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AFC’s Community Collections Grants: Foodways in Chicago with Jorge Félix

Spices in a bowl for making Coquito a Puerto Rican holiday rum drink

Spices used for making Coquito, a Puerto Rican holiday drink, as documented in the Chicago home of Doña Luz María Resto. Photo by Jorge Félix. See the full interview on the Library’s Of the People blog for a Coquito recipe.

Below is an excerpt from a post on the Library’s Of the People blog highlighting artist, documentarian, and AFC Community Collections Grant recipient Jorge Félix and his project, Sofrito Conversations: Bridging the North and West of Chicago.

Congratulations on the grant, Jorge! First, tell us a bit about you and your work.

Thanks! It is truly exciting to be part of this important project initiated by the LOC and AFC. I am privileged to join this amazing group of artists and community documentarians preserving contemporary narratives that are unknown to many.

I am a proud Afro-Boricua gay man from the town of Caguas in Puerto Rico. I am Black through the heritage of my father whose line I traced to enslaved Black people working in tobacco haciendas in the mountains of Cayey, Puerto Rico, and all the way back to the Mbenzele people of east Cameroon. And through my mother’s heritage, I am half Indigenous Caribbean Taino nation that populated the large islands of the Caribbean and Florida. Boricua comes from Boriquén, which is the Indigenous name of the colonial territory of Puerto Rico. I make a point to stress that I am a Black, Indigenous, gay man because I was raised in a fundamentalist evangelical Christian home that hid the fact we had Black heritage (our brown skin was explained to us as Indigenous, which was more accepted), and where I had to suppress my sexual identity. All of these traits form the artist I am today, nurturing and helping to evolve my practice.

It is the dynamic of race in Puerto Rico that moves my art-community-work today. The George Zimmerman case and the Trump administration accentuated the race divide amongst [email protected], its troublesome disengagement, and silence on the resonant crimes against Black people that had occurred in the last decade. It is said that Puerto Ricans are ethnicities racially formed through the colonial intermix of the white European, the Indigenous American, and the import of enslaved Black people. The reality is that yes, there are mixed people, the mulatos and mestizos, in Puerto Rico and Latino America, but colorism is a persistent issue and through the upcoming Sofrito Conversations, community a(r)tivism intends to address it.

How have you envisioned your Sofrito Conversations project unfolding?

The goal of my project is to document food culture on the West side of Chicago, including communities like Austin, Belmont Cragin, Hermosa, Humboldt Park, Montclare, and West Garfield Park, which were separate from Chicago and once annexed into the city, they were neglected and fell into disinvestment and decay. The West side is known for its African American population, but in the last 20 years, gentrification had pushed Puerto Ricans and [email protected] west. Now the social and cultural dynamics of the West side shift again. I had seen the ups and down in violence, lack of business development opportunities, emerging food deserts, displacement or residents, increased police surveillance, drugs, and the loss of homes affecting the northwest of the city. Also, there has been an increase in newly created borders demarking [email protected] and Black areas. Racial divisions and economic disparities force neighbors on the West side to fight for city resources. As such, there is a need for a [email protected] American coalition building. Together the West side could move forward, benefitting all residents.

As a Black and Latino man, these community dynamics are striking. And in turn, the political and socioeconomic circumstances of the West side are the ones challenging and fueling my community art practice. There are more things in common between African Americans and [email protected] than differences. And it is my intent to address some of these thoughts through my fieldwork. During my home-kitchen visits, a core activity of the project, I am meeting a selection of residents in their kitchen, and I will document the making of a recipe or dish that is significant to them. During cooking documentations, I will pose questions about these issues.

Food is culture and culture evolves. As an artist, it is important to grasp this opportunity to document these shifts, but also it is my hope that through Sofrito Conversations I could create bonds between Black and [email protected] residents.

Two bottles of Coquito a Puerto Rican holiday rum drink

Coquito, a Puerto Rican holiday drink, ready for serving or chilling, as documented in the Chicago home of Doña Luz María Resto. Photo by Jorge Félix. See the full interview for a recipe for making your own Coquito.

The project documentation you generate will be safeguarded by the Library, in the AFC archives. Why is this important, and what are the lasting impacts of this work?

