Tag Archives: Museo del Barrio

The Puerto Rican Community Speaks Out: The word “spic” is out!

Note: The recent controversy over the naming by El Museo del Barrio of a spoken word series using the word “spic” hit a nerve among many in the Puerto Rican’Latino literary community and others. The Museo issued a statement on this issue on the website, which generated a response from some leading Puerto Rican cultural workers. We thought you would find this exchange interesting and thought-provoking, understanding, after all, that words can be like bricks.

To express your views on this issue to the Museo’s Director, Julian Zugazagoitia, you can write to him at director@elmuseo.org.

—Angelo Falcón

You Spoke Out/We Listened!
El Museo del Barrio (December 9, 2009)

El Museo del Barrio, out of respect for those members of our community who have expressed strong feelings against the use of the word ‘spic’ in the title of our spoken word program, has renamed this series. The new title is “Speak Up!/Speak Out!”

El Museo is proud that many of its programs and exhibitions are at the cutting edge of Latino artistic expression. We are emboldened by the strength we draw from our roots and culture, which allows us to respect the past while helping to chart the future place of the Latino voice in the general culture.

Our program is a platform for addressing contemporary social issues and political concerns-especially in terms of the Latino experience-through the creative use of language. The artists participating in the program over the past two years typically have long professional trajectories, and are deeply passionate about language and its social/political/historical weight and significance. Their aesthetic vision and dynamic engagement have generated lively discussion, debate, and creativity, and has made spoken word programming at El Museo an indispensable forum for ideas. As a result, the program has built a significant and loyal following.

We deeply regret that some of the artists that generated this platform by participating in the series have become targets of hate mail. We strongly believe that as artists they have the right to use words within the context of their art as a means of expression as they see fit. No artist should be censored or ostracized for being evocative or provocative.

We appreciate hearing the range of thoughts and feelings that have arisen in relation to the use of the word ‘spic’ in the title of our spoken word program. While the title was conceived as a re-appropriation of the term as a means of empowerment-an approach that already has a history in our own community, see context information below-the word still evokes strong and hurtful connotations. Therefore out of sensitivity to those who have expressed concerns with the use of the term and with profound respect for those for whom this term is offensive, we have renamed the series “Speak Up!/Speak Out!”

We take this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to spoken word as a programming area. We continue to be proud that El Museo is a public platform where discussions like this happen for the advancement and understanding of our communities. We strongly believe that the respectful, insightful and articulated expressions of support and concern help us move forward and grow as a vocal, dynamic, and engaged community.
We are grateful for all the passionate feedback we have received for this series and invite you all to continue participating and joining us for our next installments of “Speak Up!/Speak Out!”

Context of Reference for How the Term “Spic” Was Used in the Initial Naming of the Program

El Museo did not intend to be hurtful when using the word ‘spic’ in the initial naming of the spoken word series. We hoped that by re-appropriating a word with a painful history for Latinos one could transform the word into a tool of empowerment.

This kind of re-appropriation and transformation has been successful in other contexts. For example, gay activists now use the old insult ‘queer’ in a positive manner (as in the slogan “We’re here, we’re queer,” among other uses). A group of Jewish journalists now publish a positive, edgy magazine called Heeb (also once a slur). Chicanos on the West Coast who once resented being called ‘pochos’ by other Mexicans now use the phrase with pride and humor in the hilarious satiric magazine Pocho, and comedy troupe of the same name. Each of these groups has been victorious in reclaiming an old slur, thus rendering moot the once painful effect of the word.

Within our own Latino community, the effort to reclaim the term ‘spic’ also has a long history, both in comedic plays and serious literature. The famed late Boricua poet Pedro Pietri used ‘spic’ in his acclaimed “Puerto Rican Obituary”-a poem first read in 1969 at a Young Lords rally-to call attention to racism against Puerto Rican immigrants. John Leguizamo’s Spic-O-Rama is a comedic play about a Latino family, based on his own childhood. This show has been publicly acclaimed since it launched in 1993. It enjoyed a sold-out run in Chicago before relocating to New York’s Westside Theater, where it drew large Latino audiences and won Leguizamo a Drama Desk Award.

