Here’s the Salsa!

SGC International’s vision for PUERTOGRÁFICO is to educate our membership on the complexity of the Puerto Rico/US relationship, create a platform for mutual understanding, foster future artistic collaborations, and build lasting friendships.

As part of this, we are launching Here’s the Salsa! Each week counting down to the conference, we will be sending out emails and posts with brief history lessons, food & culture tips, language pointers and more, compiled here. Many thanks to Anna Nicholson and Nydia Fernández Toledo for their guidance and contributions to the creation of this page.

Week 7: ¡Ricky Renuncia!

Why was the island protesting in July of 2019?
The protests began after offensive chat messages between then Governor Rosselló and his allies leaked to the media. The messages exposed what protesters called a reprehensible indifference to Hurricane Maria victims, as well as alarming instances of bigotry and sexism. And following the arrests of two of Rosselló’s top officials on charges of fraud, the messages inflamed anger over what many say is the Puerto Rican government’s incompetence and corruption following the devastating 2017 storm and years of economic trouble.

What drew the most outrage from protestors was what many characterize as the casual disregard for the Puerto Rican people displayed in the messages, which they say proves Rosselló’s government did not have the welfare of its people in mind. Rosselló was forced to resign after two weeks of peaceful —and highly creative— national protests.
Excerpted from

Read more in this New York Times article.

Forum on Puerto Rico/U.S. Relations
These are some of many complex issues that we will discuss during our Forum on Puerto Rico/U.S. Relations! SGC International’s vision for this meeting of cultures is to educate our membership on the complexity of the Puerto Rico/US relationship. At Puertográfico, we will learn from our Puerto Rican members about their view of our political ties. Join us during Puertográfico to learn more about the language and terminology used in this discussion.

Week 8

El Arsenal: The exhibition location for our Themed Portfolios, Pop-Ups, and Special Exhibitions!

The historic complex of buildings that makes up the old Navy Arsenal is located in the La Puntilla section of Old San Juan, on land that was once a mangrove swamp. The structure was built in 1800 to store weapons and munitions, as well as serving as a workshop for building and repairing Spanish Navy ships. The main façade faces north, and its entrance arch is marked by two pairs of Tuscan-style columns that support a frieze that shows the signs of the zodiac. Above the cornice are three pedestals topped by a royal coat of arms.

After the change in sovereignty in 1898, the arsenal was the last site held by Spanish troops, who used it as a headquarters during the process of repatriation. Once this process was complete, the structure was handed over to the government of the United States, which in turn gave the local government permission to use it for governmental offices. Today, the former Navy Arsenal belongs to the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, which has its offices in the complex, along with governmental administrative offices and exhibition rooms.
–Excerpted from Enciclopedia Puerto Rico:

Week 9

Salsa, a Trans-Caribbean Socio-Musical Phenomenon

Salsa was born in the northernmost Caribbean city: New York. Various traditional Afro-Caribbean styles converged in this new musical genre or form built on the foundation of Cuban son music. Thus arose the old argument by Cuban musicians that salsa was a new way of playing Cuban music. However, as César Miguel Rondón explains in his book Libro de la salsa: Crónica de la música del Caribe urbano:

Salsa, well, it’s something more than old Cuban music, it’s more than a label and a style that isn’t essential for writing music. Salsa was born in the Latino barrios of New York. There, youths who lived the back and forth of international popular culture, listening to rock music, soaking in all of the values spread by U.S. advertising, moving in desperation between authenticity and rootlessness, began to use salsa as the only form capable of capturing their daily lives.

Salsa was situated among the conglomeration of Caribbean musical forms that have been instruments of social, ethnical and cultural representation. The roughness that characterizes it evolved from the tumultuous era of its birth and development in the 1960s and 1970s in New York City. Salsa reflected the difficult experiences and daily life of the Spanish Caribbean migration. Its harsh tone, infused with the free combination of tones and harmonies, reflected the constant regeneration of collective transnational identities, especially for the Puerto Ricans in the New York urban area. From there, it went on to become the banner for a simultaneously recalcitrant and innovative Puerto Rican identity.

–Excerpted from Enciclopedia Puerto Rico:

Week 10

The Spanish-American War and the Treaty of Paris

The Spanish-American War was an 1898 conflict between the United States and Spain that ended Spanish colonial rule in the Americas and resulted in U.S. acquisition of territories in the western Pacific and Latin America. The war originated in the Cuban struggle for independence from Spain, which began in February 1895.

The Treaty of Paris ending the Spanish-American War was signed on December 10, 1898. In it, Spain renounced all claim to Cuba, ceded Guam and Puerto Rico to the United States and transferred sovereignty over the Philippines to the United States for $20 million. Puerto Rico had been granted autonomy from Spain in 1897.

Excerpted from Read more here!

Week 11

Puerto Rico’s Unofficial Mascot Is a Tiny Tree Frog Found Only on the Island. 

Anyone who has been to Puerto Rico is familiar with the incredible Coquí, which is native to the island. The inch-long amphibian has a powerful and melodic voice, and its high-pitched, chirrupy song can be heard for miles.

