Entertainment

Puerto Rican Art Groups Are Getting A Leg Up Thanks To This Foundation Created By The ‘Hamilton’ Family

Maintaining funding for the arts is a challenging enough task during the best of times. For Puerto Ricans, those “best of times” have long been gone. A backlog of corruption scandals coupled with the most devastating natural disaster in the island’s history has exacerbated the arts organizations resources. Two years after Hurricane Maria’s landfall on Puerto Rico, hope for maintaining the culture and arts of Boricuas has arrived.

“Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeffrey Seller, the play’s producer, have partnered with the Flamboyan Foundation to establish an art fund for struggling arts organizations in Puerto Rico.

The Flamboyan Foundation was established just earlier this year, funded by ticket sales from “Hamilton.”

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Even better, the $14.7 million that was raised for the fund were all raised by Puerto Ricans. The “Hamilton” cast and crew up and went to Puerto Rico for a 17-day run. The Flamboyan Foundation, named after the flamboyán tree native to Puerto Rico, established the arts fund in 2018. “The Flamboyan Arts Fund is an extension of our deep commitment to ensuring that Puerto Rico is thriving economically and socially,” Flamboyan Puerto Rico Executive Director Carlos J. Rodríguez-Silvestre said in a statement. “We cannot be more excited to partners with our 12 inaugural grant recipients as well as the new grantees that we will welcome following this round of applications.  This is just the beginning!”

So far, at least 12 grant recipients have been named.

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“It’s the first time that we have funds guaranteed for the beginning of the year so it’s been very important, Lolita Villanúa, executive director of Andanza told NBC News. Andanza is a dance company and school that has been giving back to Puerto Rico since 1998, but not without struggles. “The search for funds has always been very difficult,” she said. One year, the government gave Andanza just $8,000 for a full year of operations.

Villanúa felt the grant “was like a big prize on our 20th anniversary because we [have been] working tirelessly and intensely for the country.”

The trickle-down effect goes to benefit young scholarship students.

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One Andanza dance student, Paola Morales López is just 15 years old and wants to make a career out of dancing. “I feel super grateful because I see that they support me and that they believe in me,” Morales López told NBC News. “Andanza is like my second family.” Another 18-year-old ballet student, Gabriela Arroyo, said that, “Dance has helped me. It’s a form to escape reality, and it’s also a way to stay healthy.”

Of course, the “Hamilton” funds will also go to help local theaters stay open.

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Another grant went to a collective of seven artists who started the San Juan theater company, Y No Había Luz (“And There Was No Light”) when they were just students at the University of Puerto Rico. For the last 15 years, the group has continued to stay open, using their literal theater platform to advocate for social change and to humanize Boricuas.

Without the grant, Puerto Ricans may have never witnessed a play centered around an ancient tree that fell during Hurricane Maria.

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Y No Había Luz created the play “Centinela de Mangó,” which retells the experience of the town of Orocovis, which survived Hurricane Maria only to find the tree that symbolized the island’s identity had fallen. The company has been able to bring the play to New York City, as well, where many Hurricane Maria victims were directed by FEMA. The company wants to turn the story into a children’s book, forever immortalizing the tree’s meaning into words that will be passed down for generations.

With rent paid, the art grant recipients can dream even bigger.

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“For three years I can plan and create a healthier structure for my team. I can make dreams more long-term,” Yari Helfeld of Y No Había Luz told NBC News. She added, “My dad always told us that we should do what we wanted and not let anyone tell you what to do.” Thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda and the “Hamilton” family, dreams are being made a reality for art directors and young children alike. The arts will have a safe home in Puerto Rico for the foreseeable future.

READ: Puerto Rico, Still Recovering From Hurricane Maria, Is Losing Recovery Dollars To Fund Part Of The Border Wall

Puerto Rico Is Planning To Vote On U.S. Statehood Once Again And Here’s Why So Many Are Against The Idea

Things That Matter

Puerto Rico Is Planning To Vote On U.S. Statehood Once Again And Here’s Why So Many Are Against The Idea

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Puerto Rican’s are no stranger to referendums. Since 1967, they’ve had five chances to make their opinions known on U.S. statehood and each and every time, their voice hasn’t been listened to. Congress has failed to take up the issue after each referendum and local leaders are often guilty of using the referendum simply to drudge up support for their candidates.

