Musician and Activist. May he rest in peace.
posted by mary armstrong
“Edgardo Gonzalez was still feeling raw and drained when we spoke several days after respected folk musician and community activist Joaquin Rivera died in triage while waiting for medical care and was then robbed by three homeless men. Last night Gonzales spoke as best he could about his long time friend and music partner, compadre and inspiration. I keep thinking, this is just like Joaquin,” said Edgardo Gonzalez,”if he had to die, he was going to do something with it.” While Joaquin was best known as a musician, Gonzalez was referring to his activism. Rivera, a counselor at Olney High School, was a longtime advocate of bilingual education and active in the return of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques from the U.S. Navy. “The political marches he took part in, people don’t know about that,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez swore he was cried out, but still choked with emotion. The very day that Rivera passed away he had been at the Gonzalez home. “I thought he seemed fine while he was here, having fun, but my wife said he was acting a little different,” says Gonzalez. Playing music together was a long time habit for these men; Gonzalez played bass in Rivera’s Los Pleneros del Batey, his band that played traditional Puerto Rican folk music.
But now, Gonzalez reflects on the way Rivera died. A man with insurance — neglected despite asking for medical attention — has brought international attention to the U.S. health care debate, according to the reactions Gonzalez has received. The world is watching. If he had to go, Joaquin Rivera would be pleased to have it be one last eloquent plea for justice.
At 6 p.m. tonight — far north of the barrio — there will be a viewing at the Givnish Home (10975 Academy Rd.), chosen for its large capacity. “People are flying in from Puerto Rico, Florida, Boston, all over,” says Gonzalez. As the viewing starts off Joaquin’s band will remember him in the heart of the barrio, starting this afternoon with a jam at Centro Musical (464 W Lehigh Ave.), where all the musicians hang. Gradually the music will move over to Taller Puertorriqueño (2721 North 5th St), where Gonzalez chairs the board and Executive Director Dr. Carmen Febo-San Miguel issued the statement, “We have lost a friend, a committed and tireless fighter for Puerto Rican rights and culture and a generous soul.” A long-planned art opening on Taller’s second floor gallery by well-known Puerto Rican painter Toño Martorell, will now be dedicated to the memory of Rivera.
Tomorrow morning there is another viewing at the church at St. Ambrose (600 West Venango), starting at 9 a.m. After that will be the funeral mass. “It will be a simple service with lots of singing, people standing up to speak about Joaquin,” according to Gonzalez. Following the service he says, “Every Latino group in the city will be taking part,” playing for Rivera as mourners walk down Venango to the Greemount Cemetery at Front and Luzerne streets. It will be a traffic stopping spectacle.
Gonzalez tells us there will be many more tributes and fond remembrances of Rivera who was so devoted to celebrating and sharing the heritage of his homeland. He also promises that all the holiday gigs that wouldn’t be the same without some traditional songs will feature Los Pleneros, playing to honor Rivera. Check back here for updates.
If you want to find Gonzalez during any of these funeral events, he’ll be easy to spot. “I kept thinking, ‘What’ll I wear? Guayabera?’” Gonzalez said, referring to the typical performing garb for pleneros. But Gonzalez settled on something that mixes the honor of formality with a nod to Rivera’s tastes and sense of humor. Look for the man in a traditional black suit with the Ron Caña rum t-shirt peeping through, a final toast with Rivera’s favorite tipple.