Category Archives: The Forum

Discussions about current topics.

PRdream mourns the passing of Manuel Velazquez, Master Luthier, February 20, 1917 – April 4, 2014. We extend our condolences to the Velazquez family

Manuel Velazquez was one of the greatest guitar luthiers of the last one hundred years. He was born in Puerto Rico in 1917 and handcrafted his first classical guitar when he was still a teenager in 1929. He studied the art of guitar making from his older brother and the importance of woods from his father, who was a farmer. By 1941 Manuel moved to New York where he opened his first shop. Before long his instruments gained the attention of performers around the world. Among those who sought out and played Manuel’s guitars was Andre Segovia, the premier classical guitarist in the world. Passing down the tradition, Manuel’s son Alfredo has become a noted luthier in his own right, carrying on the tradition of handcrafted instruments.


Dear Friends,

This has been an extremely difficult week for El Barrio/East Harlem. The tragic building collapse that took place just a half block from my district office has been a painful experience for our community. I send my deepest condolences to the loved ones of those we lost and my thoughts remain with the families and friends of those who are still missing.

As I have shared in my public appearances, I was on my way down to City Hall when I received a tweet about the explosion. I turned around and went back to the district right away, establishing a command center out of the District Office.

Since Wednesday, I have been touring the scene throughout the day, monitoring all developments and keeping in close contact with all city agencies. My staff is continuing to connect individuals and families to available resources and seek options for permanent housing in our local community for those who need it.

Services for Residents

Individuals seeking assistance from city agencies can visit the Resident Service Center on Saturday and Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm. The Center is now located at 1580 Park Avenue (@ 114th Street) under the MetroNorth tracks at La Marqueta. The center at the Salvation Army on 125th Street will no longer be open. You can also call 311 or my district office (212-828-9800) with any inquiries.

The City is actively seeking opportunities for short- and long-term housing and is working around the clock to get vacated buildings back on line for families.

As I have been stressing, it is critically important that our immigrant communities in particular understand that no one should be afraid to come forward and seek assistance because they do not have legal status. City agencies are prohibited from asking about immigration status.

How You Can Help

I want to thank everyone for their expressions of support and for wanting to provide assistance during this difficult time. We are currently exploring a mechanism to accept monetary donations and make sure that these funds are used to provide services and support to our neighbors in need. I will be in touch with more information in the coming days.

In the meantime, please continue to keep our neighbors in your thoughts and prayers.

Thank you.


Melissa Mark-Viverito
NYC Council

The Puerto Rican Parade Controversy: An Update

The NiLP Network on Latino Issues (February 19, 2014)

According to NY1 News/Noticias Political Commentator Gerson Borrero on his
February 17th NY1 Noticias’ weekly segment, Para Que Lo Sepas:

The first meeting of the newly-constituted Board of Directors of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade will be held on Saturday, February 22 at 10am at their headquarters, 2804 Third Avenue, 5th floor, Bronx, NY 10455.

Despite efforts to keep the newly reorganized Parade politically independent, NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito is reportedly inviting herself to the first meeting of the Parade Board to address the group, which many see as inappropriate.
There is increasing concern in the community about the NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s failure to bring criminal charges against the Parade’s marketing agent, Carlos Velasquez of the Galos Corporation. Despite finding that he stole $1.4 million from the Parade, Schneiderman only required Velasquez to repay back a measly $100,000, and to do so in installments!
Although Velasquez was forbidden by Schneiderman’s office from any further association with the Parade, Borrero discovered that Velasquez’ Galos Corporation still listed the Parade as a client! Upon notifying the AG’s office of this by Borrero, the corporation’s websites are now listed as being “Under Construction.”
Despite the findings of serious wrong doing by Carlos Velazquez, it is troubling that he is being allowed to do business with the Hispanic and Dominican Parades.

Borrero, who broke the Parade scandal story in the February 1st edition of The New York Post, will continuing discussing issues confronting the Parade, along with NYS Senator-Reverend Ruben Diaz, Sr., on the Sunday, February 23rd edition of Tiempo, hosted by reporter Joe Torres on WABC-TV New York, Channel 7 at 11:30am.

Among those found guilty of the looting of Parade resources was Debra Martinez, who headed the nonprofit arm of the Galos Corporation, the Diversity Foundation. According to the Attorney General’s office: “The settlement agreement also requires the dissolution of the Diversity Foundation, with any remaining assets to be distributed by the Attorney General’s office in a manner consistent with the scholarship purposes for which the funds were solicited. In addition, for a period of five years, the members of the Diversity Foundation’s board, its Executive Director Debra Martinez and its advisor Karen Pillot are barred from serving as an officer, director or employee of NPRDP or in connection with any parade-related activity.” In light of this, a video of Martinez promoting the 2013 Puerto Rican Parade has been making the rounds.

