Q&A with History Makers AfriCaribe

AfriCaribe Cultural Center has kept bomba alive in Chicago, reaching thousands of people through performances, classes, and workshops in and out of Chicago. The Center, dedicated to honoring the African traditions in Puerto Rican culture, is celebrating their ten-year anniversary. Director Tito Rodriguez talked with Gozamos about AfriCaribe’s history, mission and anniversary plans.

When and why AfriCaribe was created?
AfriCaribe was created in the year 2000; I’m the founder of the organization. The mission statement is to research, promote and develop the Puerto Rican and the Caribbean culture through music, dance and other artistic media. The philosophy of the organization is to highlight our African influence, because for many years it has been pretty much alienated from the culture of our people. It has been marginalized—black music and black culture in general. And we also wanted to see the similarities between other people in the Caribbean and throughout the Americas through that African connection.

Can you tell me about the educational and cultural programs?
We have different divisions to AfriCaribe. The first was actually the performing group, AfriCaribe. The research that we do is highlighted into performing form, where we educate our audience through the dances and the music. And then we have AfriCaribe as the arts and education component. AfriCaribe goes to schools and other organizations and provides on-site workshops. Then we have the Academy, which is our own school of dance and drumming, where we teach drumming and dance in the form of bomba, but we also include other things. We have done plena, we have done Afro-Cuban, we have capoeira, and we have had Haitian drumming and dancing. So, it’s not only about Puerto Rico but other Caribbean cultures. Then every two years we have a conference, which we haven’t done because of lack of funds. The main idea was how small organizations like Africaribe are an important part of the development of the community, that we are not just doing an artistic mission, but we also are organizing people, that we are a source of information, history and many other things for our community.

How would you say that AfriCaribe has impacted the community?
I think that first of all it’s creating a consistency of programs. I know when people talk about Puerto Rican culture and talk about bomba in the city of Chicago, one of the first names that comes to mind is AfriCaribe. More and more people—not only Puerto Ricans but all kinds of other people—are learning more about what bomba is and relating to our community. We have people coming from all over the place in the city of Chicago and also from out of Chicago.

What would you say makes AfriCaribe stand apart from other cultural organizations?
I don’t think that we want to stand apart, but we want to be part of a collective that is doing something to promote our culture, to strengthen our community and to highlight the essentials of who we are in this city. We want to be part of that that leaves a mark for our community in this city.

I’ve been to a number of cultural centers and schools, and there’s a lot of great programming; but I’ve always yearned for more people to come in. What do you think are some of the challenges connected to this?
I think it’s creating a marketing tool that actually reaches our people. We haven’t been able to pinpoint that. We have been trying emails. We have been trying flyers and things like that. But it’s very hard. We haven’t had something in our community where communication of information, especially for programs like this, is shared effectively, especially when it talks about our community outside of Humboldt Park. So, somehow we have to come together and figure it out, a way of communicating information.

Do you want to tell me about your ten-year anniversary plans?
We’re going to be working on new material for a new show and performing throughout the city, especially in those venues that have helped us get a name and also always been there for us.Our banquet is going to be on November 20th. There’s going to be a dinner, a one-hour show, open bar, dance music, and the tickets are $50. That is our main and final event probably of the year for our celebration.

Sign up for bomba and capoeira classes on April 12th at AfriCaribe or check out their next bombazo on Saturday, April 24th.

AfriCaribe Cultural Center
2547 W. Division, Chicago, IL