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The New In between the Old- Santurce, San Juan
As I arrived at the Sagrado Corazón station (commuting on the train). Sagrado Corazón is a common space for the Santurce community since public transportation defines the environment a lot. From this, we can have some sort of insight into the socio-economic structure of the space. I headed to the bus stop to wait for the bus that would take me through the Ponce de León Avenue which is part of the area of Santurce. As I wait in the hot sun standing under a tiny piece of shade reflected by the roof of the already occupied small seating, I observe that I was mainly standing in between old people, with the occasional young person being a student or a worker. Despite the contrast in age, a common quality I’ve spotted in all these people is a sense of drainage, maybe due to the incompetence of public transportation or simply because of day to day personal matters. I presence two people selling sweet treats to sustain their families or themselves; one was a man who happened to be on the train with, whom I had purchased one of his packed “besitos de coco” who happened to be waiting for the same bus as I, and later on a lady selling chocolate wafer bars. Both people emitted a sense of desperation to get people to help them, a scream for compassion. After a tiresome wait, the bus finally arrives and I aboard for my adventure through the city.
Staring through the window the images I first perceive are people roaming through the sidewalks mainly middle-aged men, students and abandoned structures covered in graffiti/ street art. In between these buildings, I start to spot “revamped” or shall I say new spaces that have made their way into the community. I decided to get off a stop close to Ciudadela, “The reimagination of what a city should be.” according to the structure’s philosophy. When I got off the bus two things captured my attention, a new modern café catching one’s attention since being plotted in the middle of dinginess and destruction of abandoned buildings, called “Café Comunión” and a skate shop called “La Paz Skate Shop”. I decided to walk towards the skate shop first. As I approached the store I noticed it wasn’t that big yet, it had a very nice aesthetic. When I entered, who I am assume was the owner of the shop, immediately started talking to me. He asked me if had been to the shop before and I answered no without giving any details of the motives of my visit. He proceeded to give me a little background of the shop saying that it had been opened for three years now, told me if I needed any help or had any questions with anything to let him know, then he told me about a party they were hosting the 27th in the community’s basketball court. It took me to surprise the fact that he mentioned such things as if he knew the motive of my visit. I decided to tell him about my blog project and asked him if I could take pictures which seemed to excite him even more about my visit. As I roamed around the store observing and photographing the surroundings I spot a skateboard isolated on the wall with a short paragraph on it. In summary, it was a tribute to skateboard shops that have closed and a reflection on how skate shops are the epitome of skate culture, and creative epistemologists to the skater community. Once I finished reading that it gave me an incite of the purpose of this shop. The owner clearly opened that shop to preserve as well as introduce to people a culture of creativity and form of liberation for many.
I walk past the café mentioned earlier and take a quick glance at the space. Contemporary, fresh and young are the first words that come to mind. The place reeks of young indie or more alternative living people. I don’t put much thought to it and proceed to walk along the sidewalk of Ponce de Leon. A little further down, I spot another café, “Café Espresso”. This one is crammed into a small little location, and clearly one of the oldies of the area, being an old-fashioned structure. In contrast to “Comunión”, the only people in this place were late middle-aged and old people. As soon as I realized this, the first thing that came to mind was why was there such a heavy contrast in age presence in each location? Another thing that stood out is how at Espresso the environment was much noisier and more connected within, and by that, I mean that the flow of conversation was very strong since most people were talking with each other, in contrast to “Comunión”, where most people were in their zone.
The next place that stood out in the community was “Libros AC”, an independent bookstore. As I walked through the door it’s as if I had a huge room of books to myself. The store was empty (except on the café side), there wasn’t even an employee insight. I browsed through the tables reading the selection titles, which were mainly books in Spanish by latinx authors. Most of the books on the tables were related to cultural, identity and historical themes. As I checked out what was on the shelve I spotted a section dedicated to Puerto Rican authors which counted with a huge selection. This warmed my heart a little because I don’t think that Puerto Rican authors get the exposure they deserve. I spent a good amount browsing through this section, and still, I hadn’t spotted one employee come by the area. This surprised me, it was as if the place didn’t care about the possibility of books being taken, it was just a warm invitation for the community to explore the magic of books. During my visit, I saw a young girl around my age walk in the store and a little after she picked up a book of interest and sat down near the window and started reading it; for some reason, it was a refreshing occurrence. I spotted peculiar items non-related to books on the checkout counter, so I decided to pass by and see. It turned out to be items made here in Puerto Rico. It seemed like a good initiative in solidarity with other local business.
Right next to the bookstore is this modern lot of food trucks with a large variety of eateries. I decided to take a stroll inside and the first thing I see is a large group of middle-aged people eating at a picnic like table. The concept and diversity of options seem marvelous until you look at the prices of each establishment. It did not come to a surprise that the rates at these places were so high since I already have an internalized prejudice of associating these modern and innovative places appearing in lower class communities as exploiters and modern-day colonizers. The places I previously visited had temporarily brushed off that thought away for a moment but, as I experienced this place the questions resurfaced: Who are these spaces really made for? Are they made to benefit only a certain group of people while deteriorating another? Do the creators come with a vision to help the community and it just shifts into the opposite?
I eventually got picked up by my parents and proceeded to explore more of the area focusing on urban art while riding in the car. As I mentioned earlier in the essay, once you arrive in Santurce, it’s basically unavoidable to not spot a form of urban art. As we moved in the car further past “la Parada 18” and more into the neighborhoods past the Fernandez Juncos Avenue, the art transforms into something soul awakening. I presence a lot of messages related to colonialism and overall the social context of the community and Puerto Rico as a whole. I can’t help to ask myself, are these expressions a form of confrontation to the system? Or to the people around? Maybe it is just a form of claiming permanency on a community that is theirs and always will be theirs no matter what. Maybe it’s the Santurce way of expressing latinx futurism.
Pictures will be included in a second post along with more thoughts.