If you have any information about the Parade, positive or negative, that should be widely known in the Latino community, please let us know at Your name will be kept confidential if requested.

The NiLP Network on Latino Issues is an online information service provided by the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP). For further information, visit our website at

PRdream mourns the passing of Frank Espada, 1930-2014.

We extend our condolences to the Espada family for their and our immeasurable loss.


Puerto Rican photographer Frank Espada dies
Published February 17, 2014 | EFE
Fox News Latino

Photographer Frank Espada, leader and activist of New York’s Puerto Rican community in the 1960s, died in California, his son said Monday. He was 84. His father died Sunday evening, Jason Espada said. Frank Espada, also father of the renowned poet Martin Espada, gained nationwide fame after publishing “The Puerto Rican Diaspora: Themes in the Survival of a People,” in which he portrayed his fellow islanders in different places doing different things all across the United States.

Born in Utuado, Puerto Rico, in 1930, Espada was 9 years old when his family moved to New York, where the photographer recalls a childhood full of poverty and restrictions. “We were quite poor, always struggling to make ends meet, living in apartments with no hot water or refrigerators, with no heat in the winter and rats in the hallways,” he said in a short autobiography that appears on his Web site.

For years Espada had to put off his photographic ambitions to work at ordinary jobs to support his family. He also got involved in the incipient civil rights movement in New York, and in 1967 joined the community action project dubbed The City-Wide Puerto Rican Development Program. In 1979 he won a scholarship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which enabled him to carry out his dream of making a photographic history of the Puerto Rican diaspora all across the United States. In the three-year project, he documented more than 30 Puerto Rican communities thoughout the country and, among other aspects, caught on film the labor of Puerto Ricans in Hawaii, where more than 5,000 were recruited to work the sugarcane fields.

Speaker of New York City Council Melissa Mark-Viverito — Congratulations!

Melissa Mark-Viverito (born April 1, 1969) is the Speaker of the New York City Council. She is the member from the Council’s 8th District, which includes the northernmost part of the Upper East Side, Spanish Harlem/El Barrio/East Harlem, Manhattan Valley and part of the Upper West Side as well as part of Mott Haven in the Bronx. Her district also includes Randalls and Wards Islands and Central Park. She was elected as Speaker January 8, 2014 and succeeds Christine Quinn.

Mark-Viverito was born in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, she came to New York at 18 to attend college, earning a BA from Columbia and a master’s from Baruch College. She is not married. Her hyphenated last name comes from her late father, Anthony Mark, and the maiden name of her mother, Elizabeth Viverito. Her father was a doctor and a founder of San Pablo Hospital in Bayamón, where her mother still lives.

She graduated from Columbia University in 1991 and earned her Master of Public Administration degree from Baruch College, City University of New York in 1995. She is a former member of Community Board 11, coordinator of the movement Todo Nueva York con Vieques[4][5] and president of Mujeres del Barrio. Mark-Viverito ran unsuccessfully against Philip Reed for City Council in district 8 in 2003. Before running for City Council, Mark-Viverito was Strategic Organizer for Local 1199 of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), an influential health care workers union.

Mark-Viverito was elected to her first term in the City Council in 2005. During her first four years in office, she sponsored and passed several pieces of legislation, regarding tenant harassment, building safety, green buildings and park conservancies.

Mark-Viverito is currently in her third term and serves as Chair of the Council’s Parks & Recreation Committee. In March 2010, Mark-Viverito and 11 other Council Members announced the formation of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus. She currently serves as Co-Chair of the Caucus along with Brooklyn Council Member Brad Lander.

In November 2013, the New York Daily News cited Mark-Viverito as “the front runner” for “New York City’s second most powerful political post – Speaker of the City Council.” According to Politicker, a grassroots effort to boost the Speaker candidacy of Mark-Viverito – including social media, fliers, phone banking, and volunteer recruitment – was involved in the effort. Mark-Viverito was elected City Council Speaker on January 9, 2014 at age 44.

