In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria uncertainty reigned everywhere. Puerto Rico was razed, leaving all of our shortages bluntly displayed – a shameful inequality and the profound poverty of thousands of families living in the archipelago. Among the many structures that were damaged in the vicinity of Machuchal, was the small home in which Ismael Rivera grew up.
Ismael, widely known as “Maelo”, is one of the greatest Salsa singers of all times. Since 2013 when we started Casa Taft 169, there has been a commitment to contribute in keeping Maelo’s legacy alive as the “machuchalero mayor” (the greatest “machuchalero”) given his outstanding contribution to our cultural heritage. Thanks to the support we have received from ArtPlace to develop our project Somos Machuchal (“We are Machuchal”), we have taken that commitment to a next level.
We will put some of our resources to donate a technical blueprint of the small house, as a first step to accomplish its restoration. In the process of taking measures and making the drawings, our collaborator Andrea Bauzá was amazed by the magnetic personality of her host Ivelisse Rivera. The conversations afterward made us ponder over the many extraordinary women throughout history that have been hidden behind the glory of men, in this case a beloved brother.
If we add the fact that as a country we owed Ivelisse decades of uncompensated labor and dedication that have been crucial in praising Maelo’s contribution to Puerto Rican culture, it was clear the kind of project we needed to embark on. The selection of documentarist Karen Rossi as the right person to make it was also clear cut not only because she lives in Machuchal, but because of the feminist aspect of the project. If we wished to praise Ivelisse Rivera by her birth name, there must also be a woman telling the story.
Without a doubt, we would have wanted to celebrate the launching of Machuchaleras, honoring Ivelisse Rivera, with a living audience and the many dear and talented people behind this project. Unfortunately, yet another calamity struck, preventing us from doing a screening full of hugs and music. Under such a scenario, we are now inviting everyone to watch this beautiful and thoughtful mini-documentary at any time, as a gift that we are confident is going to make our hearts rejoice in the midst of much distress.
Nonetheless, in the lucid words of Ivelisse we also see an invitation to think about the long path that we still need to walk through as we seek to build together a better society for all. I say this as a result of listening to Ivelisse while simultaneously witnessing in disbelief the lynching of a black man and the subsequent upheaval of an outraged nation. People taking the streets demanding, among other things, that we are past due in making radical changes to a [his]tory that glorifies colonization, violence, oppression, and exploitation. That upheaval has been a revelation to me quite like in the aftermath of a hurricane…
To the Black, impoverished women constantly struggling and caring for others, we share the beauty, poetry, and wisdom of a remarkable woman we hope you will all appreciate and enjoy.
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Casa Taft is a 2016 ArtPlace funded project.
Read more about their groundbreaking grassroots solutions here.
Visit the Ismael Rivera Foundation.