VMFA celebrates Latino culture with Puerto Rico Family Day

From Right to Left: Kevin Davis, member of Ban Caribe, poses with Marisol Sotolongo, Adelle Broom, Melissa Martinez and Megan Vernon, members of the Latin Ballet, holding up the Puerto Rican flag after performing in the sculpture garden at the VMFA. Photo by Alessandro Latour

Zahra Ndirangu, Contributing Writer

Onlookers cheer as a young girl dances to traditional Puerto Rican music as she delightedly waves a small Puerto Rican flag in her hand. Her mother looks on with pride as she takes a video, memorializing the moment. 

“It makes me really excited to see how much she loves it,” said Jazmin Copeland about her daughter, Kennedy. “Her learning about the culture so young makes me feel like I’m doing a good job.”

On Saturday, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts hosted Celebrate the Art of Latin America: Puerto Rico Family Day. The event aims to educate the Richmond community on Puerto Rican culture and offer activities that highlight it, including lantern making, virtual interactive activities and film viewings.

“The overall goal of this event is to share knowledge, establish cultural connections, and promote learning of Puerto Rican art and culture, working closely with community partners and performers and inspired by selected works in VMFA’s collection,” stated Celeste Fetta, director of education in the Art and Education Division at the VMFA, in an email.

When VCU Spanish professor Anita Nadal first learned about the event, she was eager to attend. 

“I was super excited, super elated, I even have an outfit planned with the Puerto Rican flag on it,” Nadal said.

The event features local band Kadencia, founded by father and son duo Maurice Sanabria-Ortiz and Maurice “Tito” Sanabria, who said they hope to bring a taste of Puerto Rico to Richmond through their traditional Afro-Puerto Rican beats and historical lyrics. 

“Our music has got a historical twist to it,” Sanabria-Ortiz said. “I try to write lyrics that have meaning to it, especially to the people that are away from home — that takes them back. When they feel that, they embrace what we do.”

For the members of Kadencia, performing at this event is an opportunity to pass down stories and traditions to share with the Richmond community. 

“It helps us preserve these traditions,” Sanabria said. “These traditions survived because of people who kept them alive by practicing them and by teaching them, many through oral tradition. We keep this alive in this area and it’s a way to connect with the island.”

The event also includes a performance from the Latin Ballet of Virginia, a Richmond ballet company composed entirely of Latino performers. Adelle Broom, a dancer with the company, hopes the group will serve as Latino representation within the Richmond community.

For VCU student and Latinx Student Association member Eddsy Ortiz, the event was an opportunity to showcase all that Puerto Rican culture has to offer. 

“For VMFA to host a Puerto Rican Family Day really goes to show that Puerto Rican culture isn’t suffocated by surrounding culture presence,” Ortiz said, “sometimes it feels like not many people take into consideration that Puerto Rico has their own cultures apart from the United States.”

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