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Review for Taller Puertorriqueno Inc, Philadelphia, PA, USA

Rating: 5 stars  

Remarks delivered in December 2009 at Taller's 35th Anniversary Celebration: It’s an honor to be the keynote speaker for an institution that I love, admire and which has influenced and shaped me over the years. Some of you have heard my own story about Taller: Through Taller I met my very first friend in Philadelphia: Luis Hernandez, on a sunny September day in 1985. I had just arrived in the city to start a job as a Legal Services Lawyer, and did not know a soul. I had chosen Philly in part because I had read it had a Puerto Rican community, but when I asked around in Center City, people told me there were no Latinos in Philadelphia. Now, I knew that was not true, but it certainly made clear to me that the Latino community was not very visible or known. Using the advanced research skills I learned at Georgetown, I searched the phone book and was thrilled to find Taller’s name. I called, got directions from a really upbeat guy (who told me it was really close!), walked from 21st and Locust to 5th and Market (had no idea how to get there otherwise), got on the 47 bus, rode through the Latino community for the first time (and fell in shock and in love simultaneously) and got off at 5th and Lehigh where the smells and the sounds were amazing, and brought me instant happiness. That moment, that day, erased all my anxiety and doubt about the big move I had just made. I knew I was meant to be right there - - and right here, in Philly. I was home. I also felt strongly from that day onward that it was not OK for such a thriving and beautiful Latino community to be invisible to the city, and I would do my part to try to change it. When I walked into Taller that day, it felt magical to me - - I was frankly amazed at the level of PR/Latino cultural and literary resources available in Philadelphia --- these were treasures that most Latino communities did not enjoy back then, and sadly, I believe many do not enjoy today. Luis, who worked for Taller back then, was a great salesman - - I was a broke, soon to be but not yet employed 22 year old, and I walked away with my hands full of books, music and decorations for my new small apartment. Luis also operated with efficiency. He found out I was a musician, and I walked out that day as a member of a musical group, Siembracanto. That was the beginning of my long and wonderful relationship with Taller. In the years that followed, I participated in endless cultural, musical and literary events with Taller, made a film about AIDS n the Latino community with Taller’s support, partnered with Taller to bring some of their permanent art collection to the new Congreso headquarters, and partnered with them when I was at DHS to expand after-school art programs in the Latino community. Taller has been relevant and impactful in every stage of my life in Philadelphia. Taller was also my main gateway to meeting the most amazing, passionate and interesting people in the Latino community: artists, activists, educators, community agency leaders, politicians, poets, business people. These are people I learned from, socialized with, played music with, and did political and community work with. Through Taller, I built the kind of friendships that - no matter where life leads you - stay with you for life. Among my all-time favorites in that category of people, of course, was Joaquin Rivera. He has been recognized already, but I believe he is deserving of all the recognition he is getting and more for his life’s work and his contributions. There are so many ways to describe Joaquin’s impact: I would say that Joaquin’s presence, each and every single time, would turn any event - -no matter how small, or dull - into a five star event. He would become the event. He was our favorite celebrity. In the early 90’s, I asked Joaquin if I could join the Pleneros del Batey and he allowed me to do so. I was pretty good, but the others were really great, so I would tire faster than the rest of the group, and would fall a little out of rhythm. While others in the group would frown at me and make signals with their heads for me to catch up, Joaquin would smile at me encouragingly. That was Joaquin - -always making you feel good. I eventually quit for their sake - - knowing they were better off without me, but every single time I saw Joaquin performing from then on, if there was an extra instrument available, he would let me play with his group. I can say without a doubt that through the years, those moments playing music with Joaquin and the Pleneros were filled with pure joy. I will really miss him. Although I would like to think my story and experience with Taller is pretty special, it really isn’t. I am one of thousands of people – adults and children, Latino and non Latino, professional and blue collar, employed and unemployed, whose lives Taller has touched and shaped for the better over the last 35 years. Each of you has a similar story. Taller has been a key driver of Latino power, cultural identity, unity and strength. It has also been an oasis in the North Philadelphia community for children and families who otherwise would not get to experience and enjoy their heritage. Taller has represented and promoted Puerto Rican and Latino culture and history in our city when no one else was doing it or could do it. It has served as a bridge in and out of our community for people and institutions across the city and the country. It is incredibly moving and powerful to celebrate Taller’s 35th anniversary, but even more important, this is the moment where we must commit to a Philadelphia with Taller in it, for another 35 years. The Latino community in Philadelphia is no longer invisible. It has grown dramatically. It has an increasing number of influencial and professionally successful members. We are key contributors to the social, political, educational, economic and cultural fabric of the city and region. We are outspoken, we are talented, we have aspirations and a vision for the future, and we are here to stay. And our future, I believe, must include Taller. Just because Taller has been around for a long time we cannot assume, or take for granted, that it will be around in the future. Many non profits are struggling at the moment, and cultural, community based organizations have always struggled - -even in good times. Taller’s continued success is up to us. Regardless of the time or money we have, we can support Taller in so many ways - - Making it one of our charities of choice (remember to contribute by year end and get a tax deduction), attending events and taking our friends, connecting Taller with opportunities for funding, volunteering, and responding when they call for help at critical times like right now. I am a regular donor to Taller, but in honor of Joaquin Rivera, I am going to make an additional contribution today. We should recognize this 35th celebration for what it is - - an extraordinary milestone. But let’s embrace it also for what it must also become: a call to action, to ensure Taller remains strong and vibrant, so it can touch the lives of thousands of others more over many years to come, just like it has touched ours. Congratulations Taller!

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Role:  Donor & I recently shared my experiences with Taller as a speaker at their 35th anniversary celebration.