Balkan Meets Bomba

by Francisco G. Gómez

If you love the AfroBoricua music of Puerto Rico or the music of the Balkans, you would have made it a point not to have missed a phenomenal fusion of barrilles, sousaphone, cuá, violin, maraca, trumpet, dance and accordion on February 8th at Hostos Community College in the Bronx. The Bombazo Dance Company and the Bronx Arts Ensemble joined together in a beautiful collaborative production that was not only musically interesting, but artistically and creatively delightful!

Who are these people, you might ask; well, “The BAE brings music and related arts to Bronx schools and neighborhoods. They contribute to the cultures of Bronx communities through live performances and innovative arts education that stimulate creativity, imagination, and aspirations. The BDC is a 501(c)- 3 non-profit drum and dance company, whose mission is to preserve, educate and showcase traditional Afro Puerto Rican Bomba and Afro Caribbean and traditional folkloric elements.They further combine those main ingredients, fusing them with classical, contemporary and social styles of dance. Thus, creating a new movement vocabulary while still preserving the authenticity of their culture”.

To see some of the wonderful choreography by Milteri Tucker Concepción, founder and director of BDC, and hear some of the musical arrangements by Mary Ann McSweeney, one of the artists at BAE, view the clip below. The amazing dancer is Noele Phillips, and the musical piece is an Opa Cupa (read: «opa tzupa»); it’s a shout of exhortation to the dance used by gypsies of South-Eastern Europe.

The Bombazo Dance Company and the Bronx Arts Ensemble’s “Balkan Bomba” took it outside the box with this outstanding production. It’s a testament to the fact that music, song and dance are truly universal, and they share a commonality that transcends cultural and artistic barriers….

See Program below:

Raíces Cultural Center Awarded Incubation Grant from NJCH

Raíces Cultural Center recently received the great news that we have been awarded an incubation grant from the NJ Council for the Humanities to develop a research initiative that examines the role and impact of gender in folkloric expressions and cultural traditions from Latin America, the Caribbean, and the diaspora. This project will help us kick off our new Women in Culture Initiative.

The planning project begins February 1, 2020 and will conclude by the end of the year. With the support of this grant from NJCH, Raíces will convene a panel of 6 women scholars and cultural practitioners who will inform the creation of an action plan for research projects and public humanities programs along with a timeline for their implementation. Panelists include Elizabeth Sayre, Yvette Martinez, Jana Burton, Melanie Maldonado Diaz, Nancy Friedman, and Sarah Pedrita Towne, facilitated by our own board chair Angela Lugo.

The panelists bring a diversity of knowledge and experience to the table and are practitioners of a range of cultural traditions, including, but not limited to Afro-Cuban batá drumming, bomba, rumba, Cuban social dance, capoeira, West African drum and dance, and herbalism. Raíces looks forward to the opportunity to work with this amazing group of cultural practitioners, researchers and scholars and to develop programming that can be shared with the community to explore the topic of gender in the folkloric arts and expressions from Latin America, the Caribbean and the diaspora.

Raíces Cultural Center would like to thank the panelists for their eagerness to collaborate, as well as NJCH for the support. We would also like to congratulate all other awardees of this round of NJCH Incubation Grants.

Read the full announcement of awards from NJ Council for the Humanities here.

This project was made possible by a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.

Raíces Awarded Middlesex County Office of Arts & History Program Grants for 2020

Raíces Cultural Center started off 2020 on a positive note as we received notifications of both Arts and History Program Grants from the Middlesex County Office of Arts and History (MCOAH).

The Arts Program that was awarded funding is our 2020 Bombazos del Batey program series. In these community events, a variety of folkloric genres from Puerto Rico will be presented, with a focus on the genre of bomba. While a core group of collaborating musicians, dancers and singers will kick off each event with presentations and instruction, once the music gets going, participants will be invited to join in every aspect of the bombazo events.

History funding will support the creation of the “Ancestral Herbal Narratives” Oral History Project. The Raíces Digital Archive team will collect, document & share stories, narratives, & histories about herbalists & healers from a diversity of cultural backgrounds & traditions on our archive and make it available to the public through this Public History resource and tool.