Poet Urayoán Noel used the word in his 2000 piece, “Spic Tracts,” to attack present-day racism. And in 2005, Nuyorican performance artist Chaluisan opened a one-person show, entitled Spic Chic, at the Ibiza nightclub in the Bronx, which later enjoyed a successful run at the Wings Theater in New York City’s West Village. Also, acclaimed Mexican-American intellectual Ilan Stavans’ recent book, Mr. Spic Goes To Washington, employs humor to make salient points about Latino political engagement and one fictional character’s rise from the barrio to the halls of power.

To better understand this re-conceptualization, we must think about the history of the word. ‘Spic’ is widely believed to have originated in the phrases “no spic English,” or “I spic Spanish,” as uttered by a recent immigrant. Back when the term was coined, Latinos were often made to feel ashamed of speaking Spanish, or of not speaking English well. Many older Latinos remember teachers punishing them for speaking Spanish in class, or their parents being ashamed to have their children “spic Spanish.” Today when we use that word, we invoke a new meaning; a new pride. We are saying we are no longer ashamed to “spic Spanish.” Latinos across the country now advocate for dual language schools so our children can continue to speak our ancestors’ language (and some schools even teach Nahuatl and Taíno words). We are now proudly bilingual, in our music, movies, and art. Thus, creating this title in a sense celebrates the fact that we have now reached a point where we are proud to ‘spic up,’ in English or Spanish, with and without accents.

El Museo recognizes the charge that words can have and thus has renamed the series as “Speak Up!/Speak Out!” Our commitment to the spoken word is reflected by our listening to the words that were spoken and the feelings those words elicited. Speak Up!/Speak Out! reflects our commitment to having all words spoken with passion, creativity, and respect. Please join us for our upcoming programs and continue speaking up and speaking out for the betterment of our communities.

Open Letter on the Renaming of El Museo del Barrio’s Spoken Word Series “Speak Up/Speak Out”
By Richard Villar Sam Vargas Jr., Carmen Pietri-Diaz, Sam Diaz, Jesus “Papoleto” Melendez, and Fernando Salicrup (December 9, 2009)

El Museo Del Barrio has responded to the controversy surrounding their spoken word series, formerly titled “Spic Up/Speak Out.” The full text of this response, entitled “You Spoke Out/We Listened,” can be read at their website: http://www.elmuseo.org/en/explore-online.

A publicly-funded, community-founded arts institution should know better than to market to audiences, poets, or anyone else using the word “spic.”

In the last two weeks, this simple principle has led several diverse communities of artists, writers, teachers, and community members to gather, discuss, organize, and express their disappointment toward this unfortunate word choice. In recognition of this fact, and in response to the community’s postings, letters, and emails to museum staff (including its executive director), El Museo has chosen the correct path and changed the name of the show to “Speak Up/Speak Out.”

Unfortunately, El Museo has also chosen to continue concealing its poor artistic custodianship and community engagement behind the false fig leaves of free artistic expression and an ex post facto linguistic “context” of reappropriation (i.e. the act of reclaiming the word “spic”) for the original naming of the series.
Among the items unaddressed in El Museo’s three-page statement is that from the spring of 2008 until the summer of 2009, El Museo never claimed this context in its advertising, mailings, show flyers, or show descriptions. In fact, the first noted dispute over the title came from some of the very artists they sought to showcase, who in the summer of 2009 engaged in an email debate about the word choice in question. Then, and only then, did El Museo and its defenders attempt to supply a context of reappropriation to the series title. And only until an article appeared in the New York Times did the institution seem interested in entertaining a change in the name.

This alleged context for the naming of their series perpetuates the false parallel between individual acts of expression and the programming choices of a community-founded, publicly-funded institution.

To be perfectly clear, we believe that no artist should be censored or ostracized for their word choices, even those deemed offensive. We have never called for this series’ cancellation, nor have we pressured individual artists to back out of the series. We reject any such calls. Instead, we encourage all artists contracted to perform in this newly-renamed series to use their considerable artistic talents to voice their agreement or their displeasure with the Museo’s word choice as part of their performances.

