Christmas assault? Maybe next year. Taller Puertorriqueño to host pandemic parranda online

Taller Puertorriqueño in North Philadelphia wraps holiday party/birthday celebration/fundraiser into one Zoom bash.

Irving Robles y su Cuatro Son (Taller Puertorriqueño)

Irving Robles y su Cuatro Son (Taller Puertorriqueño)

Among the many holiday traditions that will likely suffer in 2020 is the Puerto Rican parranda, a gathering of friends with musical instruments who move through a neighborhood singing traditional songs well into the night.

The celebration during the holiday season can get aggressively joyous as the group of revelers – the trulla – target certain homes with the intention of rousing the inhabitants from sleep.

“They may start in their house, then go and wake someone else up,” said Carmen Febo San Miguel, the executive director of Taller Puertorriqueño. “That’s why it’s called an asalto – an assault.”

Every year Taller Puertorriqueño – a Puerto Rican and Latino cultural organization in North Philadelphia – hosts a parranda in December that does triple-duty: it’s a holiday party, an end-of-year fundraiser, and a birthday celebration. Taller Puertorriqueño was founded in early December 46 years ago.

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This year’s parranda will honor one of the original founders of Taller Puertorriqueño, Rafaela Colón, who has remained involved since its inception.

“Her signature is on the organization’s charter papers,” said Febo San Miguel. “Rafaela has been an activist and community advocate all her life.”

Colón, now retired, worked for many years with Aspira, an organization advocating education and leadership training for Puerto Rican and Latino youth, and served as chair with the Latino Partnership Initiative. She also consults on projects for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and Photography Without Borders.

Normally, Taller Puertorriqueño does without the asalto navideño – Christmas assault – and keeps the party within its building on Fifth Street. This year, however, it cannot even do that. With COVID-19 infections increasing at an alarming rate, the 2020 parranda will be held entirely online.

The music will be provided by Irving Robles y Su Cuatro Son, which pre-recorded a set of traditional parranda music. Because of the limitations of online technology, partygoers logging on from home will not be able to sing along together. Febo San Miguel suggests they can sing at home within their own household bubble of family and friends.

“We are trying to keep as much of the elements of what we normally do in our fundraising efforts,” she said. “The tradition of sharing with friends and supporters, and talking about Taller and its accomplishments and why we are passionate about this work.”

The theme of this year’s party reflects its unusual circumstances: A Pesar de los Pesares. “Despite it all,” the community goes forward.

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“Despite COVID, we all are hungry for these social connections,” said Febo San Miguel. “If the only way of doing them safely is virtually, then we have to adapt to that reality until times get better.”

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