The event drew a diverse crowd. Some with Puerto Rican roots came to celebrate their heritage while other Virgin Islanders just came for a good time. Early in the day, the crowds stuck to the shade of the tents and food booths lining the stage, but as the sun began to set, the music lured them out onto the open-air dance floor.
Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico Friendship Day has been celebrated in the Virgin Islands in lieu of Columbus Day since 1964. The holiday celebrates the cultural, familial, and political ties between the two territories.
The theme of this year’s celebration was, “in difficult times unity is the key to success,” but according to Ana Martinez, treasurer for the VI-PR Friendship Committee, Sunday’s concert had no overarching political meaning. It was just about sharing food and music, and giving old friends a chance to catch up with one another.
Martinez was born on St. Croix, but said her parents emigrated from Puerto Rico in search of a better life. She considers herself a Crucian Rican, and said the culture of the two territories – from the steps in the dances to the ingredients in local cuisines – had a great deal in common.
Asked what she hoped people would learn from the celebration, she replied, “that they see we are a united family. That we all consider ourselves to be one.”
Representing St. Croix, Big Daddy and the 411 Band started off the concert, and the Xpress Band filled the early afternoon slot.
From Puerto Rico, Bomba Urbana, a traditional music group, played in the afternoon along with Miriam A Perez-Cruz and Fernandito Ferrer, a latin jazz duo. Jose Alberto, also known as “El Canaorio,” closed out the concert.
Alexandra Muniz of Bomba Urbana said their performance was about more than just entertainment. Her group is part of a youth movement to preserve and revive bomba, the traditional music of Puerto Rico, and she said she would love to see the art form spread to the Virgin Islands.
“We are trying to rescue our culture,” she said, explaining that for decades bomba had fallen out of the mainstream and been seen as old-fashioned. “Only the older [people] used to do it. We’re taking care that that does not happen again. It’s important that we don’t lose our roots and culture. This is the only thing we own, our identity, and this is how we keep it alive.”
She said there were set steps to the traditional dances that accompany this drum-heavy music, but you don’t need to know them in order to enjoy bomba. At its heart, she explained, bomba is a dialogue between the dancer and the drummer, and if you can feel the beat your feet will take care of the rest.
Bomba may have found at least one convert among the Virgin Islanders in the crowd. Bradley Christian, president of the St. Croix Heritage Dancers, said he was looking forward to learning more about the music and his organization was planning to hold a workshop with Bomba Urbana later in the week.
He said his group was eager to show them the finer points of quadrille dancing and learn the basics of bomba. He added that the people in his group were always happy to learn about the traditional dances of other islands.
Asked if he ever felt a sense of local pride at these cultural exchanges to prove that quadrille was the best dance in the Caribbean, he laughed and said, “You know how that is.”