We agree that the use of the word “spic” has a history in Latino literature. However, contrary to El Museo’s statement, the history is not an altogether positive one. Not every creative use of a slur implies a reclaiming or reappropriation of that slur.

We take particular issue with the interpretation of Pedro Pietri’s poem “Puerto Rican Obituary.” Neither of the two instances of the word’s use within the poem can be construed as reappropriation. Ironically, the one true instance of reappropriation in the poem is found in the Spanish word “negrito,” a word used by some Caribbean Latinos as an expression of love and a backhanded slap at the racist traditions our cultures have historically engendered. Notice, however, that Mr. Pietri’s line reads, “Aquí to be called negrito means to be called LOVE.” It does not read, “Aquí to be called spic means to be called LOVE.”

Regardless of the poetic interpretations offered or refuted, we reject out of hand the notion that individual uses of an epithet by themselves constitute an excuse for an institution to use an epithet as a program name. Our intent here is to remind El Museo Del Barrio of the difference between artistic expression and curatorial responsibility, a responsibility that has clearly been abdicated by means of El Museo’s latest statement. We read it as neither a true acknowledgment of the community’s outrage, nor as an apology. The fact is, nowhere in its missive does El Museo accept responsibility or explicitly apologize for offending people to whom they refer as “those for whom this term is offensive.” They have instead attempted to define a serious curatorial miscue, the use of an epithet by an arts institution, as an act of free speech and artistic license. To say El Museo misses the point is a gross understatement.

To date, we have yet to receive full disclosure as to how this series name was conceived in the first place. We still do not know which curator, intern, administrator, or committee was responsible to putting the title to paper. No staff member, senior manager, or board member of El Museo was willing to put his or her name on the statement. El Museo’s executive director, Julian Zugazagoitia, has not responded to a single email sent to him.

We continue to be hopeful for a fruitful community dialogue with El Museo and its management, given the activist history and community roots of the institution itself. To that end, we would suggest a community roundtable, one attended by the public and the Museo’s Board of Trustees and management, to give a public, face-to-face airing of all points of view on this particular matter.

We also renew our call for Mr. Zugazagoitia, in his capacity as executive director, to engage this community positively and take steps to ensure that this incident and incidents like it do not recur. And we call upon Mr. Zugazagoitia, the Board, and the public and private funders of El Museo to examine their own statement of purpose and ask themselves if the original choice of the word “spic” in its public programming truly
serves “to enhance the sense of identity, self-esteem and self-knowledge of the Caribbean and Latin American peoples by educating them in their artistic heritage and bringing art and artists into their communities.”

Richard Villar
Sam Vargas Jr., The Acentos Foundation
Carmen Pietri-Diaz
Sam Diaz
Jesus “Papoleto” Melendez, El Puerto Rican Embassy
Fernando Salicrup, Taller Boricua

Previous articles for context:

“Poetry Series Spurs Debate on the Use of an Old Slur Against Latinos,” by David Gonzalez. New York Times, November 20, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/21/nyregion/21poets.html?_r=1&emc=eta1

“Leaping The Barricades,” by Rich Villar. “El Literati Boricua” (weblog), November 25, 2009. http://literatiboricua.blogspot.com/2009/11/leaping-barricades-reaction-and-call¬to.html

“El Museo Changes Word That Got in the Way of the Meaning,” by David Gonzalez. New York Times, December 4, 2009. http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/04/at-el-museo-a-word-got-in-the-way¬of-the-meaning/

“Museo Del Barrio Changes Spic Up/Speak Out Poetry Series,” Village Voice New York News Blog. December 5, 2009. http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/archives/2009/12/museo_del_barri.php

Politics Con Sabor

We’re excited to have completed Politics Con Sabor, a two-year project which highlights the history of Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics in New York State politics from the late 1800’s to the present.

The pilot program was funded by a grant from the New York State Assembly Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force. Your attendance at the screening is highly encouraged. You will be entertained and enlightened by the history of Hispanic political empowerment in New York State, a truly amazing era and an experience not to be missed.

The film screening will be held on Friday, September 15 at El Museo Del Barrio on 1230 Fifth Avenue at 104th Street. We will begin with a reception at 5:00PM.

