PRIDA – Our Puerto Rican Artists

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Support Puerto Rican Artists and you will see more Puerto Rican Art!

The events below feature the work of Puerto Rican artists members and friends of PRIDA. Please take time to support them. At PRIDA we are committed to support Puerto Rican artist as they are the backbone of Puerto Rican art and culture in the diaspora. 

Through February 13th
     Maximo Rafael Colón – Persistencia! La Lucha Sigue / The Struggle Continues
     Pregones Theater/PRTT, 575 Walton Ave, Bronx, New York 10451

Through February 29th
PRIDA Member Luis Cordero Santoni – Latin Music Power: Digital Artwork
San Juan Restaurant, 1459 Fifth Avenue, NYC @117th Street


February 7, 2020 – 6:30PM
PRIDA Member Celestino Ortiz-Nieves – Art Fashion and Music
Atrium Ideal Glass Studio, 9 West 8th Street, NYC

February 13, 2020 – 6PM – 9PM
PRIDA Member Jesus Papoleto Melendez –  Poetry Book Party
El Barrio’s Artspace/PS 109, 215 East 99th Street, NYC

February 13, 2020 – 7:30PM
PRIDA Members Musica de Camara Presents: Canciones de Amor/Love Songs
Christ & St. Stephen’s Church, 120 West 69th Street, NYC

February 14, 2020 – 7PM and February 15, 22, 29 & March 1, 7 – 3PM
Teatro SEA presents: A Tango-Dancing Cinderella
Teatro SEA, 107 Suffolk Street, NYC


Sponsored by:

Puerto Rican Institute for the Development of the Arts


Octorber 2019


By Clara Galvano Rivera
Artist Rafy Velez knew he wanted to be an artist at age 6. Not many people can say that, but he had an extraordinary experience that sealed his artistic fate and the rest, as they say, is history. At P.S. 128 in Washington Heights, is where all the magic began.  His teacher, Ms. Blumenthal, took his class to the Harlem School of the Arts.
Velez recalls: “They had workshops for the children there and in the art class our group took, we were asked to draw some fruit. An apple. A pear. A banana and some grapes. I thought I did a pretty good job; the fruit looked like fruit. The instructor was impressed as well and said so. I was hooked.”  Velez remembers telling his teacher that he wanted to be an artist when he grew up and he meant it!  He continues, “It’s funny, but that’s what I ask all my students, during the first month of class, to draw the same fruits.  I teach them what I’ve been taught. This way I can see who has a budding talent, who doesn’t and needs more help”.
A hard-working art teacher at the Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health & Science School, he teaches art to students in 6th through 12th grades and really enjoys it. “I’m there for the kids. It’s a lot of work, and I’ve seen some of the kids grow up, so it’s very gratifying to teach them basic drawing skills.”
On his way to teaching, Velez became a sought-after tattoo artist.  A smart kid, he attended the Mott Hall School at the City College of New York and was accepted at the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. At 18, he was at Hunter College and that’s when a tattoo shop opened up on his block that piqued his interest. Although the owner didn’t want to teach him for free, one of the tattoo
