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A temporary pavilion by Vanessa González takes center stage at Puerto Rico Day in Sunset Park, Brooklyn

Parada: La Fiesta No Termina Aquí

A temporary pavilion by Vanessa González takes center stage at Puerto Rico Day in Sunset Park, Brooklyn

Poet Bonafide Rojas speaking underneath a temporary pavilion by designer Vanessa González at Puerto Rico Day 2024 (Sam Velasquez)

It was a warm summer afternoon in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, when a crowd amassed on a tall hill that affords cinematic views of the New York skyline. June 9 was Puerto Rico Day: A city-wide tradition since 1958. Cool breezes swooshed in from the East River, breaking up the heat.

That evening, musicians, bomba dancers, poets, and community organizers gathered under a beautiful canopy by Vanessa González, a designer from Brooklyn who recently finished her Master of Architecture degree at Princeton University. “I was born and raised in Sunset,” González told me. “I remember going to Puerto Rico Day as a kid.”

González recently moved back to her home neighborhood from New Jersey after graduating last May. She designed the installation, Parada: La Fiesta No Termina Aquí, that Puerto Rico Day performers used for her Master’s thesis. She collaborated with El Grito, a Sunset Park–based community organization, on the temporary pavilion and Princeton SoA Dean Mónica Ponce de León was her thesis advisor. González fabricated the structure with her friends these past few months at Princeton, and then re-assembled it in Brooklyn for Puerto Rico Day.

dancing in front of installation
The installation was a collaboration with El Grito, a Sunset Park-based community organization (Salvador Espinoza)

Parada consists of a wooden stage painted red for musicians to play on. One pole rises up from the stage that supports an undulating canopy made of mesh. The lightweight roof is about 10 feet in diameter and designed to look like the dresses of bomba dancers in motion, González said. “Bomba is a dance of resistance. It comes from enslaved Africans who worked on Puerto Rican plantations.”

“When women dance bomba, there is no specific choreography; it’s not pre-planned and is very much in the moment,” González continued. “The drummers, who are watching the dancer, are also just reacting to what they see when they play. So there’s really no hierarchy between the dancer and the drummer. It’s all really free flowing, like blowing in the wind. Seeing the dancers at Parada, moving with the drums, was really, really cool.”

Underneath González’s canopy the night of June 9, community leaders like Power Malu, an Afro-Boricua New Yorker from the Lower East Side, gave heartfelt speeches about Puerto Rico and resisting imperialism. He wore a Young Lords Organization (YLO) shirt when he spoke. Malu was followed by other speakers like the poet Bonafide Rojas.

After Malu, Rojas, and others gave speeches, film was screened onto the canopy’s underside. And after the night was over, González invited people to tag the red wooden stage using a marker with their names, or whatever they wanted to write. “In architecture school, we usually do hypothetical proposals that you work on for a semester or two that don’t get built,” González added. “For my thesis, I knew I wanted to invest my energy in something that would have real community impact.”

dancing in front of installation
A bomba dancer (Salvador Espinoza)

Puerto Rico Day started in Spanish Harlem over fifty years ago but, today, events happen all over the city in historic Puerto Rican neighborhoods like Sunset Park which is also home to a large Chinese, Palestinian, Mexican, Ecuadorian, and Dominican community. Parades have been staged for years on the second Sunday of June in Manhattan on Fifth Avenue from 44th Street to 79th Street chock full of Puerto Rico flags, music, Caribbean food, and dancing.

The theme for this year’s Puerto Rico Day was Las Calles y Las Playas son del Pueblo, Spanish for “The Streets and the Beaches are of the People.” The banner is meant to call attention to the rampant gentrification happening in San Juan and Puerto Rico today after Hurricane María devastated the island of 3.2 million people in 2017. Thus, the overall event was about both celebrating Puerto Rican identity while also fighting colonialism more broadly. At Puerto Rico Day, people often wave both Puerto Rican and Palestinian flags at the same time out of solidarity.

wheeling pavilion down street
González (second to the right) and her friends wheeling the pavilion down 4th Avenue to Sunset Park (Barrington Calvert)

“For me, Parada was about resistance,” González offered. “Sunset is a POC neighborhood with lots of immigrants. For a long time, the park has been heavily policed, and many festivals, markets, and parties have been broken up by NYPD. That’s why it was actually important to make sure the structure was lightweight, because we weren’t sure if we were going to get kicked out.”

González continued: “This was the first year that musicians had a stage to perform on. I wanted to use fabric because, in the 1960s and ‘70s, a lot of Puerto Rican migrants would build these ad hoc structures that remind me of vernacular Caribbean working class houses in Puerto Rico. [Parada] draws from the material, culture, and ethos of these light open-air pavilions people would build. I wanted the canopy to be this sort of non-hierarchical center, a meeting point to define a location. I also wanted it look like a bomba skirt.”

Looking ahead, González hopes to design more pavilions like Parada. “I definitely see myself working on more projects like this that are rooted in communities like Sunset that have been historically disenfranchised,” she added. “I want to work for communities that feel like they’re erased and their voices aren’t heard. I want to make architectures of resistance.”

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