Assemblyman Peter M. Rivera


Honoring Diversity in the Arts Community

On August 19, 2006, Manhattan Community Board Eleven, East Harlem’s primary public and civic institution, is bringing together an ecletic group of artists from all nationalities for its third annual Arts and Cultural Networking Celebration. This event will take place at East 106th Street between Lexington to Second Avenues, from 12:00 – 6:30PM. This free event brings together established artists and cultural institutions from all parts of the neighborhood. These organizations are but not limited to the Museum of the City of New York, Taller Boricua, El Museo Del Barrio, PR Dreams, the National Black Theater and other cultural insitutions from this diverse City.

The event will be centrally located in the hub of culture and art in East Harlem. Various artists from art and the entertainment world have lived in our neighborhood. Artists like James De La Vega, whose works can be seen on the streets of East Harlem. Jazz singer Gloria DeNard, who still teaches here in East Harlem through Manna House. The former residence of actress Cicely Tyson is a few blocks away from the festival site. Finally, visitors can walk along the Tito Puente way and marvel at the surroundings where this legend lived or visit the wonderful art at Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center.

“We believe that East Harlem is the perfect venue for a multicultural arts celebration. This event serves as a tool to expose city residents to the different cultures of the world,” states Lino Rios, Chair of Community Board Eleven.

The festivities are being organized by Manhattan Community Board Eleven’s Cultural Committee. “Art intertwines every aspect of life and sustains social solidarity; thus, on this day East Harlem honors and celebrates the diversity of the art community and the pioneers of civilzation,” states Taina Traverso, Chair of the Arts and Cultural Affairs Committee. “East Harlem/El Barrio has always been a cradle for artists to expand their talents, be it what ever form they are working with, from music to dance to visual,” states a long-time Spanish Harlem artist Fernando Salicrup.

Manhattan Community Board Eleven is a New York City government agency that plans and advocates for the needs of East Harlem/Spanish Harlem. For more information, log onto www.cb11m.org.

Free Walking Tours of Spanish Harlem

Destination:  El Barrio

El Museo del Barrio and The East Harlem Board of Tourism  

Announces Free Saturday Walking Tours


Beginning Saturday, April 15, individuals and families may join a free highlights walking tour through El Barrio.  The tour, conducted by guides from Big Onion Walking Tours, has been specially developed with the East Harlem Board of Tourism to feature the thriving Latino arts, culture, and cuisine of the fabled El Barrio community. Sites include the Graffiti Hall of Fame, street murals, St. Cecilia’s Roman Catholic Church, First Spanish United Methodist “Young Lords” Church, La Marqueta, Luis Muñoz Marin Boulevard, the remarkable concentration of museums, galleries and restaurants in El Barrio’s “cultural corridor,” and much, much more.


The Destination:  El Barrio walking tour is offered Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. from April 15 through October 14. The tour is FREE and supported by a grant to El Museo del Barrio and the East Harlem Board of Tourism from the Deutsche Bank Americas and Rockefeller Brothers Fund Arts and Enterprise Program. The tour meets at the SE corner of Fifth Avenue and 104th Street. Prior to the tour, participants are invited to visit El Museo del Barrio and the Museum of the City of New York (suggested admission contributions apply). All individuals and families are invited to join, but no groups, please. No reservations necessary.  


The East Harlem Board of Tourism is a group of museums, galleries, artists, activists, historians,  entrepreneurs, business organizations, and housing advocates who share a vision of East Harlem/El Barrio as a mecca for tourists with an interest in Latino culture, New York style, and the rich multicultural history of the neighborhood. Its mission includes developing tourism destinations and infrastructure and increasing overall visitorship in East Harlem as means to develop the local economy.


Please visit www.eastharlemtourism.org or e-mail ehtourism@aol.com for more information.

