The most frigid day of the year didn’t stop things from heating up at El Puente’s annual Three Kings Day Celebration. Hundreds of local residents filled the amphitheater at the Grand Street campus on Sunday, January 15th to watch the festival’s 25th anniversary performance.
“Tonight is a testimony to why we are inspired every day,” said Frances Lucerna, executive director for programs at El Puente, a Latin American human rights institution. Every year, the celebration is rife with food, music, and a sense of community.
The main event was an original play written, directed, and starring El Puente members of all ages. This year’s production, “The Journey to Unisol”, was written and directed by Sean Carvajal and Jana Lynne Umipig. The story followed Andy, a teenager too busy texting to pay attention to his family. He believes he has outgrown Three Kings Day festivities. When he falls asleep, he is transported to a dream-world where he leads oppressed villagers to freedom and learns the power of unity. The climax of the play was a jaw-dropping dubstep dance routine set before a vibrant hand-painted backdrop. Everything from choreography to costume and set design was done in-house. The show concluded with more comic relief provided by Andy’s donkey sidekick, played by Carvajal, and a cameo by the Three Kings themselves.
“The Three Kings bring the gifts of love, freedom, peace, and social justice,” Lucerna said. “That’s what El Puente tries to do.”
The show was a triumphant confluence of the many artistic disciplines taught at El Puente centers. For thirty years, El Puente has been a bastion for cultural preservation in Brooklyn. “We need to maintain our culture,” said Luis Garden Acosta, El Puente’s founder and CEO, to the audience before the play began, “especially for the young people.” El Puente works to foster leadership and pride for cultural heritage in the community’s youth.
While the overall mood was celebratory, Acosta also took a moment to broadcast concern about the impending takeover of MS 50 by the Success Charter network. “We’re not against charter schools,” Acosta said. “We’re against this particular charter school.”
Acosta explained that the Eva Moskowitz Success Academy has a history of moving into public schools and purging the incumbent staff. “We need to protect our community,” Acosta said. “Here is where we draw the line.” His plea was met with whoops and hollers of agreement from the crowd, making the play’s theme of unity seem all the more pertinent.
The show received well-deserved standing ovations following two performances. Audience members filed down a hallway lined with donation tables and cardboard boxes half-filled with canned food. Families stopped to take pictures with the Three Kings on the way out.
“I got a lot of chills this year,” said Danny Rivera, actor and Group Leader of Security at one of El Puente’s locations. Rivera has been involved with the organization for over 11 years. “I was the Grinch in the show a few years ago,” recalled Rivera, who also teaches a hip-hop dance class at El Puente. “I miss being in it.”
Jenna Fox came to see two of her husband’s former students. It was her first time attending, “but we’ll be coming again next year,” Fox said.
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