The coquís sing from dusk to dawn, and while the locals find this a lilting lullaby, unsuspecting foreigners aren’t always comforted by their song. But they are cute, and a much-loved symbol of Puerto Rico. Excerpted from Trip Savvy: Read more here!

Week 12

Bioluminescent Bays
Puerto Rico has bioluminescent bays, where a kayak trip on a moon-less night reveals glowing water when you paddle. There are only five of these rare ecosystems in the world, and the island is home to three of them! The mesmerizing brightness of the bays is due to the amount of microscopic, single-celled organisms called dinoflagellates that light up when the water is agitated.

Excerpted from Discover Puerto Rico. Read more here!

Image credit: Edgar Torres

(,_Bioluminescent_bay,_Vieques_-_panoramio_(3).jpg#file), „Mosquito bay, Bioluminescent bay, Vieques – panoramio (3)“,

Week 13

Pasteles are a treasured holiday dish in Puerto Rico. They are so beloved that A National Festival of Puerto Rican Pasteles is held every November in the city of Orocovis. The complex process of making pasteles is an important holiday tradition. Because the process is so labor-intensive, some families today order the pasteles from caterers or buy them from a neighbor who is dedicated to the tradition. However, the families that do make pasteles themselves gather in the kitchen and form an assembly line. Each person has a job that has to be done hundreds of times to make a large quantity of pasteles.

According to Roberto Múcaro Borrero, a Puerto Rican who is in touch with his culture’s traditions, “Even today, making pasteles is still a family affair, for example, your Mom might grate the yucca or guineo (green banana), while an aunt will prepare the masa, grandma could be seasoning the meat to perfection, and a cousin can literally wrap the whole process up nicely.” In Puerto Rico, the Christmas celebrations extend from Thanksgiving to January 6, Three Kings Day, so when a family gathers together to make this dish, they sometimes prepare hundreds of pasteles to last through the holiday season. Excerpted from:

Week 16

Flag in Mourning

What is the “Flag in Mourning?”

A group of artists have altered a famous door painted with the Puerto Rican flag by changing its original colors from blue, red, and white to black and white to mark the approval of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, also known as PROMESA, an acronym considered an insult, as it translates to “promise”. Passed by the US Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama after denying the island a bankruptcy arrangement, the act was promoted as a way to manage Puerto Rico’s more than $70 billion of debt. But PROMESA severely undermines the island’s political autonomy. Its measures, which include a decrease of the hourly minimum wage to US $4.24 (about $3 less than the US federal minimum wage), have galvanized people to organize daily civil disobedience events and camps. Excerpted from Global Voices; learn more here.

Week 17

Flag in Mourning

The Secret Language of the Spanish Hand Fan

  1. Open fan over the chest showing the design “Yes”
  2. Open fan over the chest showing the back “No”
  3. Open fan covering one of the cheeks “I like you”
  4. Wave fan very fast: “I really like you”
  5. Wave fan very slowly: “I am not interested”
  6. Open fan covering your nose “I want to see you”
  7. Open fan covering your chin “I want to talk to you”
  8. Closed fan near the heart: “I love you”
  9. Open fan placed over lips: “Kiss me”
  10. Close fan waving; “I am thinking about it”
  11. Hit close fan against hand “Leave me alone”
  12. Open and close the fan: “I am upset”
  13. Open fan waving energetically on one side “Don’t come now, other people around”
    Excerpted from Read more here!

Week 18

Mofongo: The beloved Puerto Rican mash with deep ties to Africa “Without a doubt it is the most popular, best known, most loved Puerto Rican dish,” says Von Diaz, a radio producer and writer based in New York. She’s talking about mofongo, a dish made by smashing fried green plantains — frequently in a pilón (mortar and pestle) — with garlic, olive oil and, most traditionally, chicharrón (fried pork skin). According to historian and author Cruz Miguel Ortíz Cuadra in his book, “Eating Puerto Rico: A History of Food, Culture, and Identity,” that the word “mofongo” stems from the Angolan Kikongo term “mfwenge-mfwenge,” meaning “a great amount of anything at all.” Going even further back, the dish traces its roots to the West African fufu, a mash of boiled yams. Excerpted from The Washington Post. Read more here!

Week 20

El Yunque Is the Only Tropical Rainforest under the U.S. National Forest System.
Just a few hours from San Juan, a trip to El Yunque is a visit to a land that has remained virtually unchanged for millennia. Trail hikes, waterfalls, grand vistas, and a variety of birds, flora, and some wildlife await you. You’ll also be happy to know that there are no dangerous animals in the rainforest. Excerpted from

Week 21

The Name of Puerto Rico
In 1493, Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colón in Spanish) “discovered” Puerto Rico —that is, arrived on the island during expedition—and claimed it for Spain. A little known fact is that Columbus called the whole island San Juan, in honor of Saint John the Baptist. Puerto Rico (puerto = “port” and rico = “rich”) was the name given to what is known today as the Old San Juan area. It was only later that the names were reversed and the whole island became known as Puerto Rico. Excerpted from Read more here.

Week 22

Old San Juan
Old San Juan is a Unesco World Heritage Site and is also listed in the National Registry of Historic Places. With charming 16th century fortresses, cobblestone streets, fountains, museums, and more, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into history. Excerpted from Read more here!