The Latin spirit will fill St. Croix more than usual the next couple of weeks, with museum openings, musical performances, art workshops and a parade, all commemorating the territory's many ties to its Spanish-speaking neighbor for the 48th annual V.I. - Puerto Rico Friendship celebration.
Puerto Ricans have been a significant part of U.S. Virgin Islands, and especially St. Croix, society for well over a century. Some celebrations and pageants occurred at least as early as 1960, when the first VI-PR Friendship Queen, Nereida Santos, was named, according to information from the VI-PR Friendship Committee.
The celebration became official in 1964 when Gov. Ralph Paiewonsky signed an act making Columbus Day into Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico Friendship Day.
"It gave me great pride and pleasure to learn, shortly after making St. Croix my home, that Columbus Day was changed to VI-PR Friendship Day in recognition of the contributions of the pioneer Puerto Ricans on this island," said Domitila Vargas of the VI-PR Friendship Committee.
"To me,” Vargas said Monday, “that tells a lot, both about our hard working forefathers and also about a community that appreciates and values their contributions."
The celebration is a chance for the community to come together, celebrate our commonalities, have fun and relieve stress, she said. But to Vargas, it is more than that.
"It tells about people who came together many, many years ago, and became a family. Living together, working together, raising families together, sharing religion, music, dance, food, traditions, beliefs, in essence: everything," Vargas said. "I am a proud Puerto Rican who is proud to have St. Croix as my second home and Crucians as my brothers and sisters and I am grateful for it," she said.
Celebrations begin somberly with a special Thanksgiving church service at 6 p.m. Saturday at Speak the Word Ministries in Peter's Rest.
On Sept. 28 the long awaited Hispanic Collection opens at Christiansted's Florence Williams Library. The collection includes a small but excellent collection of Spanish books covering all topics and great literary works of the best Spanish authors, Vargas said.
There will be a short ceremony at 5:30 p.m. that evening, highlighting the story of how the collections came to be.
On Sept. 30, Whim Plantation will host La Fiesta en el Batey, a free family fun day from noon to 5 p.m. on the manicured grounds of the colonial era sugar plantation. Music, dance, performances by school children, exhibits, arts and crafts, children's games, demonstrations, vendors and lots of Crucian and Puerto Rican food will be on hand. Entertainment includes the St. Croix Quelbe Ambassadors, We De Ya Quadrille, Junie De Chabert and Son and more, Vargas said.
The Bomba Urbana Dance Group from Puerto Rico will give bomba dancing workshops, which are free and open to everyone, on Oct. 4 at 6 p.m. at the Herbert Grigg Home for the Aged. On Oct. 5, Bomba Urbana will perform at various St. Croix schools.
Also on Oct. 5 the Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts in Frederiksted will host a gala opening for an exhibit of the works of Damaris Burgos. Bomba Urbana and Latin jazz duo Myriam Pérez and Fernadito Ferrer will perform.
The morning of Oct. 6 the museum center is hosting a family painting workshop, starting at 10:30 a.m.
Bomba Urbana will also be on hand, offering a semi-private bomba dance workshop for six families – three Crucian and three Puerto Rican families – parents and their children who will be selected by schoolteachers.
The evening of Oct. 6, Government House will host a private ceremony honoring four outstanding members of the Hispanic and Puerto Rican community on St. Croix. Three of them have been promoting Crucian and Caribbean culture for many years: calypsonian and music teacher Camille "King Derby" Macedon; story teller and quelbe musician Asta Williams and Mirza Saldaña-Lampe; and Edwin Rivera, who has spent a lifetime working with St. Croix youth and sports, Vargas said.
VI-PR Friendship celebrations wind up Oct. 7 with a "VI-PR Friendship Cultural Exchange" at St. Croix's Agriculture Department and fairgrounds, from noon to 8 p.m. with music, dancing and “food galore. A Puerto Rican kiosk with bacalaítos (salt fish fritters) , alcapurrias, lechon asado (roast pork) will be featured, along with many other delights, arts and crafts, toys, local sweets and much more.