As a resident of the West side and as an artist-documentarian, the fact that this moment in history is captured and preserved at LOC is an honor. Narratives of Black and Brown communities are scarce. Sofrito Conversations in the West side of Chicago, and my fellow documentarians’ Community Collections Grants projects, are bringing an insider’s perspective to the telling of our own community narratives. The story about the West side of Chicago is told by residents of the West side and not by an outsider. We need more institutions to forge initiatives that follow the LOC-AFC’s community empowerment approach. It is my hope that the collection will shed insight into a historical moment that reflects a despairing national reality, and will serve to find hope. Perhaps I am naïve to think that a political conversation during the making of dinner will solve social divides, but it serves to better leave us with a full belly and the memory of a good taste in the mouth.

Click on over to the Library’s Of the People blog for the full interview on this important project, as well as for a recipe Jorge shared for making Coquito, a Puerto Rican holiday drink.

Cecil Sharp, Nagra Decks, Tony Barrand, and Mick Moloney on the Folklife Today Podcast

We’re back with another episode of the Folklife Today podcast! In this episode, John Fenn and I talk about some of our favorite items in the archive, including a Nagra IV-S portable tape recorder, and invite Jennifer Cutting along to talk about commercial recordings of traditional folk dance tunes collected by the English folklorist Cecil Sharp. We used the opportunity to honor folklorists  Tony Barrand, who built upon Cecil Sharp’s dance scholarship, and Mick Moloney, who made some great recordings on our Nagras. Barrand and Moloney both passed away in the last year. As usual, I’ll present more complete recordings of the music and other related collections in this blog post, along with links to download the podcast itself.

Homegrown Plus Premiere: The Armagh Rhymers’ Music and Rhyme from Ireland

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with The Armagh Rhymers, one of the most celebrated traditional music and theatre ensembles on the island of Ireland. As is usual for the series, this blog post includes an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore!

Crowdsourcing Information and Disinformation: The World War II Rumor Project available through By the People

Staff from the American Folklife Center and By the People have again teamed up for a crowdsourcing campaign. We are asking volunteers to read and transcribe the Center’s World War II Rumor Project. The digital collection is online and the crowdsourcing campaign is now live. The World War II Rumor project was conceived by U.S. […]

Web Archives and Cuban Songs: Interns and their Interests on the Folklife Today Podcast

We’re back with another episode of the Folklife Today podcast! Find it at this page on the Library’s website, or on Stitcher, iTunes, or your usual podcatcher. In this episode, John Fenn and and I interview the American Folklife Center’s recent interns, Bryan Jenkins and Elisa Alfonso, about the items and collections that caught their […]

Homegrown Plus Premiere: Vigüela’s Traditional Song and Music from Central Spain

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with Vigüela, a a traditional folk quintet with a commitment to the rural musical traditions of central Spain. As is usual for the series, this blog post includes an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore!

Vigüela was established in the mid-1980s, after the Franco regime, by young people who looked to folk culture for a way to channel their creative desires while staying rooted in their local communities. Grounded in this history, the band members value their tradition and perform it with accuracy and energy, as a living music, full of joy. They play traditional Spanish music, including jotas, seguidillas, fandangos, and sones, using the centuries-old singing styles, dialects, and instruments of their region. That region is Castilla-La Mancha, the southern part of the Iberian plateau, sometimes called “the heart of Spain,” or “Don Quixote country.”

AFC’s Community Collections Grants: Puerto Rican Coffee Traditions with Russell Oliver

Below is an excerpt from a post on the Library’s Of the People blog highlighting AFC Community Collections Grant recipient Russell Oliver and his project, Documenting the Stories, Agricultural Traditions, and Culture of Specialty Coffee Farmers in Puerto Rico. Congratulations on the grant, Russell! How did the idea for the project come about? Thank you […]

Homegrown Plus: Windborne

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus series with Windborne, a vocal quartet from New England. BBC Traveling Folk called them “the most exciting vocal group in a generation,” and they have certainly done great things with AFC archival materials. Just like other blogs in the Homegrown Plus series, this one includes a concert video, a video interview with the musicians, and connections to Library of Congress collections.

Homegrown Plus Premiere: Wuza Wuza Music and Dance Ensemble from Ghana

This week our Homegrown Plus Premiere series continues with Wuza Wuza, a music and dance performance company featuring Ghanaian artists deeply invested in the expression of African traditions and cultures. Following the standard for this series, this blog post includes an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore!

Live Botkin Lectures Return to the Library with Martha Cooper September 7

The American Folklife Center is pleased to announce the return of live events in our Benjamin Botkin Folklife Lecture Series!  The first onsite Botkin lecture in over two years will be Wednesday, September 7, at 4:00 pm in the Whittall Pavilion, and will feature the renowned documentary photographer Martha Cooper.