Black History Month: Loiza—the African heart of Puerto Rico and the arts that portray it

One of the areas of Puerto Rico struggling to survive after the devastation of back-to-back Hurricanes Irma and Mara is the town of Loiza, known as a center of Afro-Puerto Rican history, music, dance, and culture. 

When Irma and Maria hit, I immediately went to the news and Twitter and YouTube to see if there was anything about Loiza, and continued to look every day. I found scenes of rescues as well as drive-throughs assessing damage.

I remember smiling when I saw this tweet; FEMA wasn’t there feeding the people, but Chefs for Puerto Rico were on the job.


Our #ChefsForPuertoRico food trucks in action!! @YummyDumplings visited Loiza which was hit hard by Irma & Maria. We will keep going back! pic.twitter.com/2rDgZMJciT

— José Andrés (@chefjoseandres) October 6, 2017

Though Loiza has always been poor, it is swimming in cultural riches. It is poor because it was the home of freed slaves, and poor because darker-skinned people still suffer under the yoke of prejudices, even on an island where many of the inhabitants have both indigenous brown and black African ancestry. 

Loíza is known as “El Pueblo de la Cacica”. Loíza was proclaimed a town officially in 1692 and named in honor of Yuisa or Luisa, one of the women caciques on the island when the Spanish conquerors arrived. It was not until 1719 that the Spanish government declared it as an official town. It was founded by Gaspar de Arredondo.

Settled by Nigerian slaves of the Yoruba tribe in the 16th century, Loíza is a center for African-inspired traditions, retaining one of the highest percentages of African descendants of all island towns.