Latino Social and Cultural Organizations in Buffalo
Various informal and formal written histories of Buffalo’s Latino Community, such as the Legacy Project, cite numerous social and cultural organizations since Latinos first established themselves in Buffalo and Western New York. Many individuals and established societies (such as the Borinquen Club and Unión Puertorriqueña de Ayuda Mutua) contributed their time, knowledge, and resources to help the newly arrived get acquainted with the American lifestyle and to assist in finding affordable housing and other basic needs. Two of the first quasi cultural organizations originally began by Spaniards and later open to any Spanish speaking group, were Las Amigas Leales and Los Buenos Vecinos, which regularly held meetings at the local International Institute. The purpose of these groups was to create a sense of community and promote cultural and linguistic interests of Spanish speaking people of the region. One organization virtually undocumented is The Puerto Rican Cultural Community Center (PRCCC) started by Stephanie Barros in the late 1960’s located on Swan Street in the heart of the Swan Street Community.
The organization and the actual building are now gone, torn down to make way for the current Pucho Olivencia Center after Mrs. Barros death. The PRCCC was primarily a meeting place for Puerto Rican youth of the community working on community projects. In addition, PRCCC owned a modest collection of Puerto Rican folk art donated by members of the community.
The Legacy Project states the 1970’s saw a consolidation of social and political interests of the local Latino community along with a proliferation of agencies supporting Latino interests, one of which is documented as El Museo Francisco Oller y Diego Rivera. The Project states: “In 1981, Juan Gonzalez and other artists began El Museo Francisco Oller Y Diego Rivera, which celebrates contemporary art and culture by exhibiting fine art by Latinos, Caribbean and African-Americans.” This statement requires some clarification and can be understood within social the context in which El Museo began.
The role of the University of Buffalo is critical to the understanding of the development El Museo and other social and cultural agencies in both the Latino and African American communities of Buffalo, New York. During the 1960’s and 70’s, the emphasis the University placed on arts and the humanities, earned it the nickname of the Berkley of the East and brought together locally many Latino and African American graduate students and intellectuals. Malifi Ashanti, (now chair of the African American Studies Department at Temple University) and founder of the intellectual constructs of Afro centricity, and member of the University at Buffalo’s Communication Department, along with his wife Kariamu Welch Ashanti, dance instructor and founder of the Zimbabwe National Ballet, established the Museum of African and African American Art and Antiquities and the Center for Positive Thought on 11 East Utica Street on Buffalo’s East Side. While not the first minority cultural agency, they were the institution that inspired further cultural development by artists of color in the city. Latino intellectuals such as Abidios do Nascimento from Brazil, Francisco Pabon, and Alfredo Matia from Puerto Rico encouraged many Latino artists and intellectuals to come to Buffalo. It was in the midst of this explosion of intellectual and cultural activity that El Museo began to be formed.