Siempre Pa’Lante: Celebrating Puerto Rican Heritage

Belen Dumont, CT Latino News


Vibrant paintings, antique chairs, and framed family photos—faded in color but rich in sentiment—recreate a cherished family living room, one that transports visitors beyond TheaterWork Hartford’s historic theater.

Siempre Pa’Lante, curated by Hartford-based Artist Joel Cintron, accompanies the performance of Sanctuary City. Both the exhibit and the show run through April 25, 2024.  

OBIE Award-winning play Sanctuary City follows two young DREAMers, three months after the attacks of 9/11, as they strive for the American dream in a shifting social and political landscape. 

While the main characters’ race and ethnicity are unspecified, Cintron was inspired by the performances’ themes to showcase and celebrate Connecticut’s extensive Puerto Rican community through the original exhibit and a free community event on April 26. 

As Connecticut’s largest Hispanic group, the Puerto Rican community represents nearly half (46.3%) of the state’s total Hispanic population. In Hartford, about 74% of Hispanics are of Puerto Rican heritage.

“I wanted to bring awareness to our culture that’s not superficial in a way…especially for non-Latinos,” shared Cintron. “Here’s actual facts, here’s why we’re here, this is our art, this is our music—just showing the different layers.”

The quasi-living room exhibit, inspired by Cintron’s grandparents’ home in the South End, aims to unite themes, including history and art, to commemorate his Puerto Rican heritage.

“I just wanted to honor them and without both sides of my family—my Colombian side or my Puerto Rican side—coming [to Hartford] and meeting…I wouldn’t be here,” said Cintron. “Just to tell that story and kind of highlight why there are so many Puerto Ricans here.”

A collaborative effort between historian Elena Marie Rosario and local artists of Puerto Rican descent, the exhibit maintains a personal touch, such as the family and graduation photos of Cintron and his late loved ones adorning the space. Pieces by Andrea Sanchez, Miguel Jose Matos, and Kevin Ramirez are all showcased in the colorful space. 

The dedicated effort began last fall with Cintron applying for supplementary grants and drafting mockups for the exhibit. In December, Cintron traveled to Puerto Rico, where he drew further inspiration and discovered a few pieces for the exhibit. 

“It’s a very different space from when I started,” shared Cintron. “Even the last exhibit was much more minimal so this is much more full, much more vibrant, colorful.”

Siempre Pa’Lante, Cintron’s first months-long exhibit and upcoming community event, was kickstarted through the Artists of Color Accelerator (AOCA) Fellowship. Cintron is one of ten fellows within the AOCA 2024 Cohort. The local program partners artists of color with an art-centric organization in the area and has them complete a project together within a year. 

Cintron’s project has also been supported by grants from the Greater Hartford Arts Council with the San Juan Center, Inc., the Connecticut Office of the Arts, Assets 4 Artists, and The 224 Ecospace.

“[The initiative is] a push on TheaterWorks Hartford to incorporate more plays that are not white-centered,” explained Cintron. Siempre Pa’Lante “hopefully brings that narrative to the forefront more…not just supporting roles, actual forefront Latino stories.”

Cintron commented that there is a dire need for Latino-centered stories and cultural community efforts that engage and celebrate Hartford’s diverse population. 

“I also hope that [the project] inspires other artists—whether you’re Latino or not—just to say, ‘hey, if I can do it and I never had experience doing this, you can do it too,’” said Cintron. “Instead of waiting for opportunities, for someone to reach out, create it yourself…and create that space for others.”

Publisher’s Notes: CT Latino News is proud to partner with TheaterWorks Hartford in supporting the state’s Arts and Culture.

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