Want to receive more updates as events info for Bombazos del Batey program series and media in the Ancestral Herbal Narratives digital collections become available? Sign up for our email list for monthly updates.

Grant funding has been provided by the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders Through a grant award from the Middlesex County Cultural and Arts Trust Fund.

Program funded by Middlesex County, a partner of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

Day of the Dead Celebration

by Francisco G. Gómez

The Day of the Dead goes by many names, Día de los muertos, Day of the Ancestors, Day of the Egún, All souls Day and many other names, I imagine. For us who are from the Caribbean, or closely situated in that region by location, cultural traditions or simply by interest, we celebrate it as a day of ancestral remembrance.

On November 2nd we gathered at my home to share our cultural traditions, from Guyana, Puerto Rico and Cuba. We sang songs dedicated to the ancestors, prayed for them, told stories about them and then had a feast.

It was a small group of people from our herbal and ancestor circles. For us there are no special days to honor the ancestors because they are remembered everyday as our diverse traditions have taught us. El día de los muertos, in particular, is a time to come together and share our African, Indigenous and Judeo/Christian beliefs. It’s a potpourri of spiritual rituals, ceremonies and esoteric beliefs. Scriptures from the book of Ifá, collection of selected Kardecian prayers, the Torah, Bible or Popol Vu may be read or even discussed on this day. This year we began our celebration with music and song. We pulled out the Cuban tres and hand bass, passed out some sheets of lyrics from los nanis and sang them in Spanish. Then each of us took turns at the communal altar to pay homage to our dearly departed, each in our own special way. We then broke bread with a spread that consisted of marinated green bananas, Guyana gumbo, Codfish salad, Codfish rice/red beans, flan, wine and latkes. We also shared our food with the ancestors, in addition to placing things that they enjoyed while they were alive, such as cigarettes, cigars, their pictures, candles, rum, black coffee, and flowers on the communal altar; it was lots of fun and very entertaining!

Raíces gives many thanks to Mama Chinon, Bethsaida, Akosua, Angela and Nicole for their participation in this year’s celebration. We hope next year’s gathering will have more participants as we continue to learn from each other in peace, love and harmony for the ancestors! Aché

A Bountiful Summer at the Raíces MicroFarm

This year the Raíces EcoCulture MicroFarm project launched a pilot CSA program. It’s been an intense season, with fingers always crossed that the beneficial insects will outnumber the pests, that enough fruit will ripen for the weekly member harvest, that the greens and cilantro would hold off from bolting for just one more week.

It’s also been a very educational and rewarding season, with a beautiful bounty of diverse produce that we have been able to share with 6 families who have supported the development of the MicroFarm project this year. Every day has brought changes to the MicroFarm plot as we watched our plot of land transform from bare earth to a lush jungle of greens and vines- from new flower blossoms to new fruits, beautiful insects and pollinators and a bounty of overflowing harvest baskets.

We still have a few weeks of summer left, but in the garden it’s beginning to feel like fall, with salad mix, arugula, and all kinds of tender cooking greens coming back into season. Check out our photo collage to see some of the highlights of the 2019 summer.

Save the PR Bee: Raíces Awarded Bee Cause Foundation Grant Award on Behalf of TaínaSoy Apiario

by Nicole Wines

The youngest beekeeper at TaínaSoy Apiario giving a thumbs up to Save the PR Bee!

Raíces Cultural Center has teamed up with TaínaSoy Apiario Institute for Sustainability and Ecological Conservancy to provide fiscal sponsorship for the awarding of a Bee Cause Foundation grant. The Bee Cause Project empowers students, teachers, and community members to experience the wonder, ingenuity, beauty, and power of the honey bee and we are grateful to have their support in kickstarting the Save the PR Bee Program at TaínaSoy Apiario in Aguada, Puerto Rico.

