(Foto: Cortesía/Samantha Martinez)

During the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the greatest negative impacts on families and communities was the limitations on holiday celebrations.  Families couldn’t travel, and many couldn’t gather even if they were close to one another, due to exposure risks. Long-held traditions had to be abandoned, and some people were forced to spend the holiday season alone – or worse, sick with the virus. For many, the holidays were the darkest days of a pandemic with an uncertain future. The strands that create the most meaning in the fabric of our lives had been broken.  The pandemic brought clarity to the power and meaning of gathering with loved ones and building community, and to what was lost when that was no longer possible.

In December of 2019, before anyone had any idea of the ways the world would change, the Esperanza Arts Center hosted a concert called Christmas in the Barrio in its Teatro venue.  It was a variety show, with music, dance, and participation from various groups of students and community members.  An audience of more than a hundred people gathered to watch the singers, musicians, and dancers perform their acts.  Among the performers were Suzzette Ortiz, a well-known local musician and singer, who also serves as the Artistic Director of the AMLA music school; the Esperanza Academy Dance Ensemble led by Director Tania Ramos Otón; and music students from the elementary and middle school who formed a Christmas choir.  Dr. Irving Cotto and Andres Cotto performed music, as soloist and accompanists respectively, and 7-year-old Rihanna Olmedo led the audience in a singalong to favorite Christmas carols.  People mingled, expressed their talents, and celebrated together.

(Foto: Cortesía/Samantha Martinez)

Only a few short months later, that kind of holiday gathering would become unthinkable.  The Teatro had only been open for two performance seasons, and it suddenly sat vacant and quiet, with no clear indication of when it could host audiences and artists again.  The community, and its families, quarantined and waited. 

During that time, creativity began to emerge.  In the absence of physical forums, people steered toward virtual spaces, coming together via Zoom gatherings or on social media platforms.  Programs were streamed to audiences watching from home on their screens, and in this way, we were able to express our need for creativity, cultural heritage, and the arts. 

This year, with vaccination rates rising, and the world becoming accustomed to the “new normal,” we are bringing life back to the physical spaces.  Christmas in the Barrio will be hosted in-person with free admission at the Esperanza Arts Center’s Teatro again, on December 18th at 7:00pm.    A variety-show style concert will celebrate not only the holidays, but also the ability for people to gather and enjoy music, dancing, singing, and holiday spirit. 

But this holiday season, Christmas in the Barrio will extend beyond the four walls of the Teatro space.  One lesson the pandemic has taught us, is that we don’t need to rely solely on previous ways of connecting and communing with one another.  We can also build community online, and in the streets.  The pandemic forced us to innovate and expand our approaches to connecting with each other – now, we are still using all those methods, rather than strictly returning to pre-Covid ways of living.

In the spirit of using all available ways to celebrate and gather, two new dimensions have been added in this first “post-Covid” year:  Esperanza’s team has organized Christmas decorations and parrandas along the business corridors on 5th Street and Wyoming Avenue in Hunting Park.  The parrandas will take place four Friday evenings in a row, starting on 11/26 and ending on 12/18.  Community members are invited to sing, play musical instruments, and enjoy festive snacks and beverages, all out on the streets of the neighborhood.  Also, the Teatro Christmas in the Barrio program will be streamed live to anyone who wants to participate but cannot attend in person.  In these ways, by reaching out into the streets and through the internet, we will be able to share holiday joy with an even greater number than we did before the pandemic.  In this way, we take the struggles of the pandemic and turn them into community-building innovation and creativity.  We hope you’ll join us for these holiday events!


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