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Noemi Segarra and PISO proyecto: in movement, in process, in transit.

We know ourselves as part and as crowd, in an unknown that does not terrify. We cry our cry of poetry. Our boats are open, and we sail them for everyone.

--Edouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation

El conectar parece la urgencia--por un bien comun--?sera?

--Noemi Segarra, "De andar en la Loiza y en la ciudad que habito"

In Poetics of Relation, by writer and theorist Edouard Glissant (Martinique 1928-Paris 201 1), the author's understanding of individual and collective knowledge stems from his personal Caribbean and colonial context, a tangled history of lived experiences that flow from movement and transnational cultural interactions. For Glissant, this explosive archipelago is "... one of the places in the world where Relation presents itself most visibly." (Glissant 1997: 33). By Relation he means shared knowledge and ".the possibility for each one at every moment to be both solidary and solitary there" (Glissant 1997: 8, 131). In contrast to the Mediterranean, an inner sea, Glissant sees the Caribbean as a "sea that diffracts" (Glissant 1997: 33).

Diffraction describes what happened to the movement art practice of Noemi Segarra (b. 1971, San Juan, Puerto Rico) when she returned to her native Puerto Rico in 2009. Like a strong wave of energy coming in contact with the island, her body passed through openings and bended around obstructions, moving the still waters behind them. For Segarra, relation is the creation of meeting and entry points, in the body and in society, to build deeper understandings and shared knowledge over time. She investigates how displacement, which could be described by Glissant's phrase, ".confirming us in ourselves and joining us to an elsewhere." shapes relation between the personal and the collective (Glissant 1997: 196). For Glissant and Segarra, relation exists at the intersection of the known and the unknown.

Glissant's ideas related to a poetics of relation in the Caribbean--"uncertain paths," "rooted and open," "multilingualism," "the balance between the present moment and duration," "giving-on-and-with"--resonate with Segarra's intuitive practice (Glissant 1997: 32, 34-5, 192). PISO proyecto, an on-going project she started in 2011, in San Juan, is a variable, unpredictable journey of process and transformation that negates the notion of a "final product" (Segarra in discussion with the author, 4 August 2015). It is rooted in the body and open to consensual sharing wherever it manifests itself. It involves corporeal improvisation in neglected public areas, and relations between body, environment, collaborators and the public through listening, observing and co-creating. In Puerto Rico's fragmented cultural landscape, PISO proyecto connects a broad spectrum of people on and off the island, and it motivates them to resist complacent spaces and plunge into a collective sense of responsibility. Segarra's intention is to make this praxis of creative agency and decision-making a viable lifestyle, particularly in Puerto Rico, to alter the island's culture of depersonalization and assimilation, alienation and immobility.

PISO proyecto is a multilingual platform. Segarra's externally focused languages--body movement, space, sound, objects, photography, video, and texts in English and Spanish--document and communicate the project on the internet. In Puerto Rico, artists are their own historians. There is limited writing and recording of the island's prolific and diverse art scene, and it is often interrupted, short-lived or difficult to access. While some artists have extensive physical archives, few document the development of their conceptual process over time and share it publicly. Segarra is one of them. She has diligently archived her movement art practice in physical and virtual formats for the last six years, thus preserving a slice of a present moment for the passage of time. Throughout this text, I have included quotes by Segarra, however, she says, "I express myself best through movement" (Segarra in discussion with the author, 4 August 2015). Indeed, watching a two-minute video of her in motion captures a deeper poetics of relation. Writing static words about a movement art practice, I empathize with Glissant who exclaimed, "Also, how ridiculous it is to describe in books, to approach through the written word, that which just evaporates all around us" (Glissant 1999: 12).

Segarra's return to Puerto Rico in 2009, and the launching of PISO proyecto two years later, coincided with a crucial social, political and economic juncture in the history of the island. Puerto Rico was in a downward spiraling recession that started in 2006. In 2009, it had an unemployment rate of approximately fifteen to sixteen percent, a poverty rate of about forty-one percent, and a soaring cost of living with escalating taxes. (Recently, on July 1, 2015, the sales and use tax (IVU) on the island jumped from seven to eleven-and-a-half percent.) From 2010 to 2013, an average of about 48,000 Puerto Ricans moved annually to the United States, and this figure continues to grow. Funding for education and the arts was under constant threat as impending bank closures crippled the economy and the government headed toward defaulting on its seventy-two-billion-dollar public debt. Segarra noted that Puerto Rico's cultural environment was conservative, and lacking a tradition of philanthropy, and many artists were isolated and working in unstable conditions. It was a critical time for collective, interdisciplinary creativity to arise and build its own solid infrastructure. It was time to transition from a shared experience of restriction and uncertainty to a conscious expression of destiny making.