TaínaSoy Apiario, an apiary with over 20 beehives, is located in Aguada, Puerto Rico. TaínaSoy is one of the organizations to which Raíces provided relief and recovery support after the destruction and devastation caused by Hurricane María on the island of Puerto Rico. As Raíces set out to support organizations, groups and individuals working to rebuild in a sustainable, renewable and resilient way, we were introduced to the Chaparro family, who run TaínaSoy Apiario and their new Institute for Sustainability and Ecological Conservancy (TSAISEC). After our initial direct relief phase, we built a support partnership with TaínaSoy as they work towards creating their own 501(c)3 organization. Keeping with the goals of our own Eco-Culture program branch, which has an Apiculture Initiative, this grant project was a perfect fit for the mission and goals of Raíces and provides support to a new and budding organization working hard to save, support and educate about the Puerto Rican bee.

1st completed Earthship PR dome, which will be the home of the Save the PR Bee program.

TaínaSoy Apiario is home to the first Earthship on the island of Puerto Rico, which is currently under construction. When complete, the 5 sustainably built structures will serve as an ecological and community education center. The first building of this school is already complete and will be dedicated entirely to apiculture and pollinator education. This will be the site of the Save the PR Bee project, where TaínaSoy will be offering an on-site youth and family educational program about beekeeping and the importance of the bees. The grant awarded by the Bee Cause Foundation will be used to purchase gear and equipment for use by participants of the program, including safety suits, hats, veils, gloves, hive tools, brushes and other supplies.

TaínaSoy school visit and educational program pre-Hurricane María.

Participants will attend this full family program, on-site at TaínaSoy Apiario twice a month. Educational lessons and hands-on activities will be led by TSAISEC co-founder and director, and the Save the PR Bee program bee advocate Noemi Chaparro, and supplemented by guest instructors, other local bee keepers and related field trips. In addition to basic beekeeping and honeybee life cycle education, participants will have hands on interactions with the hive and will also create projects to educate the surrounding community about the importance of bees and other pollinators. This will be an ongoing program that will expand to serve as a model for bee and pollinator programs to be offered in local schools starting in the 2019-2020 school year.

Outdoor hives are located throughout the apiary’s 3 acres and participating children will take part in hands-on interaction with the hives, including placement of new hives as additional swarms are rescued by the apiary’s bee mentor, resident beekeeper, and co-founder of TSAISEC, Carlos Chaparro, throughout the course of the program. Interactive activities and lessons will include topics such as:

Educational display on the honeybees to share on school visits and with Save the PR Bee program participants.

  • Life cycle of the honeybees
  • Bee safety
  • The importance of pollinators in the natural ecosystem and agricultural systems
  • Bee box construction (Langstroth)
  • Care of bee boxes and hives and hive checkups
  • Planting for pollinators
  • Creation of educational materials like posters and pamphlets by participants on importance of bees to share in the community
  • The specific importance of the Puerto Rican honeybee to the recovery of the island of Puerto Rico
  • Pollinator protection

TaínaSoy and Raíces Co-founders together at TaínaSoy Apiario in Aguada, Puerto Rico

Congratulations are in order for TaínaSoy Institute for Sustainability and Ecological Conservancy for being awarded the first grant that they ever applied for! We are happy to have worked with them on this grant and hope that this process will help fan the flames for a successful program and future for TSAISEC and for the Puerto Rican Honeybee!

Puerto Rico Sustainable Disaster Support Initiative Phase 1 – GOAL REACHED!!!

by Nicole Wines

Raíces at Tainasoy Apiario in Aguada, Puerto Rico. June 2018.

Thanks to the generous contributions of friends, family, community members, and supporters from near and far, Raíces Cultural Center has met it’s goal in Phase 1 of our Disaster Relief Support Initiative. In 9 months we were able to raise over $10,000 to help support grassroots recovery efforts on the island of Puerto Rico.

Any additional funds donated to this fundraiser will be applied to Phase 2 of our Disaster Relief Support Initiative in Puerto Rico for which details will be announced soon!

Here is a little more information on what your generous donations have helped to support.

Some more details about what we have accomplished so far thanks to the contributions of our supporters and partner organizations:

    • Distributed relief supplies including medicines, herbal remedies, solar lights, tools, water filters, organic teas and other requested items.
    • Ory, who will be building and maintaining the butterfly house at Tainasoy Apiario, holding his first live monarch on a visit to Casa Pueblo. June 2018.