artists took him under his wing and lent him supplies and his machine.  Since drawing was his passion, for Velez, working as a tattoo artist combined his skill in drawing with artistry. Velez still does work for private clients who know of him or find him by word-of-mouth. A quick shout out to two of his tattoo buddies, Felix Bayoan Cortez (dec.) and Eddy Peralpa.
20 years went by and Velez started to think of the future.  “Tattooing was nice, but there was no retirement built in. I had to find something else that would give me some security.“ He wondered if Hunter would take him back, so he called the school and was welcomed back.  “I had failed a lot of the classes, so I had to retake every single one.  I had to work hard, but I went back with a different mind-set and it worked.” Once he earned his BA, he received his masters in Art Education at City College.  There were a lot of great teachers there, but Professor Juan Sanchez stood out. He was amazing.”
Velez’ work is heavy into Taino art and one example that reveals his love for his roots are the skate boards he’s been producing. “I started painting boards while tattooing downtown in the east village. I painted a Taino themed skull. After that I just kept painting skateboards because it is a clue to our modern times, but with ancestral art on it giving clues to our past.” One board represents three Taino images. Guabancex is an angry force who is responsible for natural disasters such as the juracans or hurricanes. Guabancex whips up the winds and has two helpers, Guatauba and Coatriske.  Guatauba (thunder) announces their arrival. Coatriske picks up the waters and floods the valleys. The resulting skateboard is a Hurricane on wheels!
Asked how he knows when a work of his is finished, he replied, “A lot of times I don’t. I walk away if I don’t know what to do. Then I come back and continue working on it. I did a very large painting of my grandfather’s house which I hung up in my apartment, but it never felt finished. It had this big spot in the front that was empty and I didn’t know how to fill it.  It wasn’t until I was with family looking at some old photos that showed a picture of the same house, but in this one, one of my cousins was sitting in front of it. I knew right away that he was the one missing! I was able to finish the painting then and that made me feel good.”
It’s not a surprise that Velez’ favorite genre of art is Native American indigenous art, especially if it is Pre-Columbian. He he is the artisan chosen this year to promote the Comite Noviembre artisan Fair.
What is Velez’ favorite tool to use? “Pencils. All my ideas are sketched. When I get an idea, I have to draw it first, so pencils are important for me. I have a book bag that I take everywhere which carries my sketch pad and pencils It’s good to have these handy when inspiration strikes “
Velez would love to retire to Borinquen when the time comes, but there is still lots for him to do here, so he will continue teaching, tattooing, and painting. It’s a good life.
Contact Rafy:
Instagram is @tainoart
Face Book: “Velez Visual Arts”
Why did he join PRIDA?
I joined PRIDA so that I can meet and learn form other Boricua artists. I also wanted to share my artwork with Boricuas in the diaspora.
Photos: ©Comité Noviembre/Ana Alicea