PISO proyecto addressed the economy of frustration, dependency, and passive consumption Segarra experienced in Puerto Rico. Through participatory entanglements that brought a diverse public together to express their concerns and responses, she and others transcended fear and remote control. Segarra's form of improvisation--where intuition, awareness and action are fully aligned--offered skills to bring about long term change and a new future for the island as opposed to the government's "improvised and capricious" taxes to stave off a total shut down. This essay investigates the movement art practice of Segarra and how her background, and everyday experiences in Puerto Rico, shaped the unfolding of PISO proyecto in San Juan. It discusses how brief placements of this project in New York City influenced the platform, and what cultural remittances Segarra and PISO proyecto bring to Puerto Rico.

I generate new ways of being in the world.--Noemi Segarra

Segarra began her career dancing for Ballets de San Juan from 1985 to 1990. At age twenty, she moved to Caracas, Venezuela, for three years, to work as a dancer for Danzahoy, an internationally touring contemporary dance company. From 1994 to 2004, she lived in New York City, and graduated from Hunter College with a B.A. in Dance. In 2004, she went to Temple University in Philadelphia to study under her mentor, Merian Soto, and she received a M.F.A. in Choreography and Performance in 2007. From 1995 to 2009, Segarra performed regularly in Philadelphia and New York with Merian Soto Dance and Performance, and she continues to collaborate with Soto in Philadelphia and Puerto Rico.

Segarra's participation in classes taught by Ralph Lemon, Merian Soto, Dean Moss and Levi Gonzalez influenced her movement art practice. Lemon's workshop, "The Practice of Form," at Temple University, was an important antecedent to PISO proyecto. For her "Rigorous Process Exercise," Segarra occupied a sheet of plywood in a park for twelve hours, and this experience of displacement stayed with her. Beginning in 2012, she and others moved on a portable wooden floor in public spaces, but for shorter periods of time. Lemon's workshop focused on constant improvisation in the moment, continually asking "What is it?," trying different things, and discussing what worked and what didn't work.

Merian Soto is the creator of Branch Dancing and Modal Practice. From these slow, meditative movement practices, Segarra learned endurance, a centered balance between body, mind, and place, and how information from touch, weight, gravity, and energy modes move through her. She also learned another sense of time and how to document her actions in public spaces using video. In contrast to Lemon's workshop where movement flowed in a circular manner, Dean Moss and Levi Gonzalez's intensive choreographer's workshop "Form and Practice," at The Kitchen in New York City, taught Segarra how to create limits, and frame, distill and edit her practice. As participants exchanged roles and interpreted each other's work, Segarra learned how to detach herself from her movement art. She listened to others, objectively analyzed her intensions and accepted compromise. She applied all of these lessons to PISO proyecto as it moved on and off the island (Segarra in discussion with the author, 4 and 11 August 2015).

In 2009, Segarra returned to San Juan because her body moves more freely in a warm climate. When she receives a lot of light, she has a feeling of expansion, and that she can make decisions (Martinez Torres 2014). Walking outside everyday nourishes Segarra because it aligns her mind, her body, and her environment in an organic whole. In Kinesthetic City, SanSan Kwan, the author, invokes Lena Hammergren's idea of the flaneuse who gathers information through the body while walking. Kwan, a professional dancer, relies on personal kinesthesia to relate to five Chinese urban sites, and she summons "...the skills of the flaneuse to show how the pedestrian mover exerts a contradictory agency in response to the disciplining forces of the city" (Kwan 2013:101). When Segarra settled in the Santurce neighborhood, she decided not to have a car because it's a place of passive satisfaction where existence is suspended. Like Kwan, Segarra's walks write and reshape her neighborhood in ways that are multiple and relational.

