives and all the challenges of the migrant experience, but the learning process goes forward through practice and mutual exchange. While I have an academic background, I have learned an incalculable amount in the active production of cultural events with my committee partners.

The organizing committee is composed of a range of individuals: Mexicans and Mexican Americans, long-established migrants with citizenship and recent arrivals without documents, people from central Mexico and from the border, professionals with degrees and blue-collar workers. All have a lifelong commitment to perpetuating Mexican culture, all have a sophisticated understanding of the importance of cultural conservation, and all are deeply committed to a range of cultural projects in addition to their work with Mano a Mano. Members include Margarita Larios and Aurelia Fernández Marure, recent winners of City Lore’s People’s Hall of Fame award, who have been Mexican cultural activists for decades, with specialties in dance, crafts, cooking, and traditional drama. Enrique González Ibarra is a photographer and journalist, and Lucía Rojas is a high school guidance counselor. Alda Reuter directs the presenting group Mexico Beyond Mariachi, drums with Retumba, and is a dancer with Ballet Fiesta Mexicana, and Gabriel Guzmán is a musician and director of the son jarocho/son huasteco group Semilla. Other members include Adriana Caballero from the Mexico Tourism Board; Antonia Guerrero, a visual artist and Conchero dancer; Estela Arias, a Mexican American paralegal; Estela López, an accountant; Verónica Hernández-Shusman, a historian and educator; and Leonardo Anzures, a restaurant worker who is interested in drama. The mission and objectives of Mano a Mano are as follows:
Mano a Mano: Mexican Culture without Borders is dedicated to presenting and preserving Mexican culture and promoting the active participation of Mexican immigrant families in cultural, educational, and civic life. Mano a Mano’s objectives are to produce, promote, and present cultural events, including festivals, concerts, performances, processions, installations, and seminars; to design and implement educational workshops and curriculum for schools and community groups; to serve as a clearinghouse for information on Mexican culture and community resources for educators, artists, immigrant families, and the general population through direct services and on our web site; to collaborate with other community, educational, and cultural institutions and initiatives through presentations, referrals, and an online community calendar; and to provide technical and professional assistance to traditional artists.
The mission has primarily been enacted in large-scale, multifocal presentations, often presented in collaboration with major cultural institutions in New York City, including the Museum of the City of New York, the Central Park Conservancy, Thirteen WNET, the American Museum of Natural History, and Saint Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery. Many have been held at neighborhood venues, like the American Indian Community House in the Village and the Taller Boricua in el Barrio, and several have become annual affairs. It is the eventual goal of the committee to sponsor three annual events: summer festival of Mexican regional culture (late June), Día de los Muertos (October 31 through November 2), and Posadas y Pastorelas (mid-December), as well as four collaborative events: Immigrant History Week (mid- April), Cinco de Mayo (May 5), Mexican Independence Day (September 16), and the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe (December 12).

The events typically feature as many as six workshops, one or two presentations of live music and dance, and a cultural happening, such as a procession, open-air altar, or photo studio with painted backdrop and costumes. A staple of Mano a Mano events—and a real coalition builder in the Mexican community—is the community service component of our events: an informational area with materials on health, educational opportunities, civil rights, and housing. We count on the collaboration of the Mexican consulate, the Mexican Cultural Institute, the Mexico Tourism Board, and the U.S.– Mexico Chamber of Commerce, as well as many smaller grassroots organizations and service agencies, such as Mexicano Unidos, Mixteca Organization, and Clínica del Barrio. As the CCI has moved to become an independent entity, the committee has designed a logo, printed business cards, and created a web site. The group is also aggressively addressing long-term community priorities, like the dropout rate of Mexican youth and the working lives of New York’s migrant Mexican population. In May of 2005, our first three board members were elected, all young Mexican professionals from the worlds of finance and social service. The transition to a more corporate structure with diversified roles, a set division of tasks and responsibilities, and the necessity of securing funding promises an intense and exciting learning process for all concerned. For more information and a complete list of Mano a Mano events, please visit www.manoamano.us.