July 2019


PRIDA Writer Magdalena Gomez

By Yadhira Gonzalez-Taylor
We are glad to bring you a fierce mujer, celebrated poet, writer, motivational speaker, playwright, and social guerrera.
We met Magdalena, virtually, on a crisp winter morning in Springfield, Massachusetts, where she lives with her social justice warrior husband, James Lescault. The two introduced us to the wonderful wildlife residing in their backyard, and we were treated to her favorite dish of Pernil con cuerito tostado. For dessert, we enjoyed cookies and cafe con leche.
Magdalena has been a writer since the age of eight, a multidisciplinary cultural worker since the age of seventeen, and a teaching artist since 1976. Her maternal Puerto Rican roots hail from her mother from El Fanguito. and She has met family in Arecibo, Caguas, Coamo, and Santurce, and Manati. Her father was a middle eastern Gitano from Andalucía, Spain with deep roots in India, two places where she has lived. The two of Magdalena’s parents met in the Latinix resorts known as Las Villas, in Plattekill, NY, where she herself spent time during childhood, running among the apple orchards and rusty wooden swings at the Villa Madrid, where her parents first met.
She confessed to having been a precocious child who wasn’t interested in book titles like Dick and Jane other than for the conjured giggles that the name of hearing Dick inspired, said aloud. She was inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson, female Asian poets, any and all the poetry she could find in the library near her childhood home in the South Bronx.
Magdalena told us she writes to make up for the years of being silenced by those she grew up around, which ultimately resulted in a stutter. Silenced by the violence that surrounded the first nineteen years of her life, the writing was her voice, used in defense of the marginalized, aware, and being aware that their suffering and oppression were connected to hers and had roots; she passionately explored those roots. Her parents, however, were not pleased with her choice of subjects, people they labeled tecatos y putas. This inspired her to write about the marginalized, imagining their voices and writing monologues in their honor, hoping to create empathy from the world. This rebellious courage resulted in an unwavering and continuing interest in creating work that addresses: oppression and injustice social justice and equality; unsung and erased voices and cultures; women; the violence of greed, human trafficking and child abuse, not from a place of ay bendito but from a place of triumph, resistance, and humor.
According to Magdalena, “once we stop experiencing joy and laughter, the monsters win,” and in true guerrera style, she refuses to despair and create art instead. She is inspired by the exceptional and mundane moments of life, as she says, “they can be interchangeable and infused with magic and wonder when we choose to really see and experience life.”
Her poetry, plays, essays and short stories have been published in: The Progressive; Palabra Magazine; upstreet Journal; Ollantay Theater Journal; El Coro Latino; Tea Party Magazine; The L.A. Times; Massachusetts Review, among many others.
She is a monthly contributor of the AfAmPOV news magazine in Springfield, both hardcopy and online, for nearly over a decade, and some of her work is widely used in academia. She also has had an underground presence and following in New York City poetry scene in the 1970’s through 1980’s and has recorded some of her spoken word and songs in Spanish and English.
Her first audio book, Amaxonica: Howls from the Left Side of My Body, Rotary Records, Rencores was a result of a collaboration with saxophone master, Ted Levine and mix master, Warren Amerman. The second was Bemba y Chichon, also a collaboration with the band Zemog’s leader, Abraham Gomez Delgado and featured Latinix musicians, Juancho Herrera, and Reinaldo DeJesus.
She has been published by several presses. Shameless Woman, a memoir in poems, was published by Red Sugarcane Press. Bullying: Replies, Rebuttals, Confessions and Catharsis, was published Skyhorse Publishing and co-edited, with Poet Laureate of Springfield, Massachusetts, María Luisa Arroyo. She formed part of Breaking Ground/Abriendo Caminos, edited by the exceptional woman and poet, Dr. Myrna Nieves. She had poetry published in Ordinary Women, Mujeres Comunes, an anthology, and is the proud contributor to Iris Morales’s most recent book, Latinas: Struggles & Protests in 21st Century USA.
She Magdalena is always creating, currently working on three books: one on education, a memoir and the third, a secret project. She is currently producing staged readings of two of her plays, one about Afroborinqueño bibliophile, Schomburg: Erased: a poetic imagining of the life of Alfonso Arturo Schomburg, which this year was a finalist in the national Latinx Theater Commons Carnaval competition, and Perfectamente Loca/Perfectly Insane a play with music that addresses the colonial roots of familial violence in Puerto Rico, based on the true story of her mother’s life, who was sexually trafficked as a child on the Dominican-Haitian border. The latter play was a winner in the same Carnaval competition in 2014.
As always, we ask our featured authors, why everyone should support and become a member of PRIDA, and Magdalena told us that in her experience, “PRIDA is an organization rooted in the deep understanding, commitment and respect for the power of arts, that provides opportunity to build community, networks and ongoing support for artists of all disciplines. There is power in our unity and I can feel it all the way in Massachusetts.”
PRIDA encourages you, both artisan and non-artisan, as well as general creatives and fans of art to join us as members, so our mission of promoting Puerto Rican art and the artists who produce it can continue.
Last but not least, she sends her love to her fellow Bronxites and wants all of our readers to look for her online at;; among others and on Twitter and Instagram its @amaxonica. Her books are available on Amazon and an independent bookstore near you.