An Evening of Readings in Honor of the Reverend Pedro Pietri

An Evening of Readings in Honor of the Reverend Pedro Pietri
Thursday, March 30, 6:30 - 8:30 pm
Admission: Free
 El Museo del Barrio
1230 Fifth Avenue at 104th Street, NYC - 10029
t: 212.831.7272  f: 212.831.7927
e: info@elmuseo.org
 Join us for an evening of readings celebrating the work of El Reverendo Pedro Pietri, 
including readings of the *The Spanglish National Anthem*, the *Telephone Booth* poems, 
and an audience-participation choral rendition of *The Puerto Rican Obituary*

Organized and hosted by poets Mariposa and Jesus Papoleto Meléndez, the evening 
will feature performances and reminiscences by poets who worked closely with Pietri during
his lifetime, including Amina Baraka, Sandra Maria Esteves, Nancy Mercado, 
REO (Rodrigo Ernie Ortiz) III and Louis Reyes Rivera. 

Celebrate East Harlem Women’s History Month With Julia de Burgos Day – Friday, March 16th!


Street Dedication Ceremony
11:00 am – 12:00 Noon
Julia de Burgos Boulevard
(Lexington Avenue/106th St.)

Reception @ Taller Boricua
12:00 pm – 2:00 pm
1680 Lexington Avenue

Evening Program
6:30 pm – 8:30 pm
Teatro Heckscher
del Museo del Barrio
1220 Fifth Avenue

Sponsored by the Office of Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito, El Museo del Barrio, Hope Community, Inc. and East Harlem Preservation.

Roy Brown to perform at free concert at El Museo del Barrio on March 23rd

Roy Brown
? Friday, March 23 at 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
This musical tribute features ALAS, Argentina’s most successful progressive group formed in 1974, the folkloric fusion sounds of VIVA QUETZAL and Roy Brown, the renowned activist singer from Puerto Rico.
Come early and see The Disappeared (Los Desaparecidos), galleries will be open until 7:00 pm .
Admission: Free with Ticket. Ticket Distribution at theatre box office between 5:00 and 7:00 pm. Seating is Limited to two tickets per person.

El Museo del Barrio’s Teatro Heckscher, 1230 5th Avenue (104th/105th Streets), New York

Festival de Música y Bailes Puertorriqueños

Join La Casa in this fundraising event, celebrating
Puerto Rican culture through the music of Trios and typical dance


Trio “Sentimiento Latino”
El Trio de “Epoca”

with a special performance by
Hilda Rivera-Pantojas’

Sunday, July 8, 2pm

Teatro Heckscher del Museo del Barrio
1230 Fifth Avenue (corner of 104th St.)
New York City, New York

Donation: $25.00

For information:
Email: lacasapr@aol.com

El Taller Boricua and Jimmy Delgado Present

Every Wednesday through August 29 • 5:30 PM

Uptown Salsa After Work Party Event

July 4 – Soneros de Oriente
July 11 – Caransalsa
July 18 – Frankie Morales’s Mambo of the Times Orchestra
Juy 25 – Excelencia
August 1 – Orchestra Broadway
August 8 – Jimmy Sabater, Jr. & Los Salseros Del Hudson
August 15 – Sonsublime
August 22 – Rigo Y Su Grupo Ecua-Jei
August 29 – Tipica Novel
Ladies $5 from 5:30-6:30; $10 after 6:30
Gentlemen $10 all night
Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center
1680 Lexington Avenue
212.831.4333; www.tallerboricua.org

Every Thursday through August 23 • 6:30-9:00 PM
Summer Nights at El Museo

Target Presents Musical Icons of El Barrio
July 5 – Tito Puente, Jr.
July 19 – Plena Libre
August 2 – Spanish Harlem Orchestra
August 16 – Tribute to Hector LaVoe with Chino Nuñez

Budweiser Select’s Alternative Music Festival
July 12 – Circo
July 26 – Cultura Profética
August 9 – Latin Funk Night with Pacha Massive and Folklore Urbano
August 23 – Los Amigos Invisibles

Free. Limited seating – first come, first served.
Teatro Heckscher
El Museo del Barrio
1230 Fifth Avenue

RebelArte at Cemi Underground

Presentation by Yasmin Hernandez

This month’s theme will be Soul Rebels/ revolutionary musicians
and poets, based on Yasmin Hernandez’ painting series
that debuted at El Museo del Barrio’s Bienal: The (S) Files in 2005.

Saturday, Jan.26 at 3PM,

Cemi Underground
Lexington Ave off of 112th St.

Yasmin Hernandez, Visual Artist