NY1's series on Hispanic Heritage continues with a look at the Brooklyn cultural and community group El Puente, which is celebrating three decades in Williamsburg. Borough reporter Jeanine Ramirez filed the following report.
Housed in a former Lithuanian missionary church is El Puente, a cultural and community group founded 30 years ago on the southside of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
"This is Los Sures. This is 'el barrio' in Brooklyn," says El Puente President and CEO Luis Garden Acosta. "In 1982, according to the census, it was the greatest concentration of Latinos in the State of New York. So this is home."
Los Sures has a long, vibrant history that El Puente celebrates through its programming, community projects, art exhibitions and its school, the Academy for Peace and Justice, where Latino history is part of the curriculum.
NY1 covered the Board of Education vote back in 1997 when the non-profit group got the go-ahead to run the high school.
"By this vote today, El Puente, our community organization becomes the first community organization in the history of New York State to own its own public school," Garden Acosta said at the time.
With the school, El Puente now has seven sites and extends to Bushwick. Garden Acosta has been at the helm from the start. His activist roots can be traced back to his days with the Young Lords in the 1960s and his goal is to help empower new generations.
"It's all promoting peace and justice. It's all about their understanding that we cannot wait for them to be adults," Garden Acosta says. "They can do it now, just as we did at Young Lords at 14 and 15 in the late '60s and early '70s."
One of the group's campaigns is the "Green Light District," which kicked off last year. It aims to strengthen the community by using art as a social tool and greening up spaces to address environmental issues, all with Latino flair. One of the gardens is "Espiritu de Tierra."
"We need to be able to express our culture and who we are," says Garden Acosta.
They want to leave their footprint as the area experiences gentrification.
"It's very fashionable to describe Williamsburg and now Bushwick as the new promised land, the new frontier," says Garden Acosta.
What needs to be discovered, according to Garden Acosta, is the culture that already exists. This weekend, the group will be showcasing music in its WEPA Festival.