Segarra re-tied into the weft of her world in Santurce by reactivating en transito, an open-ended art project she first developed from 2004 to 2007. As she traveled between Philadelphia's Chinatown and New York City's Chinatown every weekend for three years, she made videos with sound and used a camera to photograph uncomfortable transitory spaces--neither here nor there, between departure and return. This practice resonated with her again after she moved to Puerto Rico, a place of indeterminacy, artificial sustenance and constant construction and destruction. Segarra was shocked to find Santurce, and other neighborhoods, like Rio Piedras, radically different from her memory of them growing up. What she recalled as thriving urban ecologies with people interacting on the sidewalks, had become abandoned buildings, boarded up storefronts, deserted streets, and empty lots (Segarra in discussion with the author, 17 February 2015).


For en transito in Puerto Rico, Segarra took snapshots with her telephone of unexpected encounters that grabbed her eye while walking her dog and running errands. Whereas before her images depicted the sensation of a body moving through static architecture, in Santurce, her subjects exuded transformation. Segarra sought out places in her neighborhood that most chose to ignore to create a sense of proximity and to make the work and the world unique and authentically hers. She took pictures of dramatic contrasts, like a nest in the gutter, and made fifteen-second videos of herself moving in urban spaces, and she shared them immediately through social media. En transito was Segarra's first attempt in Puerto Rico to provoke self-reflexivity, criticality, and to ask questions. What do you see and feel on your daily routes? How do you respond to your inner and outer ecologies?

Each en transito snapshot is condensed, colorful, and precise--an intense expression of occasions when sterile barriers are partially broken. Segarra wants us to look at urban spaces outside the context of the spectacle which distracts the public and temporarily disguises the harsh realities of the island. En transito presents ubiquitous objects--makeshift barriers, nature and its bounties, graffiti, signs, discards, and people starkly juxtaposed with urban architecture. Segarra's subjects tend to cluster around the strength of vegetation, mirages of social and economic progress, and the public's reaction to situations where illusion is stronger than reality. Her probings create new energy to stimulate an awakening, to uplift city life. As she responds to her environment, maybe we will too.

En transito speaks to the Puerto Ricans' continuous negotiation of belonging and inclusion. The island has become increasingly a land you pass through due to the disappearance of systems of production, the government's emphasis on tourism, new luxury retreats, and tax breaks for the extremely wealthy. Shortly after her return to her homeland, Segarra's fluid in-between movements in her neighborhood became interspersed with travels between San Juan and New York to address economic and professional needs. En transito defines Segarra's rooted travels where her body is both an anchor and a motor of investigation that questions how to shape relation in the world.

Another way Segarra communicates across borders is through social media, an integral part of her practice. Her various sites--<> [2012-], <>, PISO proyecto in facebook [2011-], <>, <deloimposiblealoposible.> [2011] and <> [2011], <#pisoproyecto>, and <#movimientopublico>--fiercely communicate impassioned manifestos, document and define her practice in process and discuss her collaborations. As Segarra stated in a recent electronic article, her projects can be found on the internet,

... o en una esquina cerca de ti- lo que creo es mucho mas excitante y ambiguo que en un post en linea .... Algo importante es que ese cuerpo podrias ser tu moviendote de acuerdo a tus intereses o prioridades, recreando nuevas historias, rehabitando y reinscribiendo nuevo significado en el espacio y a la vez a ti misma [.or on a corner near you--which I believe is much more exciting and ambiguous than a post on-line. The important thing is, that body could be you moving according to your interests or priorities, recreating new histories, re-inhabiting and re-inscribing new significance in space and at the same time in yourself]. (Segarra 2015a)

Segarra's posts are similar to what Irit Rogoff, a professor of visual culture, describes as not writing about a practice, but writing with a practice. "... [Tjt is pushing you and pushing at you. You are working out something with it" (Holler and Rogoff 2010: 197). Segarra thinks and writes with her whole body and her texts suggest movement with their uneven spacing, broken lines and ellipses. It is important for her to generate her own narrative because she grew up in an environment that suppressed her spoken voice. Her texts have inspired me to articulate what are my values and what is fundamental to my work.

