by Tia Barbee, CICS Ralph Ellison, Class of 2016
Loíza in Chicago was an amazing experience that everyone should have the opportunity to encounter. The colorful showcase featured costumes and beautiful masks, which were accompanied by sounds and rhythms native of the Loíza area of Puerto Rico. The aforementioned area on the island is densely populated with Afro-Puerto Ricans. During the performance I was able to recognize the strong African roots that influence the culture of this particular region. An interesting aspect of the dance was how the dancer was in charge. The drummer and the dancer had a relationship that mimicked call and response interactions. The dancer would go at his or her rhythm and tempo and the drummer was responsible for keeping up with the movements. You were able to recognize this relationship as the performance occurred and it was simply amazing. I loved every part of it and was even dancing in my seat.
The end of the performance, the leader drummer told the audience, was a reenactment of a Loíza celebration called Máscaras de Vejigante. He explained that it was similar to Mardi Gras, a festival that occurs throughout the southeastern region of the United States. During this festival people wear many different types of masks, which are made out of coconut and painted an array of colors. The drummer’s explanation was clear and helped us to understand Loíza culture that much more.
After the excellent performance, we continued our Caribbean journey to Garifuna Flava, an Afro-Belizean restaurant. Both Belize and Puerto Rico are located in the region known as the Caribbean and Loíza, Puerto Rico and parts of Belize are both influenced by West African countries. The influence has deep historical ties dating back to slavery when different cultures were forced to integrate. Fortunately, the West African culture was not lost over the years.
At the restaurant the owner informed us about the Garifuna people and I could not help but see the similarities between the Garifuna and Loíza people. I ordered the jerk chicken dinner, which came with rice, beans, and fried plantains. It was phenomenal. I realized that the food shared some commonalities with food I typically eat and that made me want to explore how my culture may intersect with Afro-Caribbean cultures. All in all, Loíza in Chicago and Garifuna Flava was an experience I will always remember.