Saturday, March 10, 2012

El Gran Antillano: Remembering Louis Reyes Rivera

    • Commentary
      By Shaggy Flores

      I’ve had the honor of knowing the literary genius, Louis Reyes Rivera, as my friend, hermano, mentor, editor, teacher, and fellow Nuyorican Poet. To say that other young writers and I were heavily influenced by his work would be an understatement. 
      Louis was what many of us aspire to become as artists, human beings, and cultural workers. He was a committed African Diaspora scholar who was not only a master of his craft, but someone who firmly believed that the artist and writer should also serve as a servant of the people. He believed that we must all do our part to uplift humanity by addressing social and economic conditions through the arts.

      I met Louis Reyes Rivera years ago at the North East Latino Student Conference in UMass Amherst in Massachusetts. I was one of the main folks to push the most for his attendance as a main speaker. I finally got to meet Louis in person at the Campus Center Café a few hours before he was to open for Dr. Martha Morena Vega at the conference. A few hours later after telling bochinches, sharing history, dropping names on our shared acquaintances, and comparing personal notes, we found that we had common interests. We were two boricua brothers from different mothers, but we were united in this thing called the struggle.

      A few years later, at the first annual Voices for the Voiceless Poetry™ Massachusetts concert which I founded, I was able to humbly honor Louis with a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to the arts and to the community. I named the award in his honor and worked with students in the Western Massachusetts five college communities to promote the annual diaspora Voices concert, which highlighted poets and artists who were unsung. Each year after that first award, I contacted Louis and told him who I had in mind to get the award. He gave suggestions on possible candidates, and together we worked hard to  honor artists who have made an impact on the diaspora. The recipients of this award read like a who’s who of artistic and creative giants in the African Diaspora community.

      Over the years, Louis edited many books, including my first book Sancocho: A Book of Nuyorican Poetry, and Nuyorican Poet Bonafide Rojas' first publication Pelo Bueno: A Day in the Life of A Nuyorican Poet. In addition, Louis collaborated with Dr. Tony Medina (Howard University) and Bruce George (Founder of Def Poetry Jam) to edit three seminal anthologies Bum Rush the Page, Role Call: A Generational Anthology of Social and Political Black Literature and Art, and The Bandana Republic. These three publications were a true reflection of the new literary cannon that is currently being created in American literature, as all three featured some of the best writers in the country sharing their craft openly because of their profound respect for Louis.

      I will miss picking up the phone to call mi hermano to ask for advice or to complain about some of the struggles artists face. I remember that my calls to Louis would last for hours, and he always started the conversation by asking about my family, health, and current projects. He also informed me about his new works. Louis was brilliant. He was one of those individuals who are extremely rare to find in today’s society. 

      One of the last stories I remember hearing from Louis was about the time he met Nina Simone with James Baldwin. He told this casual story to a group of poets during late dinner after a Voices for the Voiceless concert. Most of the group asked what it was like to meet Nina and James. My question to him on this historic encounter, which I now wish I had said out loud, was "what was it like for Nina and James to meet him?” Louis will be the Nina and James of our time.

      He was a badass legendary brother who took “no mess” from anyone. He was quick to assassinate you with the pen when it came to history and politics.

      While he often chuckled when Bonafide Rojas or I referred to him as Yoda (Star Wars) in poetry circles, there was some merit to this nickname. He possessed what is known as la fuerza. If you got close enough to him, you knew that you were surrounded by someone of immense power. 

      He was, and always will be, the real deal, and I hope that all of us who were touched by him could one day live to all his expectations.

      Pa’lante hermano, see you in the next lifetime! Manteca!

      Shaggy Flores

      Nuyorican Massarican Poeta

    • The Louis Reyes Rivera (LRR) Lifetime Achievement Award™

      Founded by Shaggy Flores in 1995 and distributed at the annual Voices for the Voiceless Diaspora Poetry Concert™, this award honors unsung artistic heroes of the African/Latino/Asian-American/Native-American Diaspora Community. The first recipient of the award was famed African Diaspora Scholar and Writer Louis Reyes Rivera, known as the Janitor of History. In honor of his contributions to the African Diaspora, the award bears his name.

      Past Recipients:
      Louis Reyes Rivera
      Jorge PopMaster Fabel Pabon
      Prince Ken Swift
      Sandra Maria Esteves
      The Asian American Writers’ Workshop
      Jose Montoya
      Sekou Sundiata
      Dr. Maya Lin
      Maria Morales-Loebl
      Raul Salinas
      Roberto Marquez
      Jesus Papoleto Melendez
      Tato Laviera
      Americo Casiano
      Freddy Moreno
      Lorna Dee Cervantes
      Victor Hernandez Cruz
      Fay Chiang
      Roberto Vargas
      Luis Disco Wiz Cedeño
      Amiri Baraka

      Shaggy Flores is a contributing writer to Puerto Rico Sun. 