But this upcoming referendum is different in that it comes at a crossroads for Puerto Rican politics. The island has been plagued by natural disasters, political scandals, and unprecedented hate crimes. Even Bad Bunny is letting his thoughts out on the referendum and many others have lots to say on the issue.

For the first time in the island’s history, the referendum will ask a single question: Should Puerto Rico be immediately admitted as a U.S. state?

On Saturday, Puerto Rico’s pro-statehood Republican governor, Wanda Vázquez, announced yet another vote on the question (the sixth since 1967 and the third since 2012). It’s a move that comes amid growing frustration with the island’s territorial government and its relationship with the mainland.

However, it’s a question that also outraged the island’s independence supporters and members of the main opposition Popular Democratic Party – which supports the status quo.

But it’s a gamble that members of the governor’s pro-statehood party are confident will pay off given that Puerto Rico has struggled to obtain federal funds for hurricanes Irma and Maria, a string of recent strong earthquakes and the coronavirus pandemic amid growing complaints that the island does not receive fair and equal treatment.

“Our people will have the opportunity once and for all to define our future,” Vázquez said. “It’s never too late to be treated as equals.”

The upcoming referendum is just the recent in a long line of previously failed ones.

In the past, voters have been asked more than one question and presented with various options, including independence or continuing with the current territorial status – but none of them have ever been as direct as the upcoming one scheduled for the November 3 general election.

However, many on the island see the referendum as little more than a political move by the governor’s New Progressive Party to get voters out on Nov 3 – to boost her party’s candidates.

The New Progressive Party has been rattled with scandal after scandal and many are ready for change.

The past few years have not been good for the party – or the island for that matter. A string of devastating hurricanes, a severe debt crisis, ongoing corruption scandals that even forced a pro-statehood governor to resign, earthquakes, and now a global pandemic – have all led to challenging times in Puerto Rico. To some observers, the idea seems to be: Let’s dangle the illusion of a yes or no statehood referendum (nonbinding) that is already dead on arrival?

Many also feel that Gov. Vasquez is not truly authorized to make such a decision since she was never actually elected to the office. Instead, she became governor after Ricardo Rosselló was forced to resign following massive protests.

Meanwhile, the Republican government on the island doesn’t even have the support of the Republican-led federal government. The Trump administration’s blunt response was basically, “The first priority for all Puerto Rico leaders should be getting their financial house in order.”

This coming November, there will be plenty of incentive to vote “no” and punish the Vázquez administration. Even prominent figures such as Bad Bunny are jumping into the fray against her leadership.

What would statehood mean for Puerto Rico?

Statehood would award Puerto Rico two senators and five representatives, but it’s unlikely a Republican-controlled Congress would acknowledge the referendum because Puerto Rico tends to favor Democrats.

Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens but cannot vote in U.S. presidential elections. And while the island is exempt from the U.S. federal income tax, it still pays Social Security and Medicare and local taxes and receives less federal funding than U.S. states. Many believe the island’s territorial status has contributed to its struggle to recover from the hurricanes and earthquakes, as well as worsened its economic crisis, largely caused by decades of heavy borrowing and the elimination of federal tax incentives.

Here Are Nine Fascinating Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Puerto Rico

Culture

Here Are Nine Fascinating Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Puerto Rico

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Over the last couple of years, Puerto Rico has been in the news probably more than ever. From the lingering effects of Hurricane Maria to the resignation of the island’s governor over a sexist and homophobic scandal, Puerto Rico has seen its share of environmental and political drama. Meanwhile, the island is also home to some of the world’s top artists – Ricky Martin, Bad Bunny, Residente – just to name a few.

But unless you or your family are actually Puerto Rican, very few people really know the island. Scratch the surface, though, and you’ll uncover all manner of surprising facts far beyond the white sands and crystal-clear waters. Whether it’s science, geography or politics, here are nine fascinating insights into this unique and beautiful island.

