Photo and Text by Ricardo Muñiz
In June 2007, Galería Cemí launched Cemí Underground, a Puerto Rican/Latino cultural outlet in the heart of New York City's El Barrio that sells books, T-shirts, crafts and music; produces a host of cultural events; and showcases a revolving art gallery.
Graphic artist Luís Cordero and Séry Colón, an actor who once owned Agüeybaná Bookstore on the Lower East Side, founded Cemí Underground, which has become a cultural haven in the Latino arts community at a time when El Barrio is becoming increasingly gentrified. The popular storefront shop is located at 1799 Lexington Avenue at East 112th Street.
Cordero describes a cemí as “a sacred object, which is the artistic representation of a guardian spirit or deity that was skillfully carved in stone, bone, cotton, wood and rock by the Taíno indigenous people of the Caribbean.”
Cordero says he and Colón launched Cemí Underground “with the goal of establishing an entity that would add another voice to the desperately few voices promoting and proclaiming our art and artists to the world.”
Cemí Underground is currently hosting a lineup of cultural and art events for Women's History Month, highlighting Latinas.
At Cemí Underground, you will find published works about poet Julia de Burgos, Puerto Rican nationalist leader Don Pedro Albizú Campos, salsero Héctor Lavoe, and writings describing the Taíno and African heritage of Caribbean people. New and recent titles by writers Steven Torres, Nicholasa Mohr and Pedro Pietri line the shelves. A collectible books section with hard-to-find books about Puerto Rican/Latino history and culture sets this bookstore apart from the rest.
New York’s hottest Latino poets such as Willie Perdomo and María Aponte have appeared at Cemí Underground. Cemí Underground has also featured musical tributes by Carmen DeLucca, cultural educational talks by lecturers such as Bobby González and comedy shows by emerging Latinos.
A modest art gallery space has exhibited up-and-coming artists like painter Yasmín Hernández, photographer Elena “Mamarazzi” Marrero, ceramic artist and community activist Esperanza Martell, as well as the paintings of well-known poet Sandra María Estéves. Cemí Underground also carries handmade crafts by New York's best Puerto Rican artisans.
Cemí Underground also has a growing music section that features CDs by New York's own boricua roots music sensation Tato Torres y Yerbabuena; Puerto Rican protest music icon Roy Brown; and hip hop artists The Welfare Poets.
In addition, Cemí Underground is one of the only cultural stores in the city where you will find graphic T-shirts with indigenous Taíno symbols and silk-screened designs featuring Don Pedro Albizú Campos and Ché Guevara.
For more information, visit www.cemiunderground.com and www.myspace.com/cemiunderground.
Ricardo Muñiz is a Puerto Rican social worker, teacher, community activist, puppeteer and photographer who contributes his writings and photography to Puerto Rico Sun.
Check out more of Ricardo's photos featuring models posing in Cordero's designs at