by Father Rocendo Herrera Rodriguez, S.T.
On June 10, 2017, there was an International Folk Meeting in the town of Loíza, Puerto Rico. Seven delegations represented different countries from Latin America, the Middle East, and Europe. The town was especially excited for the arrival of our kindred spirits the U.S. delegation to the cultural encounter. The United States (represented by Idaho Rocky Mountain Express), Italy, Poland, Slovenia, Panama, Turkey and Colombia dressed in their traditional costumes paraded through the community to the María de la Cruz Cave. Mayor Julia Maria Nazario led the cultural parade. Along the parade route were hundreds of people taking in the sights of the different cultures passing by them. Approximately a total of three thousand to four thousand people attended the various activities of the festival.
The María de la Cruz Cave, an archaeological site of historical and cultural importance, was the right place for this event of international importance. Puerto Rico’s International Folk Festival was a complete success, bringing Loíza to the forefront of the world. This event helped build a bridge so that different cultures could meet in the middle. Each delegation shared the history of their costumes and music. For example, Italy and its dance of the flags from the Middle Ages presented young men dancing in a strict military style expressing their love of the banners or flags of their regions. The Colombians represented themselves playing and dancing to the beat of vallenato and cumbia, a mixture of rhythms typical of their country. Panama danced to music in tune with the Caribbean and its African heritage, with My Pride is Panama.
It was about 11:30 am, almost noon, and the busses appeared with the first international folk delegations. The U.S. and Italian groups made their appearances in front of the main town square, Ricardo Sanjurjo, and the Holy Spirit and Saint Patrick Parish in Loíza. The local guides were attentive to the needs of the visitors to ensure that they became lifelong friends. Several of the leaders of the parish were part of the work teams for this event which united Loíza in one heart.
Suddenly, two teenagers from the Parish of Santiago Apóstol in Medianía Alta, Jean Carlos Ayala and Johansen Cosme Cirino, sounded the drums in the atrium of the Saint Patrick church. The delegations of Panama, Colombia, the United States, Italy, and Turkey, who had already arrived in the town of Loíza, made a big circle to listen and see how the rhythm of la bomba is danced. Teacher of bomba and Majestad Negra (Black Majesty) dancer, Cruzmari Rivera was the hostess to teach the steps of Seis Corrido to our special guests. At that moment, you felt the energy in the air. Johansen and Jean Carlos with the playing of their drums electrified the atmosphere with excitement. This is how it’s done in the Capital of Tradition, Loíza.
By 1:00 pm all the delegations were already there in front of the St. Patrick Parish and the Cultural Center. The groups were organized and transported to different sectors of the municipality of Loíza: Medianía Alta, Piñones, Villas de Loíza and the town center. The idea was that the visiting groups were to teach the locals how the children of their countries play and vice versa. The interaction and encounter of cultures gave a new meaning to the life of the Loiceños. Men and women, boys and girls, young people, elderly people enjoyed the activities that historic Saturday in the village.
At 2:30 in the afternoon the groups were returning to the the parish and cultural center area in the village of Loíza. The 200 or so participants were given lunch. Most of them showed a face of thanks. Then began the moment of preparation for the parade of the seven countries and the groups Belelé and Majestad Negra of Loíza, representing the people of the Capital of Tradition. Saturday, June 10, 2017, will be a day no one forgets in Loíza.
UNESCO, an agency of the United Nations (UN), has all the logistics to create international cultural encounters– among them, the Cultural Olympiad of Folklore, an experience that is lived every four years in some country of the world. The country of Puerto Rico passed the accreditation to be part of CIOFF International (International Council of Organizations of Folklore Festivals and the Traditional Arts). The event was also hosted by other municipalities on our Isla del Encanto (The Island of Enchantment).
The children’s group Belelé had the privilege of opening the cultural event. The cultural heritage of Loíza is in good standing because those children gave a lecture on how the drum is played and how we dance in Loíza. The official acts of the day began immediately. Our Mayor Julia Maria Nazario gave her message and read the proclamation to inaugurate the great cultural moment. Mrs. Ada García Montes national delegate of CIOFF – Puerto Rico and its Vice President Marcos Peñaloza Pica made speeches in the presence of several thousand people.
In the evening, the members of Majestad Negra, representing Loíza and Puerto Rico, rose to the stage. The dress of the ballet, based on COPI (Corporación Piñones Integra), and the color of their clothes taken from the typical colors of Loíza: the Red of Santiago Apostle, Green of San Patricio and the Yellow of Africa. The drummers played their drums without stopping for 18 minutes. The ballet girls appeared and danced different bomba rhythms of our country: Sicá, Holandés, Yuba and Seis Corrido. Majestad dancers adorned with traditional Afro-Caribbean dress and with masks made of coconut, took the stage dancing the Seis Corrido (the traditional rhythm of Loíza). It is important to say that this international folk group has been in Cuba, Africa, Ecuador and are now invited to participate in events in Panama and Japan. Our beloved Father Rocendo Herrera went up to the stage with the group to play the Lopeños drums.
The sights and sounds could not be missed. A smell of alcapurria (a fritter dish) and bacalaito (a salt cod pancake) permeated the atmosphere, accompanied with coconut candy and casserole. The diversity of crafts from both Puerto Rico and the presentations of the artisans of the countries that visited us were something to see that is why people came from near and far— some traveling a great distance from Cabo Rojo, Mayagüez and Aguadilla to attend.
The Holy Spirit and St. Patrick Parish, the center and heart of Loíza, was present in the cultural activity of Puerto Rico’s International Folk Fest. It was months ago that planning and meetings began to plan the event. Father Rocendo Herrera, was invited personally by the mayor Julia Maria Nazario to be part of the event’s staff. The fatigue and the emotional exhaustion were not much compared with such a great experience that put Loíza not only on the national stage but international as well.