I board the #6 train to the Bronx and get off at the Whitlock Avenue stop. As I walk to my destination, I listen to the busy car traffic and the sounds of people working in garages and businesses in the area. Within minutes, I’m in another world. I’m inside a community treasure: El Maestro.
Some refer to this place as “Juan Laporte’s Boxing Gym,” named after Laporte who was a boxing champion in the early 1980’s. But the gym located at 1029 East 167th Street doesn’t serve only as a gym. It’s also a cultural and educational oasis for those with an interest in Puerto Rican and Latino themes.
The center is an endeavor aimed at transforming a social void into a valuable community space. It serves as a social and cultural center for the entire community. It’s a place for community members to socialize and participate in ongoing programs and activities for children, teenagers and adults.
Among the cultural programs that take place at El Maestro are: “Puerto Rican Roots Music performances (monthly), Afro-Puerto Rican Roots Dance & Percussion Classes (weekly), Resident Musical Ensembles (weekly rehearsals), Educational Video Presentations (monthly), Art Exhibitions (monthly), and Spoken Word/Poetry Open Mic and Showcase (monthly). It’s a busy place for sure.
There is also a little league baseball team and softball league El Maestro sponsors.
At the gym, participants learn to box and work on getting in shape. The gym membership fee: $50.
Coto Talavera, head trainer at the gym, says, “The success is not when an individual wins a title.”
The gym has served as a perfect place for members of several boxing members of the NYPD Boxing Team and the FDNY Boxing Team to work out.
“I come here often to train,” said a police officer at the gym who did not want to be identified. “Everything is clean and in complete order; there are no fights. I recommend every Police Athletic League in the city to come here.”
Naralie Pacheco, a female boxing champion and trainer at the gym, said, “When I train fighters here, I demand respect not just to me but for all, and that’s why this place is so special for the community because there is respect.”
For more information about El Maestro, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (646) 337-6775. –- Ismael Nunez
(photos by Ismael Nunez)