—Emily Socolov

Wendy Martel on charango, an Andean guitar
Pachamama student Wendy Martel on charango, an Andean guitar. Photo: Leah Lowthorp

Pachamama Peruvian Arts

The Center for Traditional Music and Dance launched Pachamama Peruvian Arts in July 2003, in response to concerns that Peruvian Americans born in the United States are losing the connection to their cultural heritage by adopting popular Latin American sounds, such as salsa and merengue, to the detriment of traditional Peruvian music and dance. My early research in the Peruvian community indicated that, despite a rich artistic environment and numerous festivals and parades, no program existed in this country to teach Peru’s traditional art forms to children. In addition, many children born to Peruvian immigrant parents do not speak Spanish or Quechua, the official languages of Peru. It appears that the community’s financial and cultural attention has been largely focused on the homeland, with Peruvians in the U.S. sending more than $1.5 billion annually to Peru, while local leaders apply their energies to bringing artists directly from Peru. To bridge gaps between generations, cultures, and countries, the Pachamama organizing committee and I decided early on to create an educational project that offers high-quality instruction in the traditional performing arts of Peru.

Pachamama Peruvian Arts offers instruction free of charge to children ages seven to fourteen in dance forms such as the marinera limeña and norteña, festejo, and huayno, as well as musical instruction on the cajón (box drum), antara (Andean panpipe), and charango (Andean guitar). After assembling a roster of teachers from the area’s most talented Peruvian traditional artists, classes began in January 2004 with forty students. That June, Pachamama Peruvian Arts students performed at the eighth annual Peruvian Festival in Flushing Meadow Park, Queens. Two years later, we are thrilled that more than 175 students have attended weekly classes on the rhythms and techniques, history, and social and cultural importance of Peruvian art forms. This program’s popularity is seen at student presentations and graduations, when proud parents pack the auditorium beyond capacity. All classes are currently filled, and a waiting list is being maintained. Classes take place at P.S. 212 in Jackson Heights, where the poverty rate is seventy-six percent, and ninety-two percent of the students are members of minority groups. Most of Pachamama’s students are Peruvian, but Ecuadorian, Bolivian, and Colombian children also participate. Most students live in Queens, but some travel from Westchester, Connecticut, and even Pennsylvania.

The Pachamama organizing committee plays an integral part in making decisions regarding the artistic forms taught. A cross section of Peruvian forms, including Andean, mestizo, criollo, and Afro-Peruvian genres, are all offered, exemplifying respectively the antara, charango, marinera norteña (Spanish-influenced couples’ dance), and festejo (lively Afro-Peruvian couples’ dance). The organizing committee also helps to program events, conducts outreach to the community, assists with publicity and promotion of the project, and generally sets the project’s mission and goals. The committee is composed of dedicated Peruvian musicians, dancers, artists, and activists, including Peter Apaza, Juan de la Cruz, Héctor Morales, Marcos Napa, Luz A. Pereira, and Nelida Silva, representing all areas of Peru. We consider this balancing of traditions vital to the project’s success, particularly considering Peru’s long history of racism against indigenous and African peoples.

At present some of our greatest challenges involve finding long-term funding for the project and focusing the attention of the Peruvian community leaders on the cultural education of Peruvian immigrant children. These two issues hinge on one another. As Tom noted in his introduction, one of the goals of the CCIs is to have an ongoing presence in the community, independent of the Center for Traditional Music and Dance. Pachamama Peruvian Arts is in the second year of collaboration with the Center, when we construct infrainfrastructure to support the project and give technical assistance in fundraising, programming, field research, publicity, and promotion. In addition, the Center provides the organizing committee with an archive of materials, including an artist roster, DVDs of performances, CDs of digital images, funding contacts, press contacts, and a project report, and helps them to establish their own web site. While this infrastructure will support the project’s independence, the greatest difficulty is finding enough funding to support the entire annual project of fourteen classes, three workshops, and three annual concert presentations—all of which are free and open to the public. At this juncture, the organizing committee has resolved to keep all programs—especially the children’s classes— free. Considering the committee’s recent successes at fundraising, I am hopeful they will be able to sustain many aspects of this outstanding program.

—Gabrielle M. Hamilton


Emily Socolov, Gabrielle M. Hamilton, and Tom van Buren have all directed CCIs for the Center for Traditional Music and Dance.

While the early CCIs almost all focused on the creation and development of annual community- based festival programs to showcase traditional arts, not far in the background lay a deep commitment to the education of younger generations and others in the root performance traditions and genres of each culture.

Music workshop at Monarcas: Butterflies without Borders, Central Park, June 2004
Music workshop at Monarcas: Butterflies without Borders, Central Park, June 2004. A young festival attendee learns the rudiments of violin style from presenter Humberto López and Bola Suriana musicians from Morelia, Michoacán. Photo: Cristian Peña

This article appeared in Voices Vol. 32, Spring-Summer 2006. Voices is the membership magazine of the New York Folklore Society. To become a subscriber, join the New York Folklore Society today.

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