written by R. Ruiz
Despite a much needed downpour around late afternoon today, this July evening was particularly searing to say the least. As I was walking through St. Mary’s Park enroute to the Tito Rojas concert presented by Summerstage, I couldn’t help but pretend I was trekking through El Yunque in Puerto Rico. I closed my eyes for just a moment as I made my way up the hill to performance site. I could feel the tropical winds just barely kissing the sweat on my cheek. I could hear the steady rhythm of the congero’s drum in the distance. As I inched closer, I could see dozens of Puerto Rican flags waving in the air. It was as though they were floating amidst the sea of people.
They say timing is everything and tonight mine couldn’t be more impeccable. I arrived just as DJ Kazzanova began to play Marc Anthony’s “Preciosa”, a song I hadn’t heard since I was 12 years old, waking up on Saturday mornings to help my mom clean. The lyrics came flying back to me, with a little help from the roaring crowd behind me, “Yo te queiro, Puerto Rico! Yo te queiro, PUERTO RICO!”
I’ll admit, the energy of the audience was intoxicating and I almost didn’t notice when El Gallo, El Salsero Primero, Tito Rojas joined the stage. He immediately began speaking to the crowd. But it was more than just speaking. He was listening to them as well. He somehow managed to engage in conversation with over thousands of people at once. It was truly a sight to see. Tito did this several times throughout his performance, which included songs “Doble”, “Senora”, and “Siempre Sere”.
At the end of the show ,Tito waved to the crowd. He blessed everyone for coming out “A dios de bendiga y gracias Bronx!” To which the crowd responded with “Otra! Otra! Another! Another!”. Tito was helped offstage but not after another round of waves and blessings.
The Bronx has a very close connection with Puerto Rico and Latinx culture. It has mothered some of the most iconic names in Salsa history such as Willie Colon, Hector Lavoe and Tito Puente. U.S. census data shows that 55% of people living in The Bronx are Hispanic or Latino. The Bronx is a village, tight knit and caring. We raise each other because all too often we are neglected by the city we helped create. And although El Gallo is not from the Bronx, we are honored to have had him share in our rich tradition of block parties and fiestas. Just like the old African proverb; where the rooster crows, there really is a village.