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El Barrio Celebrates Afro-Puerto Rican Heritage with Weekend Festival

By Claire Oliver | July 25, 2013 9:00am
 This weekend, East 105th Street will be transformed into a hotbed of African, Spanish and Caribbean culture with the 31st annual Fiestas Santiago Apostol.
Fiestas Santiago Apostol
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EAST HARLEM — El Barrio’s Afro-Puerto Rican heritage will be on display this weekend when the annual Festival Santiago Apostol, De Loiza a El Barrio — meaning, from Loiza, Puerto Rico, to El Barrio in East Harlem — takes over East 105th Street.

Now in its 31st year, the free festival draws inspiration from centuries-old traditions that honor St. James the Apostle, incorporating African and Caribbean influences on top of its Spanish roots.

From Friday through Sunday, artisans will set up shop on 105th Street between Lexington and Park avenues selling handmade jewelry, artwork and wares, while local Puerto Rican performers, including Alma Moyo, Legacy Women and Orlando Marin, The Last Mambo King, are set to offer salsa-style music.

Festival attendees will also be able to sample traditional Afro-Puerto Rican dishes, such as fried patties of platanos — bananas — stuffed with stewed chicken and vegetables, as well as coconut drinks and piraguas.

The highlight of the celebration will come on Sunday, with a 12:30 p.m. Mass at the Church of the Holy Agony, 1834 Third Ave. From there, a procession will make its way toward 105th Street at 1:30 p.m.

The procession, based on Catholic tradition, draws people dressed as folkloric figures including Spanish conquistadors, said Regina Bultrón Bengoa, assistant director of communications and social media at the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute. State Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez will act as padrino, or godfather, of the festival, Bultrón Bengoa said.

The celebration is coordinated by Hermanos Fraternos de Loiza Aldea, a nonprofit organization of families tied to Loiza, Puerto Rico, along with El Barrio-Taino Towers and the CCCADI, which stepped in last year after a lack of funding threatened to end the event.

“We knew the importance of sustaining this legacy,” Bultrón Bengoa said. “We fell in love with the project and wanted to get involved.”

This year’s Festival Santiago Apostol kicks of at 4 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, continuing through 8 p.m. each day.