¿Fuga de cerebros? por Jorge Duany, Catedrático de Antropología

El Nuevo Día
11 de diciembre de 2013

El aumento en el grado de escolaridad y el nivel ocupacional de los emigrantes puertorriqueños en las últimas dos décadas ha llamado la atención pública. Algunos artículos periodísticos han dado la alarma de una “fuga de cerebros”, alegando que la pérdida de recursos humanos altamente calificados “desangra” a la economía boricua. Miles de jóvenes con títulos universitarios han tenido que irse del País al no conseguir empleos acordes con su preparación académica debido a la prolongada recesión. Esta exportación de talentos supone un alto costo demográfico y económico para la Isla, como contribuir al envejecimiento de la población insular y agudizar la escasez de personal especializado en renglones clave como los servicios de salud y educación.

Cada vez más miembros de la clase media puertorriqueña se han reubicado en Estados Unidos desde la década de 1990, buscando una mejor “calidad de vida” -refiriéndose a seguridad, tranquilidad, salud, vivienda y educación. Los nuevos emigrantes incluyen una cantidad considerable de maestros, enfermeras, ingenieros y médicos, entre otros profesionales. Como promedio, su nivel educativo supera al de los emigrantes de los años cuarenta y cincuenta del siglo pasado. Sin embargo, el grueso del éxodo contemporáneo sigue siendo personas atraídas por mejores oportunidades de empleo, salarios y condiciones de trabajo en Estados Unidos.

El destino principal de la emigración puertorriqueña desde los años noventa ha sido el estado de la Florida. La población de origen boricua residente en ese estado aumentó de 247,010 a 847,550 personas entre 1990 y 2010. El crecimiento de los “floriricans” se concentró en la Florida Central, especialmente en el área metropolitana de Orlando-Kissimmee, donde residían 269,781 boricuas en el 2010.

Los últimos datos censales constatan que los puertorriqueños residentes en la Florida tienen un perfil socioeconómico más aventajado que en estados como Nueva York, Pensilvania, Connecticut y Massachusetts. Entre otros indicadores, tienen niveles de escolaridad e ingreso más elevados, así como tasas de pobreza y desempleo más bajas.

No obstante, los emigrantes boricuas a la Florida no constituyen una “fuga de cerebros” en el sentido de representar mayoritariamente a los sectores más educados del País. Según los cálculos censales, entre los años 2007 y 2011, el 38.9% de los emigrantes no se había graduado de escuela superior, comparado con el 29.5% de la población insular. Apenas el 13.7% de los emigrantes había completado un bachillerato y el 4.7% estudios graduados o profesionales, comparados con el 17.4% y el 6.7% de la población de Puerto Rico, respectivamente.

Los estimados censales también confirman que los emigrantes recientes a la Florida no provienen principalmente de las ocupaciones más calificadas en la Isla. Solo el 21.6% de los emigrantes, frente al 27.6% de los residentes de Puerto Rico, se desempeñaba como gerentes y profesionales. Los emigrantes sí tenían una mayor proporción (31.4%) de vendedores y oficinistas que la fuerza laboral de la Isla (27.9%). Además tenían un mayor porcentaje (12.7) de trabajadores de construcción, mantenimiento y reparación que en Puerto Rico (6.6). En conjunto, el 48% de los emigrantes eran trabajadores de servicio y cuello azul, comparados con el 44.4% de la población insular.

Tales estadísticas sugieren que se ha exagerado la magnitud de la “fuga de cerebros” en Puerto Rico. El economista Kurt Birson, del Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños de Hunter College, ha llegado a la misma conclusión, al examinar las características socioeconómicas de los emigrantes puertorriqueños a Estados Unidos entre los años 2000 y 2011. Por lo tanto, se requiere revisar la popular visión de que la mayoría de las personas que se han ido de Puerto Rico en la última década son graduados universitarios con destrezas profesionales. Más bien, el éxodo contemporáneo abarca a una amplia gama de la sociedad boricua, agobiada por el desempleo, la pobreza y la criminalidad.

Tato Laviera, Nuyorican Poet, Dies at 63 – NY Times

Librado Romero/The New York Times

Widely anthologized and with numerous titles that remain in demand among students and fans, Mr. Laviera was one of the best-known representatives of the Nuyorican school of poetry.


Published: November 5, 2013

Tato Laviera lost his sight, but not his vision. His acclaimed poems and plays captured the rhythms and language of Puerto Rico and the Lower East Side — his twin loves — with equal measures of protest, playfulness and hope.

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When health problems briefly left him homeless in 2010, he took part in poetry readings with residents of the shelter where he stayed. “I can create here, and that makes me feel liberated,” he said in an interview at the time. “Being here has given me the spirit of continuity and centrality, and that’s better than a salary.”