1. Rum, Rum, And Más Rum

Credit: BacardiUSA / Instagram

Rum is the libation of choice, the island’s chief export, and the base ingredient in many of Puerto Rico’s best cocktails. Puerto Rico and rum go way back, about 400 years, give or take a decade. Bacardi and Don Q are the largest producers on the island.

Puerto Rico is the only rum producer in the world to maintain a minimum aging law for its rum. You can get three main categories of rum here: light, dark, and añejo, or aged.

2. It’s About The Size Of Connecticut

Credit: Google Earth

Given its population (it’s one of the most densely populated islands in the world), Puerto Rico is a relatively small place. If it were a state, it would be down near the bottom of the list in terms of size, even if you include the network of islands around the mainland.

3. It’s Home To The World’s Largest Radio Telescope

Credit: NASA Blueshift / Flickr

Not known as a scientific hub, Puerto Rico has a technological marvel nestled in the hills of Arecibo. The dish measures 1,000 feet in diameter, spans about 20 acres, and is the most sensitive radio telescope in the world.

There’s a chance you’ve seen the Arecibo radio telescope, even if you’ve never been to Puerto Rico before. In the climactic last scene in the James Bond movie Goldeneye, the (inevitable) showdown between 007 and the bad guy takes place right here.

4. It’s Mascot Is The Unique Coquí Tree Frog

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Anyone who has been to Puerto Rico is familiar with the incredible coquí, which is native to the island. The inch-long amphibian has a powerful and melodic voice, and its high-pitched, chirrupy song can be heard for miles.

The coquís sing from dusk to dawn, and while the locals find this a lilting lullaby, unsuspecting foreigners aren’t always comforted by their song. But they are cute, and a much-loved symbol of Puerto Rico.

5. It’s One Of The World’s Beauty Queen Capitals

Credit: Alfredo Marcia / Flickr

The Miss Universe beauty pageant is one of the biggest and most famous across the globe. Among the countries whose representatives have won the title more than once is Puerto Rico. Despite the island’s small size and population in comparison with other countries, 5 winners have come from Puerto Rico: Marisol Malaret, Deborah Carthy Deu, Dayanara Torres, Denise Quinones, and Zuleyka Rivera.

6. The Island Was Home To Real Life Pirates

El Pirata Cofresi is Puerto Rico’s most famous, real-life pirate as the legend goes. Born in the seaside town of Cabo Rojo, he was encouraged to dream about exploring the sea from sailors in town.

According to Cofresi Palm Resort, as a pirate Cofresi would attack boats and share his spoils with the poor and as a result, people would help him hide. Compared to Robin hood for his actions, there is a story that says that some of his treasure may still be hidden.

7. It’s Home To Its Own Version Of The Galapagos Islands

Credit: US National Park Service

Off the western shore of mainland Puerto Rico you’ll find Mona Island, a natural reserve unspoiled by man. It has been compared to the Galapagos Islands for its natural beauty and its colony of iguanas. These iguanas, known as the Mona Iguana, are found nowhere else on earth, adding to the uniqueness of this ecosystem.

8. Coconuts Aren’t Native To Puerto Rico – Or The Americas At All

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You might picture yourself on the beach sipping delicious coconut water out of a freshly cut coconut, but did you know that coconuts are not native to the Americas?

The coconut was introduced to Puerto Rico in 1542, after the Spanish imported it from the Far East. Soon after it became part of the colonial Spanish diet and eventually emerged in one of the most popular drinks on the island – the Piña Colada.

9. San Juan Served As Headquarters During The Spanish Inquisition

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The Catholic Church has played an important role in the history and development of Puerto Rico since the early 1500s. As mentioned before, the oldest church still in use in the Americas was built in Old San Juan in 1522, yet, in 1519 Pope Leo X declared Puerto Rico the first ecclesiastical headquarters in the New World. 

As a result, Puerto Rico became the epicenter of the Spanish Inquisition – one of the most barbaric and infamous events of Western civilization.