Friday, March 09, 2012

Saborea Puerto Rico 2012 Highlights Our Cuisine to the World

With dancers moving to salsa music on a colorful set reminiscent of Old San Juan, the Puerto Rico Tourism Company showcased the island's many tourist attractions at the recent New York Times Travel Show at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan.  

But they were also there to market Puerto Rico's traditional, diverse and exciting cooking scene, which they say is the best and most important culinary destination in the Caribbean. Gearing up for its fifth anniversary, they told attendees about Saborea Puerto Rico, a festival that will feature new and exciting activities highlighting Puerto Rico's culinary scene. The 2012 edition of this annual event, organized by the Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association (PRHTA), will be April 21st and 22nd at Escambrón Beach in San Juan, PR. 

Chef Giovanna Huyke, who is known for her educational cooking TV shows on the island and is now the executive chef at Mio Restaurant in Washington, D.C., was at the travel show talking and demonstrating Puerto Rican cuisine to people from many different parts of the world. A goal, she said, is to elevate the perception of Puerto Rican foods in the culinary landscape, and Saborea Puerto Rico is helping to do that by highlighting chefs from Puerto Rico to a local and international audience.

Puerto Rican food, Huyke said, is also worth sharing with a worldwide audience because it is delicious with a lot of flavor, and it is not spicy. It can be healthy too, depending on how you cook and serve it, she said. "Not everything needs to be fried," she said, adding that many people have the misconception that Puerto Rican food is not healthy. Many Puerto Rican meals are based on vegetables.

In addition, she said, Puerto Rican food is very much influenced by the rich and diverse cultural heritage of the Puerto Rican people. Fusion has always and continues to very much be a part of Puerto Rican cuisine.
"Puerto Rican food is evolving, and we are working to making Puerto Rican cuisine go to the next step," she said. "There's more openness, and there is a movement to raise awareness."

While chefs "are going beyond the traditional," Huyke said sofrito continues to be used as the base in many Puerto Rican dishes whether they are traditional or have a new twist. 

Chefs always play a pivotal role in Saborea, and this year will be no different. Students from local culinary schools and universities will have the opportunity to show off their skills, styles and creativity at The Next Culinary Wave. There’s also the always-popular Tasting Pavilion, where Puerto Rico’s best restaurants offer some of their finest creations to the public. And through the demo kitchens, top local and international culinary personalities will reveal their secrets and interact with fans. The 2012 chef’s roster already reads like a “who’s who” of dream gastronomic experts from the U.S., the Caribbean and Puerto Rico. 

After-hours events will also play a big part of this year’s gastronomic fest. On Friday, April 20th, the opening reception, A Privileged Taste of Saborea, will feature 19 renowned chefs hosting individual 12-14 person tables and preparing unforgettable dinners expertly paired with wine. And on April 21st, the “Sabor Puertorriqueño” sunset beach party will bring together local flavors, live music and varied entertainment with tapas-style fare in a casual ambiance. 

This year's Saborea Puerto Rico also brings a wealth of new, flavorful events such as the Libations Station, which will offer tastings of local and international beers and spirits. Guest vintners from Napa Valley will regale visitors with tastings of that region’s best and favorite harvests, while local treats and homegrown coffees will be the main event at Sweets & Brews. There will also be an area dubbed “Mercado Boricua” for local vendors to present both agricultural and artisanal products. 

“These additions have been designed to enhance Saborea’s local and international flavors while providing visitors with even more variety,” said PRHTA President & CEO Clarisa Jiménez. “Like the world of flavors it explores each year, Saborea Puerto Rico will continue to adapt to welcome new trends and ideas in the culinary landscape.”

Despite trends and new ideas, one of the most popular dishes among the tourists is mofongo even though chefs are making it in different ways, she said with a smile. 

"We really want to put an emphasis on the food," Jimenez said. "We really want to showcase Puerto Rico's cuisine and our competitive advantages.

"We want people to come and see the warmth of the people of Puerto Rico, the wonderful places to visit on the island and enjoy our wonderful food," she said. "They will have an unforgettable experience. Saborea Puerto Rico is a way to help people finally understand the richness of Puerto Rican cuisine."

For more information, visit