      Began documenting the work being done by grassroots, on-the-ground organizations, like Tainasoy Apiario, Casa Pueblo, Plenitud PR, Chakra Verde, and PR Resiliency Fund/Departamento de la Comida.

    • Pledged support for two projects on the Tainasoy Apiario farm, a goat cage and a butterfly house which will be designed as part of the first Earthship project built in Puerto Rico. These projects will also serve as a basis for educational programs about sustainable living and ecology.

In addition, through our combined efforts with the Juntos Together Disaster Relief Coalition in Central NJ, led by José Montes, Director of the Puerto Rican Action Board, we have facilitated an additional $11,000+ in funds as grants to the following organizations and projects:

    • The greenhouse under construction, but already functional and productive when we visited Plenitud PR in January 2018.

      Plenitud PR (Las Marías): Repair of greenhouse/high tunnel, tents

    • Casa Pueblo (Adjuntas): First full solar home conversion in their #50conSol renewable energy initiative

Check out more from our journeys, projects and partners on these resources:

FOLLOW OUR DETAILED UPDATES (save the link below and check back often for updates on the projects we are supporting and groups we are working in cooperation with on this initiative)

Blog article updates on our Sustainable Disaster Relief Initiative for PR

Seed donations for Don Luis Soto, a master seed saver and expert agronomist and organic farmer on the island of Puerto Rico. January 2018.

Thank you to all who have contributed for every bit of help you have given, from your donations to sharing our fundraisers and fundraising events to your words of encouragement and your time, every bit helps. Remember, we are continuing to raise funds for this initiative, and all contributions made past the initial goal of $10,000 on this page will be applied to Phase 2 of this project, in which we will be collaborating directly with the Taina Mia Relief Corporation started by Tainasoy Apiario founders Noemi and Carlos Chaparro to support their mission and sustainable relief projects, as well as launching our Land Preservation Fund for PR. We will keep you updated on the progress of these two main components of Phase 2 of our Puerto Rico Sustainable Disaster Relief Support Initaitive.

*If you would like to make a recurring donation, or you do not already have a Paypal account to process your donation through this form, please make your contribution directly on our Network for Good or Paypal donation pages, designate your donation to “PR Relief Fund” and we will manually add the amount you donate to our goal.

First Scarlet Runner Beans at Rancho Raíces

Rancho Raíces Scarlet Runner Beans

by Francisco G. Gómez

Our first Scarlet Runner Bean buds just appeared. Totally amazed and in awe of how beautiful and strong they are. These beans have a history that is millennial many times over in Central and South America. They spread to many other parts of the Americas in time and eventually arrived in Europe as an ornamental plant because of their magnificent and varied colored flowers. Europeans developed a taste for them and began to use them in their cuisine. They can be consumed raw in their early phase of growth, but at maturity they must be diced and cooked, as they become though.

This perennial, in places where the ground doesn’t freeze, is peculiar to the bean family that usually has to be replanted annually. As it grows it spirals clockwise up a pole, fence or anything else it can grab onto.

Rancho Raíces

Here are some nutritional facts – The calories in Scarlet Runner Bean per 150g(1cup) are 498 calories.Scarlet Runner Bean is calculated to be 332 Cals per 100 grams making 80 Cals equivalent to 24.1g with 91.8g of mostly carbohydrates, 25.8g of protein, 2.55g of fat in150g while being rich in vitamins and minerals such as Molybdenum and Copper.

As we here at Raíces look forward to this particular bean harvest, we encourage our readers to give this legume a shot.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised!

High Tunnel at Finca Mi Casa up and Running Again

Don Luis and Doña Carmen

by Francisco G. Gómez

Finca Mi Casa’s High Tunnel is back in action thanks to you!

It was January 2018 when we first visited Don Luis and Doña Carmen, at Finca Mi Casa in Camuy, Puerto Rico after hurricane María hit. Read this article in our blog to learn more about these amazing organic farmers and keepers of the seed.

