Friday, December 29, 2023

Hatillo’s Festival de las Máscaras

A Vibrant Celebration of Puerto Rican Culture

Nestled on the northern coast of Puerto Rico, the picturesque town of Hatillo comes alive each year with the vibrant and lively Festival de las Máscaras, a celebration deeply rooted in the island's rich cultural heritage. This unique event, marked by colorful masks, traditional music, and a sense of community, has become a cherished tradition for both locals and visitors alike. If you’re in Puerto Rico for the holidays, don’t miss Hatillo’s Festival de las Máscaras (“Festival of Masks”), a celebration based on a tradition that originated in Spain’s Canary Islands. This colorful and lively event is held each year on December 28, which marks el Día de los Santos Inocentes (“Day of the Innocent Saints”). Upwards of 30,000 people attend to see the parade participants — human and equine alike — donning intricate ruffled costumes and beautifully decorated papier-mâché masks that are in themselves exceptional pieces of authentic Puerto Rican art.


The Festival de las Máscaras, which translates to the Festival of Masks, has its roots in a blend of Spanish, African, and indigenous Taino traditions. It is a cultural manifestation that dates back to the 19th century and has evolved into a distinctive celebration of Puerto Rican identity. The festival typically takes place on December 28th and 29th, marking the end of the Christmas season and leading up to the New Year.

The Masks

Central to the festival are the masks, each telling a unique story and embodying various characters. These masks range from whimsical to mystical, representing historical figures, animals, and mythological beings. Artisans and craftsmen from Hatillo and neighboring towns invest months in creating these intricate masks, making each one a work of art that reflects the island's diverse cultural influences.

The Tradition

The Festival de las Máscaras is not just a visual spectacle; it is a sensory experience that engages participants in a dynamic celebration of music, dance, and food. Traditional Puerto Rican music, such as bomba and plena, fills the air as dancers in vibrant costumes move through the streets. The rhythm of drums and lively melodies create an infectious energy, inviting everyone to join the festivities.

Processions and Parades

The festival kicks off with a grand procession through Hatillo's streets, featuring locals donning elaborate costumes and masks. Parade participants pay homage to their heritage, showcasing the diversity of Puerto Rican culture. The procession is a kaleidoscope of colors and sounds, with each participant contributing to the vibrant tapestry of the event.

Current Information

In recent years, the Festival de las Máscaras has gained popularity beyond Hatillo, drawing visitors from around the world who are eager to experience the unique cultural celebration. The event has also embraced modern elements, incorporating social media and online platforms to share the festivities with a global audience.

As the festival has grown, organizers have expanded its scope to include educational initiatives aimed at preserving and promoting Puerto Rican traditions. Workshops on mask-making, traditional dance, and music are organized, ensuring that the younger generation actively participates in and continues these cultural practices.

However, like many events worldwide, the Festival de las Máscaras faced challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, organizers adapted by organizing virtual events and encouraging online participation, allowing the spirit of the festival to endure despite the limitations. For up to date information and great photos of this year's event, please visit the Festival de Mascaras de Hatillo PR Facebook page


Hatillo's Festival de las Máscaras stands as a testament to the resilience of Puerto Rican culture and its ability to evolve while staying rooted in tradition. This annual celebration not only showcases the artistic talents of the community but also serves as a reminder of the importance of preserving cultural heritage. As the colorful masks continue to dance through the streets of Hatillo, the Festival de las Máscaras remains a symbol of unity, pride, and the enduring spirit of Puerto Rico.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

The Nuyorican Poets Cafe


A Letter from the Executive Director:

Dear Nuyorican Poets Café Community,

As I reflect on 2023, I am in awe of how much was accomplished despite the challenges that come with breaking ground figuratively and poetically speaking. There were so many events to highlight, collaborations only made possible by the absolute devotion to the arts and the support of artists, entities and donors.

In 2024, the café will break ground for our 24 million dollar renovation but this summer, visual artist, Joe Wippler painted ‘NuyoRicanStruction’ and gave the building a facelift, adding to the lower level murals he painted for the Pińero movie in 2001. Special recognition goes to the film’s Director, Leon Ochaso, who passed away this year and whose work captured stories from the Puerto Rican Diaspora with a poetic and humble heart.

Capturing our stories is a huge part of our mission and this year our work was given much attention. Here is our list of Television & Media Coverage in 2023:

  • BronxNet
  • BBC Radio
  • Leguizamo Does America on MSNBCNBCUniversal/Unidos @ Rockefeller Plaza
  • Alma’s Way Puerto Rico Episode on PBS Kids (Won the Imagen Award)
  • WPIX Channel 11 twice - NY Living interview and Hispanic Heritage Month feature
  • The Good Road filming for PBS
  • CUNY TV / L Train - Latinos in Hip Hop
  • NACLA Report on the Americas
  • Tiempo on ABC channel 7
  • NY News 12
  • NBC Channel 4 / Hispanic Heritage Month Feature
  • El Nuevo Dia newspaper in Puerto Rico

We collaborated with Bronx Brewery & Bastard Burger to create a ‘La Bruja Beer’ & the ‘Tastes Like an Emmy Burger’ which helped fundraise over $2k

The Beatnix monthly online poetry series continued as it has since its launch in 2019 and has been awarded a grant from Mid-Atlantic Arts to continue in 2024.