Mr. Laviera, who had been in a coma since late January, died on Friday in Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. The cause was complications of diabetes, which years earlier had left him legally blind, said his sister, Ruth Sanchez, who survives him along with his daughter, Ruth Ella Laviera. He was 63 and lived in East Harlem, renting an airy apartment that his admirers helped him get when they learned he had no place to hang his ever-present Panama hat. In a career that spanned more than four decades, Mr. Laviera published books, plays and poems and made hundreds of appearances at colleges, workshops and literary events. Widely anthologized and with numerous titles that remain in demand among students and fans, he is one of the best-known representatives of the Nuyorican school of poetry.

His words could dance, shout and laugh — in English, Spanish and Spanglish. In “My Graduation Speech,” he showed a playful touch in writing about his multicultural life, and his hair, in these lines:

i think in spanish

i write in english

i want to go back to puerto rico,

but i wonder if my kink could live

in ponce, maygüez and carolina

“The American thing is to forget who you are and become homogenized,” said Jesus Melendez, known as Papoleto, a friend and fellow poet. “The whole Nuyorican struggle was to maintain your roots because they are the groove that keeps it all together. Tato personified that struggle.”

He even took the word and turned it inside out in one collection, “AmerRican,” whose very title made clear his people’s place in the world. That book also featured poems that embraced the city’s diversity as well as his own people’s rich racial roots.

“Tato’s voice was not a singular one, but one that gave voice to people and even objects who did not have a voice but should,” said William Luis, a professor at Vanderbilt University and co-editor of an upcoming collection of essays on Mr. Laviera. “He was able to reach across boundaries and reach all those different people.”

Jesús Abraham Laviera (Tato was a nickname) was born on May 9, 1950, in Santurce, P.R., near San Juan, and moved to the Lower East Side as a child. He graduated from Seward Park High School and attended Brooklyn College and Cornell. But his real education, friends and relatives said, came in the neighborhood, where he showed an early knack for activism and organizing (not to mention music and dance).

Elizabeth Colón, a community advocate who befriended him when they were both teenagers, described Mr. Laviera as a natural leader who inspired others to rally around causes, especially youth and education.

“His poetry and creativity came from that,” she said. “It came from his involvement and his participation in the community’s struggle, growing up on the Lower East Side, seeing the abuses and how others who were in charge had the power to intervene and did not. He deeply understood the need of people to participate in their future.”

Mr. Laviera left community organizing to become a full-time poet in the 1970s. (He told the website Latino Rebels that he wanted to be a poet once he saw Luis Palés Matos recite in Puerto Rico in the late 1950s.) His first collection, “La Carreta Made a U-Turn,” was published by Arte Publico Press in 1979.

“To him, poetry was the highest calling,” said Nicolás Kanellos, his publisher. “Even though he lived in relative poverty, he was proud of being part of a tradition that went all the way back to the ancient, epic poets.”

But Mr. Laviera lived — and performed — very much in the moment. In recent years he had been working on a novel about East Harlem, as well as staging his play “The King of Cans” at a theater inside the housing complex where he had been living. He also continued to inspire future poets, sharing encouragement and advice.

Li Yun Alvarado recalled clutching a poem at a workshop Mr. Laviera gave at Yale 14 years ago. She was nervous. He calmed her down, telling her to “embody the work” and feel the words, linger on the beats and perform. It reminded her of how her 93-year-old grandmother could still remember a poem she had learned as a child.

“He took me back to that history of poetry as part of our culture,” said Ms. Alvarado, who is a now doctoral candidate at Fordham University. “He was our troubadour. He told our story.”

PRdream mourns the passing of Diosa Costello, “The Latin Bombshell”, first Latina on Broadway

Diosa Costello (Juana de Dios Castrello) was an actress, performer, producer and club owner, known as “the Latin Bombshell”. She was born in Guayama, Puerto Rico on April 23, 1913. After performing at various venues in Spanish Harlem, she paired with Desi Arnaz at the La Conga club. Her Broadway debut was in “Too Many Girls” (1939), where she became the first Latina on Broadway. She performed in film but refused to move to Hollywood, California. Her filmography:

Miss Sadie Thompson (1953)
The Bullfighters (1945)
They Met in Argentina (1941)

The Smithsonian filmed an interview with Costello in 2006. She died in her sleep on June 20, 2013 at the age of 100 in Hollywood, Florida.

PRdream mourns her passing.