NYC: 5 Things Any Self-Respecting Latino Living in NY Should Know About Loisaida’s Past and Present

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As the dust of Memorial Day Weekend settles and we go back to the doldrums of life, memories of mini-vacations taunt us. That silly melancholy works given how some of us at Remezcla spent our weekend. We got to spend some time either working and collaborating or simply enjoying one of the city’s iconic Latino Festivals, the Loisaida Festival. We came out of the weekend a couple of pounds heavier but also wiser, knee-deep in the culture and history of a neighborhood that is quickly transforming into something we don’t quite know whether to love or hate—the Lower East Side’s Loisaida (which literally is what Lower East Side kinda sounds like if you say it quickly many times in Spanish).

This weekend, the Loisaida Festival’s 27th edition came revamped as part of the first ever Lower East Side History Month (you still have a few days to celebrate it) with a series of programs and community initiatives that gave us a glimpse into what made the Lower East Side the creative, gritty hood it was ten years ago. Every self-respecting Latino living in NYC should know some of these deets. They may even come in handy next week, at the Puerto Rican Day Parade. You are welcome.

1. Puerto Rican and Latinos in the Lower East Side are the original alternative crew.

The foundations of what we know today as the hipster haven, creative-hub-going-stale were created by a group of incredibly resilient people—the original alternative and indies if you will—the Puerto Rican and Latino community. This group of badasses from the late 60s onward turned a once unwanted neighborhood on its head, paving the way for the kind of vibrancy and character that later appealed to hipsters and developers alike. So, yes, they kind of contributed to their own demise, but we won’t really go there.

Photo by Máximo Colón

2. Before sustainability was a thing, Loisaida residents were totally into it.

From turning abandoned spaces into community gardens, to raising fish in basements, Loisaida’s vision during the late 60s and 70s was well ahead of its time. It’s no surprise that Buckminster Fuller (neo-futuristic architect and overall brilliant weirdo), teamed up with one of the neighborhood’s well-known social engineering organizations, CHARAS. These peeps began learning geodesic math and using the kind of dome methodology later adopted by many well before Epcot Center’s own dome came to life.

3. Hate to break it to you, but what we know today as new, undefinable cultural spaces (read: not Latino but not mainstream either, rather something in between) predates the millennials.

Well before we came along, Loisaida saw the co-mingling and coexistence of different groups that worked together for the benefit of an entire community. Although the majority of residents of Loisiada during the 1970s spoke Spanish, the neighborhood was truly multi-ethnic, bringing together Puerto Ricans, Argentineans, Cubans, Eastern European Jews, amongst many others.

4. No need to panic, though.

Fast-forward to last weekend, and that multi-ethnic laced with everything Latino lives on in the Loisaida Festival. One of the things we loved most about the festivities was precisely that it channeled a unifying, alternative impetus we can get behind. Capoeira workshops occupied the same space as a pimped out Piragua cart. Paellas and empanadas coexisted with piña coladas and bacalaitos. Welcome to the new old Loisaida.

5. People of all ages, colors, classes, and creeds came together at the Loisaida Festival to celebrate an alternative history of the Lower East Side.

We totally dug bands like Flor de Toloache, NYC’s only all female Mariachi band, with its Ella Fitzgerald meets Pedro Infante and have Celia Cruz’s baby sounds. That unique mishmash is exactly what Loisaida was and is all about. We’ll leave you at that.

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