After reopening after a two -year shutdown , in March 2022,  W.O.W. Women Orators Wednesday, our monthly open mic series began. Now the series has found a new home during our renovation period at the Loisaida Center. We held our first show this December and it was an absolute success!  All performances will be professionally filmed, with very high production quality, giving poets access to creating a portfolio and sharing it via livestream as well as our social media pages. Moreover, we received special recognition from the Loisaida Festival and hosted the Festival After Party.

Full Circle Souljahs, DJ Kwikstep and DP One presented Behind the Groove, a monthly Thursday late night dance battle and performance series, bringing some of the best dancers in NYC to grace our dancefloor.

Plenty of dancing was also done during our Sunday Salsa Jams led by Juanra & his ComboRican Ensemble. For many years, there was a Nuyorican Café in Old San Juan. However,  after Hurricane Maria and the financial onslaught of the pandemic,  they had to close their doors. Here, they found a second home to continue the musical traditions that were created on the island. 

We proudly celebrated the 20th Anniversary of Banana Puddin’ Jazz, curated, created and hosted by our Board Chair, Rome Neal. This special event was dedicated to the life of Ron Cephas Jones (R.I.P), whom Rome directed in several theater productions here at the Café.

In continued support of poetic excellence, we presented Aja Monet with a special appearance by Abiodun Oyewole of the Last Poets.

An undeniable highlight to mention, was our invitation to the Tribeca Film Festival by Alicia Keys! Her personal documentary screening, which was followed by a live performance where she sang a rendition of New York and used the Nuyorican Poets Café as the her backdrop on the big screen. It was a magical moment! If Alicia Keys thinks the Nuyorican Poets Café is doing great things, then we must really be onto something! We represented the café in the Tribeca Film Festival not just once this year, but TWICE this year.

For the MTV Latino Hip Hop De La Calle Docuseries at Tribeca, I spoke on the panel and my piece, ‘The Bronx’ poem is featured in the NYC episode and is available for viewing on Paramount Plus.

In collaboration with we conducted a river ceremony at the Hunts Point Fish Parade, part of our 6th Annual Bronx Indigenous Futurisms Gathering. We also welcomed indigenous artist M’thakathi this Summer, as we held our 10th Annual Block Party, bringing together so many community members and setting the stage right outside of the café while unveiling the NuyoRicanStruction mural by Joe Wippler supported by the NYSCA artist grant.

Though we are known for the performing arts, visual artists were featured within our brick walls in 2023 as well, such as Albert Areizaga, Juanita Lanzo, Oliver Rios, John Bermudez, Shirley Rodriguez, Victor “Slone” Ramos, Espada De La Luz, Nelson “Host” Santiago and Adrian “Viajero” Roman. People were extremely moved by the artwork displayed.

Since first becoming the Executive Director in 2022, a large part of my focus has been on grant writing to sustain our programming without having to completely rely on patrons in an unstable economy. I am proud to share that over 240K has been awarded to us from grants written this year, securing our sustainability to provide the services our poetry community needs and to fill the void of artistic education in the public school system.

Grants Won:

  • Howard Gilman Foundation $125k (FY’24 & ‘25)
  • Mid-Atlantic Arts Grant $5k (FY’24)
  • New York State Council on the Arts $50k (for FY’24 & ‘25)
  • New York State Council on the Arts $10k (for NuyoRicanStruction Mural FY’24)

It is important to bring everything I’ve learned and practiced into this leadership role for absolute success. One of those roles is as a teaching artist, something I have done for decades. Every third Thursday I facilitated Free monthly writing workshops at Studio One / and will continue to do so in 2024. I am looking forward to bringing in new Teaching Artists from our Spoken Word community. We collaborated with the New Museum and hosted Nuyorican Altars inspired by Pepón Osório’s exhibit, followed by a Free Writing Workshop / Nuyorican Poets Cafe Open Mic Session.

Other events that took place this year that deserve mention are:

  • Justice for Keith Lamar  - David Amram Jazz collective
  • Indie Theater League - Manifesto of 2023
  • National Puerto Rican Day Parade Float
  • Amnesty International
  • Apollo Theater Performance
  • Centro Puerto Rican Studies - Diasporic Journeys Panel
  • Lincoln Center / David Rubenstein Atrium
  • Loisaida Fall Festival /
  • NPC 50th Anniversary Halloween Ball - Final Event
  • Grantmakers in the Arts Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • Nuyorican Puerto Rico Retreat - Poets Passage / Corredor Afro / Orí Gallery
  • Puerto Rico University in Rio Piedras - Keynote

Lastly, The Bronx Times Reporter (BXTIMES.COM) named me BEST POET of 2023. With a year in review like this, it feels like there is no limit to the great things to come. Thank you for being part of this journey and may your New Year be filled with abundance, love and pristine health.

Best wishes,
Caridad De La Luz  (La Bruja)