I am writing as a social work professional who has supervised and taught graduate level social work students for over 25 years at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Work. I am also a member of Taller’s Board and volunteer my expertise in a number of ways such as staff training, professional development, strategic plan development, event planning, evaluation etc. Taller’s Board has grown and is stronger today, along with staff and supporters having increased the organization’s capacity in a number of areas critical for all great nonprofits. I have witnessed the unique leadership of Taller’s CEO Dr. Carmen Febo San Miguel and the impact of an extremely gifted, talented and caring staff on meeting community in needs for children, youth, elderly and families. Taller Puertorriqueño is a premier nonprofit. Celebrating 40 years of providing key services to a deserving community that celebrates, promotes, preserves and expands Puerto Rican and Latino arts and culture is no easy feat. While other nonprofits have succumbed to the economic, social and political challenges of the last decade, Taller remains strong and growing. The numerous awards and honors attest to this as we prepare to break ground on Taller’s state of the art Latino Cultural Arts Center, a Philadelphia destination in the heart of this valuable community. Taller’s educational services for children and youth are among the best in the country. This is another critical accomplishment given that the community served is in the poorest zip code of Philadelphia and with a troubled public school system. Through its afterschool, summer programs and homework club Taller contributes to the children and youth’s educational process and academic success. Tonight I will have the opportunity to observe the accomplishment of the current students (elementary, middle, and high school) as they present their semester end program. This is always a highlight as the dedicated work of the students with the support of a talented and committed educational staff are clearly visible. Taller Puertorriqueño is a Best Non Profit in Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania and across the nation and deserve the highest distinction among great nonprofits. Please stop by and see for yourself. Elena Marie DiLapi
Taller Puertorriqueño exists in an area where poverty, drugs and teen pregnancy are above the average. Taller provides an alternative to young people. With opportunities to express themselves in art and theater, and with adults who have survived and excelled in a rough environment, youngsters can feel that there is a future beyond the danger and anger they experience in their environment. Soon, with enough money, there will be a new neighborhood center for Taller's activities and neighborhood events. What a bonus it can be for the North Philadelphia neighborhood.
As a non-Hispanic, I have long supported and volunteered for Taller Puertorriqueno because, despite its origins and hence its name, it represents the cultures of the peoples of all our Spanish speaking Caribbean island and Latin America neighbors - cultures whose art, music, dance, literature and architecture are deep and rich. As our own country becomes more Hispanic, it is vital to promote the creative brilliance of our Latin neighbors as a tool for understanding and friendship. For over 35 years and with an excellence that has earned it so many awards and accolades, Taller Puertorriqueno has enriched the Philadelphia region with the gift of the Latino arts.
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!
Taller is unique within the Philadelphia Latino, arts, and education communities. It is and has always had appeal and complete respect across generations, income, and neighborhoods. It is truly integral to the heritage of Puerto Ricans and the Latinos who have followed them in settling in the Philadelphia region. Situated in the heart of the PR community in Philly, Taller depends on a diverse base of support. It's worthy and it needs it.