Mi Casa’s high tunnel had been blown away by the storm, and all that was left was the fractured tunnel frame that was put back together piece meal and the remnants of what was once growing there. It was very sad to see what María had done to the structure and the sensitive plants that were now dead.

High Tunnel Broken Frames

Five months after the storm and still many farmers were without power and the basic necessities of life. As we walked the farm with Don Luis, he told us many stories about the day of the storm and how the aftermath had taken its horrific toll on the citizens of Camuy, especially those without land, and those individuals that hadn’t prepared adequately in advance of the hurricane. 

As we approached the high tunnel, I remembered all the incredible eggplant and sugar cane stalks growing next to the structure on both sides; they were the largest eggplant bushes I had ever seen, but they were no more. As we entered what was left of the high tunnel, we noticed that the agrabond cover was completely gone, and the metal frames, in many places, were ripped out from the force of the wind. Nicole and I looked at each other in dismay and knew that Raíces could help in the reconstruction of Don Luis’s prized agricultural possession. At that moment we decided that Raíces would cover the cost of the agrabond replacement. Don Luis was elated because he was strapped for funds, given all the other things he had on his plate to take care of.

Agrabon High Tunnel Cover being Installed

Thanks to all the wonderful people who had already donated to Raíces’ Relief Fund. The quick action by so many caring and generous people was immediate, and we simply could not have done it without the monetary contributions that were made by our loyal supporters and many individuals that we didn’t even know!

Whether it’s been providing organic seeds to all the farms we’ve visited; replacing agrabond covers at organic compounds, like Plenitude Eco Initiatives in Las Marías and Finca Mi Casa; funding solar panels and mini refrigerators for poor people in Adjuntas through Casa Pueblo, or replacing plywood/tin roofs and organizing the materials for a goat cage and butterfly sanctuary at Tainasoy Apiario in Aguada; again, all of this could not have been accomplished without your heartfelt and generous help.

New Agrabon Cover

As Raíces moves forward with its relief work in Puerto Rico, we hope that you will continue your generosity and donate whenever you can. All of us here at Raíces thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all you have done for the Eco Warriors in Puerto Rico!

Spotlight on Brunswick Tire and Auto

© Brunswick Tire and Auto

by Francisco G. Gómez

As mom and pop businesses continue to disappear at an alarming rate, there are those like, Brunswick Tire and Auto, that remain strong and thriving. There are a number of reasons for this. A work ethic that encompasses professional excellence, customer courtesy, superior automotive problem diagnosis, the use of top notch auto parts/tires, reasonable prices and seasoned leadership experience.

© Raíces Cultural Center


At the helm of B.T.A. is master mechanic, Jaíme Hernández, a cuban immigrant who left the island in 1968 for Spain, and shortly thereafter arrived in the U.S.. From that time on he learned his craft under the tutelage of his father Andre; ten years passed until Jaíme’s father put enough money together to buy their first repair shop in Elizabeth, N.J.

At present Jaíme and his wife Yana run B.T.A.. Yana graduated from Rutgers University in 1979 with a degree in nursing, and when she’s not working at her full time job in Woodrow Wilson Public School in New Brunswick, she’s in the shop office handling business along side her husband.

© Raíces Cultural Center

Jaíme and Yana have had many successes in running B.T.A, but what sets them apart from other mom and pop businesses is their community commitment and sense of cooperative exchange. One of Raíces’ main interests is in developing and spreading the benefits of cooperative enterprise. B.T.A. has embraced the cooperative model in a limited way, in that they not only fix Raíces’ Truck and give us instruction in basic automotive education, in exchange for lessons in music, specifically, Caribbean drumming, but Jaíme also plays in the Raíces Cultural Center Ensemble. All in all, this has worked out magnificently economically for both B.T.A. and Raíces, but also in a friendship of many years now. 

© Brunswick Tire and Auto


If you’re into community, the local movement and need automotive help, or even new tires, then please stop in and meet Jaíme, Yana and the crew at Brunswick Tire and Auto -You’ll be happy you did!


Brunswick Tire and Auto
199 Powers St.
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
Phone number (732) 246-7077