Comité Noviembre and Luis Cordero-Santoni: Celebrating Puerto Rican Culture Beyond November

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comite-noviembreBy Robert Waddell

Twenty-sixteen marks the 30th anniversary of the founding of Comité Noviembre, a volunteer umbrella organization whose mission is dedicated to commemorating the many contributions of Puerto Ricans, and promoting Boricua culture and history.

Comité Noviembre was established in 1987, by a group of Puerto Rican leaders who had pressed then New York Governor Mario Cuomo to expand what had previously been a one-day celebration into an entire month honoring Boricuas in Puerto Rico and the United States.

Comité Noviembre members include representatives from prestigious Puerto Rican organizations such as: ASPIRA of New York, Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños Hunter College, El Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, El Museo del Barrio, El Puente, Eugenio María de Hostos Community College, Institute for the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Elderly, La Casa de la Herencia Cultural Puertorriqueña, Inc., La Fundación Nacional para la Cultura Popular, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Música de Cámara, National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights — Justice Committee, National Institute for Latino Policy, Puerto Rican Institute for the Development of the Arts, and the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration — which serves in an advisory position.

Since its inception, Comité Noviembre placed special focus on volunteerism and educational excellence as the key to the future of the Puerto Rican community. For three decades, Comité Noviembre has provided educational and leadership development opportunities for Puerto Rican youth. The Comité Noviembre Scholarship Awards Program is firmly rooted in the belief that — in order to succeed in life — students must pursue a higher education, give back to their community through volunteer efforts, and learn their cultural roots.

Olga Ayala

Each year, Comité Noviembre also honors Puerto Rican artists and leaders who give generously as volunteers with a “Lo Mejor de Nuestra Comunidad” award and sponsors a “Day of Community Service and Social Responsibility” where members donate and distribute food to the needy.

In keeping with its mission to promote Puerto Rican culture and art, Comité Noviembre also invites Boricua artisans from Puerto Rico and the United States to showcase and sell their work at its fairs. On Saturday, November 19th, hundreds of loyal fans will flock to Hostos Community College for Comité Noviembre’s 11th Annual National Puerto Rican Artisans Fair and Exhibit, the Fifth Annual Puerto Rican Authors Book Expo, and the Second Annual Puerto Rican Memorabilia Collectors Show.

These now traditional, pre-thanksgiving fairs help usher in the Boricua holiday season by recreating the same joyful atmosphere of the fiesta patronales that take place in many towns in Puerto Rico. Modeled after typical Boricua plazas, the expositions are filled with painters, photographers, sculptors and mask makers, jewelry and clothing designers, poets and writers, and memorabilia collectors promoting and selling their work while musicians and dancers entertain throughout the day.

Luis Cordero-Santoni: How Much of the Magic Happens

One the best kept secrets behind the organization’s cultural success is Luis Cordero-Santoni, who joined Comité Noviembre’s board in 2006 and has coordinated the fairs and expos since their inception. “I’m involved because it’s significant,” Cordero said. “Thirty-years ago they won!”

A graphic artist and photographer by trade, Cordero will be showcasing his “Taíno Zen” portfolio — a series of filtered photos and linocuts of sacred indigenous objects that was recently exhibited at the popular East Harlem restaurant, Camaradas El Barrio.

In addition to printmaking, Cordero designs, produces, and sells his own line of t-shirts with Taíno and Puerto Rican iconography. He is also the founder of Cemi Underground Press, which has published several books, including “The Last Puerto Rican Indian” by Bobby González.

Luis Cordero

“I am inspired to create by the richness of my culture,” Cordero explained. “We can draw on our African roots to create dances and rhythms that can move people out of their seats and into another world. We can draw on our Spanish/European roots to create literature to inspire the world. We can draw on our Native roots to create graphics that have never been seen before.”

Cordero was born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico and raised in East Harlem. As a young student, he felt left behind when it came to his own history. “I didn’t see myself or my culture represented in history books or movies,” Cordero said.

Years later, his desire to learn Puerto Rican history evolved into a passion for “teaching” through the creation of his own Boricua art. Still, Cordero continued to experience a lack of institutional support for Puerto Rican artisans, which prompted him to put together his own public showcase. The event was a success and Cordero solidified his relationship with artists eager to exhibit and sell their work.

In 2013, with support from Comité Noviembre, he co-founded the Puerto Rican Institute for the Development of the Arts (PRIDA), which has already distinguished itself as the leading advocacy organization for Boricua artists.

“It amazes me when I think of what a small island Puerto Rico is, with so few people yet our artists have created work that can stand side by side with artists in any part of the world…somos una jodienda!” Cordero said.

It was that same passion that in 2007 inspired him to open Cemi Underground — the first ever bookstore in East Harlem. The popular shop provided space for Puerto Rican artists and performers to showcase their work, but Cordero was forced to close in 2009.

Luis Cordero

“Luis Cordero is a multi-talented artist and a decades-long activist for Puerto Rican rights, arts, and culture,” ceramic artist Olga Ayala affirmed. “He imbues that passion into his craft, using digitally altered images of his original photographs of Taíno petro glyphs, hand carved and printed linocuts depicting cultural and political topics and his ever-changing t-shirt designs! It’s wearable art that allows the customer to show their cultural pride and acts as a conduit for dialogue about our history, culture, art, and political struggles with those who are not familiar with it.”

Ayala, a frequent collaborator, praises her PRIDA colleague’s body of work and says Cordero has helped keep Puerto Rican art and culture visible to the general public. “As founder of PRIDA, he continues to develop platforms where our art, history, and culture are foremost in the public eye.”

Though often grueling work, coordinating and facilitating events for artisans and helping them realize their goals has been very rewarding for Cordero. Although he swears “never again,” at the end of every expo, Cordero always recommits the next year because he also finds the work “gratifying and fun.”

Cordero’s greatest joy is seeing an artist make a sale, then leaving with a lighter load of inventory after coming to the fair.

“This is my major impetus,” said Cordero. “Continuing these artist events…to have this happening now.”

Comité Noviembre’s 11th Annual National Puerto Rican Artisans Fair and Exhibit, Fifth Annual Puerto Rican Authors Book Expo, and Second Annual Puerto Rican Memorabilia Collectors Show will take place Saturday, November 19th from 12 PM to 7 PM at Hostos Community College, 450 Grand Concourse, in the Bronx. All events are free and family friendly.

Activities will include children’s mask-making workshops, story lessons on the history of the Three Kings, and other attractions.

Comité Noviembre's National Puerto Rican Artisan Fair

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