June 2019


OLGA AYALA - PRIDA Artist Everyone Should Know

By Clara Galvano Rivera

Our Artist of the Month is gifted and talented  Olga Ayala, known for her Hecho a Mano artisanal creations that promote Puerto Rican culture and identity.
Born and raised in El Barrio, Ayala vividly remembers the day her interest in drawing took flight. Her mother was making a grocery list and started to doodle on it. To her daughter it looked like a perfect Disney Mickey Mouse. Interested, she asked how she had learned to do draw like that and would she teach her. It turns out her Mom had wanted to be an artist, but once married with children, her priorities had changed, and had put her artistic ambitions aside.
Ayala remembers she was always drawing in school and not paying attention to the class.  She attended Commander John J. Shea Memorial School on 111th Street – and in an effort to  harness her energy, the Sisters of Mercy tried put her in charge of the seasonal decorations. She loved it.  When it came time to choose a high school, one Sister, spoke to Ayala’s mother about placing her in either another catholic or a vocational high school.  Ayala: “I was so done!! I didn’t want to wear any more uniforms, or take any more tests! I wanted to go somewhere “special”, to a school that would foster my interests. I applied to three of the schools the Sister recommended, and I chose The High School of Art & Design. It turned out to be the best fit for me.”
A funny anecdote: “When my maternal grandfather, Gregorio Marzan asked me what I wanted to be, I told him I wanted to be an artist. He laughed in my face and told me not to pursue art because I would be broke, hungry and would never be successful. I was so insulted! Obviously, I didn’t pay any attention to him, but would you believe, when he retired, he became an artist! And his works can be found in El Museo del Barrio’s permanent collection–he became the Puerto Rican Grandpa Moses!”
PRIDA actually grew out of the needs of artists participating in Comite Noviembre’s Puerto Rican Artisan Fair that takes place every November. Many of the artists would ask them what the next event would be where they could show their art, but they couldn’t help them. Now, PRIDA sends out bulletins with information on events they can participate in.  Ayala is PRIDA’s co-founder and Vice President. “We need to promote the culture. We have to let others know we are still here.” When people see Ayala’s eye-catching artisan wares, they definitely feel the vibrancy of our culture with which each artwork is infused.
Contact Olga:


April 2019

Marta Iris Rodriguez Olmeda

Marta Iris (left) with her companion and apprentice Barbara Diaz (right) at Comité Noviembre’s National Puerto Rican Artisan Fair and Book Expo at Hostos Center for the Arts and Culture in 2018.
By Clara Galvano Rivera
“I’m the first santos woodcarver (talladora) in my family,” Marta Iris Rodriguez Olmeda says with pride. Not only that, but our PRIDA Artist Everyone Should Know, is among the few female talladoras from Puerto Rico in an industry long dominated by men.
While living and working in Cidra, her pueblo natal, Rodriguez Olmeda heard of a High School that had an adult after-school wood carving class in Cayey. Her 7-mile ride must have been interesting, given that Cayey, located on the Central Mountain Range and south of Cidra, is very mountainous. Nonetheless, her desire to learn and honor her family took root and she was introduced to her first wood carving class in 2007. Things went very well. She obtained Certifications from PRIDCO (Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company) and from the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña (Institute of Puerto Rican Culture).
Marta Iris (left) with her companion and apprentice Barbara Diaz (right) at Comité Noviembre’s National Puerto Rican Artisan Fair and Book Expo at Hostos Center for the Arts and Culture in 2018.
Rodriguez Olmeda is a traditionalist. The wood she uses – cedar – has been used by generations of Puerto Rican carvers. “It’s easy to work with because it’s soft.” Carving santos carries with it a certain amount of danger. Four years ago, la cuchilla slipped and three stiches was the result. “I was carving Los Tres Reyes Magos; three stiches only, that was nothing.”
This Puerto Rican wood carver artist usually carves her santos from one single piece of wood unless the piece is very large. “When I carve, I carve from my mind. For instance, if I am carving a San Antonio, I measure and know exactly where the arms, legs, torso will be. I don’t draw the figure. As I carve, the figure reveals itself.”
Our talladora reminisces about her first creation. “Mi primera pieza fue Santa Rosa de Lima. Fue una sensación de haberlo logrado. Y los deseos de continuar creando. Durante mucho tiempo tuve mi primera pieza sin querer venderla. No fue hasta un Encuentro de Talladores en Orocovis que la vendí. Mi primera pieza la tiene uno de los mas grandes coleccionistas y colaboradores de la promoción de la Talla Puertorriqueña, el Sr. Félix Báez. El cuenta con piezas de casi todos los talladores de Puerto Rico de todos los tiempos.”
Why did she join PRIDA?
“I joined PRIDA because Puerto Rican art is important, and we must make the effort to keep the heritage and traditions alive.”
Contact Marta by email at: or
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