The politics and poetry of New York’s 1970s Latino community return to their roots in the newest exhibition at Columbia’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race.
“The Raging 70s,” which opens Tuesday, captures this iconic era in New York City’s Puerto Rican and Dominican communities through the lens of Associated Press photographer Bolivar Arellano.
While Arellano’s assignments spanned the entirety of New York, the exhibit focuses on a small section of the city.
“Latinos were largely concentrated in East Harlem, the Lower East Side, so those two were the signature neighborhoods of Latinos during the period,” Frances Negrón-Muntaner, director for CSER, said.
Through his camera lens, Arellano captured the social and political climate of New York.
“The ’70s are really the moment in New York and other parts of the U.S. where a lot of the seeds of contemporary politics and art are planted,” Negrón-Muntaner said. “In this show, you can see how the ’70s in New York are the moment when African Americans and Latinos start working together around civil rights issues.”
The ’70s also saw the development of arts and music within the city’s Latino community. Salsa music can trace its origins to Latino communities on the East Side. Arellano’s photos of Celia Cruz, a famous salsa singer, capture the energy of the musical genre as Cruz dances, her figure caught mid-dance. A concurrent development during this period was the advent of Latin jazz and Nuyorican poetry, artistic movements that grew out of New York’s Puerto Rican community. At the heart of this movement was the Nuyorican Poets Café, founded in Alphabet City in 1973.
“The ’70s are when many things that we have incorporated, take for granted began,” Negrón-Muntaner said.
Arellano’s photography highlights the origins of Latino politics on a local level, featuring photos from the campaign trail.
“Latinos are running for citywide office in increased numbers,” Negrón-Muntaner said. “In the ’70s the first Latino runs for mayor of New York.”
Miguel Piñero, one of the co-founders of the Nuyorican Poets Café, is featured in one of Arellano’s more candid photos. Piñero, his arm thrown around a female companion, sits on the subway, his head thrown back laughing, the spontaneity of the moment capturing the vitality and youth of this era in the Latino community.
“The Raging 70s” explores the decade through a unique and often overlooked lens of New York City. Arellano’s photography articulates the vibrant Latino political and artistic scene in crisp black and white, helping to put this era in context.
“The Raging 70s” will run through May at the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race in 410 Hamilton.