Puerto Rico musicians give demonstrations of Plena, Bomba at St. Croix elementary schools

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ST. CROIX - A cultural exposition took place Friday at the Pearl B. Larsen and Charles Emmanuel elementary schools as a group of talented musicians and dancers from Puerto Rico shared their skills with hundreds of students.

The music and dance demonstrations at each school featured La Plena and La Bomba music, and were a part of the Virgin Islands-Puerto Rico Friendship celebrations in conjunction with the observation of Hispanic Heritage Month.

National Hispanic Heritage Month takes place from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 every year, when people recognize the contributions of Hispanic and Latin Americans to the United States and celebrate the group's heritage and culture.

While National Hispanic Heritage Month is nearing its end, the Virgin Islands-Puerto Rico Friendship celebrations are climaxing this weekend with a cultural exchange after a month filled with art shows, cooking demonstrations, fun days, sports, cultural festivals and church services.

The Virgin Islands celebrates V.I.-P.R. Friendship Day on Columbus Day, which is Monday.

V.I.-P.R. Friendship Day was created in the 1960s to recognize the unique relationship between Virgin Islanders and Puerto Ricans, who were at the time the largest group of migrants to the territory, particularly on St. Croix.

Dormitila Vargas, who organized the event, said she was excited to be able to give the students a chance to experience the dance and music of the Puerto Ricans and said it is something that they can all remember as they grow older.

Gary Nuñez, director of music and dance troupe Plena Libre, led the young energetic audience in an hour-long combination of songs, rhythm points and dance moves, sprinkled with a bit of history about where the dance and music originated.

La Bomba is a uniquely Puerto Rican musical genre for dance that is generally thought of as being derived from West Africa, through the importation of slaves to Puerto Rico. Some have said that it first developed at the end of the 17th century in the small Puerto Rico town of Loiza, which has a strong African presence.

La Plena is an Afro-Puerto Rican music that has integrated with European and African elements in its form and lyrics. Brought about primarily from the southern town of Ponce in Puerto Rico, La Plena, like La Bomba, was born on the sugar plantations in the early 1920s.

Nuñez said he realized the schools have a large number of Hispanic students, and he and four other band members had fun interacting with many of them in Spanish and getting the non-Spanish speakers acquainted with Spanish terms for the music, the instruments and the culture. As the celebration continues, Gov. John deJongh Jr. will host an invitation-only reception tonight to honor four outstanding members of the Hispanic and Virgin Islands communities for their contributions to strengthening the ties that bind the two groups of people together.

This year's honorees are Valrica Bryson and Kendell Henry, who are educators and cultural bearers; sports mentor Roberto Camacho; and Carmen Pimentel, a long-time educator at Lew Muckle School.

On Sunday, to wrap up the celebration, extensive family fun day activities and cultural exchange will take place on the grounds of the Agriculture Fair in Lower Love from noon to midnight with music, food and dancing.

The final Hispanic event will be at 6 p.m. Friday, when Siete Son and Trío Camaleón will be featured at Sunset Jazz in Frederiksted.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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