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SEPTA’s 47 bus is what made Alba Martínez feel at home in Philadelphia, when she first moved to the city back in 1985. Now, 27 years after her first ride on the route, it’s the inspiration for her new endeavor: La Guagua 47 Community Film and Arts Project.
“It is a Latino cultural project aimed at giving visibility to the incredible talents, beauty and cultural assets that we have in Philadelphia’s Latino community,” said Martínez.
On Friday, June 24, community members gathered at the cultural organization, Taller Puertoriqueño, for a family-friendly bus decorating party with Mural Arts Philadelphia and Cesar Viveros, a visual artist and muralist who often creates art that focuses on immigrant experiences.
“The 47 truly is a powerful symbol of so many things — it’s a connector, it’s a portal,” said Martínez, a former lawyer and executive, who has brought together community members to celebrate the route.
Spanning 10 miles long, the 47 route goes from 5th and Godfrey in North Philly to Whitman Plaza in South Philly, the route is what first connected Martínez with the city’s Puerto Rican community. Martínez, who is from Puerto Rico, says that it was her “ride to happiness” and where she found home.
The project, which is named after the term used in Caribbean countries for bus — guagua — was inspired by her personal connection to the route. After releasing her song, La guagua 47 and being featured in WHYY’s bilingual series, The 47: Historias along a bus route, she wanted to keep the storytelling about the bus going.
Martínez partnered with SEPTA and local media company, Al Día, and launched the film and arts project in May, during the 2022 Philadelphia Latino Film Festival (PHLAFF). Since then, the project has been unfolding in stages and engaging Philadelphians throughout the process.
Throughout the month of May, there was a community storytelling workshop led by writers writers Julia López and Francisco Font Acevedo, followed by dance classes taught by choreographer Christina Castro-Tauser at the West Kensington Ministry.
The aim of the event at Taller was to create decorations that “represent all the cultures that make up Latinidad, the way we think of it, the way we want to be represented,” said Viveros. Philadelphians were invited to stop by and participate in painting, flower-making and more — the decorations will ultimately be installed on the bus for a magical-realism effect when the film goes into production next month.
Residents stopped by with their families, friends and on their own to partake in the fun activities.
Elba Perez, a longtime Juniata resident, was volunteering at the event, helping to set up food and pass out raffle tickets.
“I feel like we have a very strong Latino community in Philadelphia and we need to do more positive things, like this,” she said. Perez, who used to ride the 47 bus before getting a car, was happy to celebrate her heritage.
“I’m from Puerto Rico, so my roots are strong,” said the volunteer. “It’s my pride.”
The event attracted some newer-to-Philly neighbors too.
Melissa Tolosa has been in the city for four years and is currently in a PhD program at Temple, studying geography and urban planning. She learned about the event through social media and as a North Philly resident, decided to stop by,
“I wanted to start immersing myself in community,” said the Los Angeles transplant. “And this looks amazing.”
Josh Harris, a board member at Taller, also stopped by with his wife and two kids. His children are enrolled in the bilingual immersion after-school program.
“We want to immerse our kids in as much as possible with Latin culture,” he said. He was excited to see so many people in the space and his kids having a fun time.
The event at Taller Puertoriqueño was the last gathering before the project moves into its next phase: production of the film. Martinez, along with the creative team she’s assembled and members of the community will film at César Andreu Iglesias Community Garden on Saturday, July 16. It will be a big party — una gran fiesta — and all are welcome, says Martínez, who plans to premiere the film when it’s done.
The ultimate goal of the project is to celebrate the diverse Latino community and showcase “our collective Latino identity,” to the world, said Martínez.
“Each one of us brings different things, different traditions, different experiences, some of us are Indigenous, some of us are Black, some of us are white,” she said. There’s “power and magic” within the community, added the project’s director. She just wants people to see it.
Disclosure: WHYY is a partner of La Guagua 47 Community Film and Arts Project.
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