Moving to Puerto Rico where there is little support for women improvisational dancers, Segarra committed herself to sharing the tools of her movement practice with others in order to fine-tune awareness and stimulate change. In July 2011, she started a blog, de lo imposible a lo posible [from the impossible to the possible], with two younger movement artists, Marielys Burgos-Melendez and Marili Pizarro. The three met regularly, along with Cristina Lugo, to practice improvisation on a wooden floor at Segarra's home. (Segarra continues to offer the floor in her home to young artists.) In her first entry "espacio para la practica: compartir el que hacer" ["space for the practice: sharing the day-to-day"] she stated she is practicing how to re-educate, rethink and revise the way her body moves (Segarra 2011a). She wanted to go against the established models in Puerto Rico's dance community. "I am a guerrera in the present tense" (Segarra, Rivera and Dos Santos 2011a). Segarra asked this generation to listen to themselves, to reveal themselves honestly, and to ask questions. She urged them to fight against the pressure to imitate, to push new proposals and to be the subjects of new practices. She advocated for continuous revision and evolution, "siempre en movimiento, en proceso, en transito" ["always in movement, in process, in transit"] (Segarra 2011a).

At the end of the blog, Segarra thanked her teachers whom she admires for being pioneers and provocateurs--Petra Bravo, Awilda Sterling-Duprey, Viveca Vazquez and Merian Soto. Acknowledging others, especially women, is something she frequently does, thus reminding us to value and honor the courageous vision and unwavering commitment of those who give much more than they receive from institutions and academia. The multi-layered works of these four women incorporate cultural, political and historical themes and issues related to gender, race, and identity. Their socially committed artistic expressions are instruments of criticism and change. In her next blog, "?porque lo imposible?" ["why the impossible?"], Segarra declared her autonomy "...como 'bailarina,' como mujer, como puertorriquena" [" a 'dancer,' as a woman, as a female Puerto Rican"] (Segarra 2011b). She is tired of being colonized and she is going to reclaim her body as space, ".un punto de despegue y aterrizaje. destinacion y soberana nacion" [".a point of takeoff and landing. destination and sovereign nation"] (Segarra 2011b). She encouraged structured improvisation and listening to the inner knowledge of one's body rather than responding to outside stimulation or following someone else's choreography. Gender and identity are implicit, rather than explicit in her work. As Segarra stated, "I am a woman and Puerto Rican. Isn't that enough?" (Segarra in discussion with the author, 17 February 2015).

Segarra started identifying the things she needed for her life/art, and she created a structure to give them to her. First, she needed a platform to exist, for creative expression, and on which to construct immaterial things like interpersonal relations that grow with time, repetition and trust. She wanted to forge community as difference, and create exchanges and ways of relating and getting to know one another. The viewer would be a co-creator of life/improvisation unfolding "as is," in real time. The project would always be a work in progress that generates new knowledge, awareness and experimentation while re-educating the body. It would be individual and collaborative with archived documentation, organic and solid with some give to it, and transportable, like the body itself (Segarra in discussion with the author, 3 March 2015). In the fall of 2011, she launched PISO (both a noun [floor] and a verb ["I step"]), a platform for movement and social practices that engaged with and questioned displacement through the body.

In December 2011, Segarra and other movement artists organized the first annual, one-day Sidewalk Improvisation Marathon in Santurce. Participants in the marathons from 2011-2014 included Diana Soto, Carlos Jose "Gandul" Torres Lopez, Jose Troche (documentation), Marili Pizarro, Karen Langevin, Payola (music and documentation), Natalia Munoz, Ana Cristina Rodriguez Suris, Ivan Acosta dos Santos, Coral Aleman, Rafael Vargas Bernard and Dario Morales (sound art), Fernando Samalot, Felix Rodriguez-Rosa, Carmela, Alejandra Martorell, Awilda Rodriguez Lora, Esther Planas, Hector "Tito" Matos and Los Pleneros (music), Hiram and Edgardo Texidor Rosa, Marielys Burgos-Melendez and Maidelis Rios. What better place than the sidewalk? As Jane Jacobs points out in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, sidewalks are the sites of ".. .casual public contact at a local level" that can lead to ".. .a feeling for the public identity of people, a web of public respect and trust, and a resource in time of personal or neighborhood need" (Jacobs 2011: 73). Participants placed a sheet of plywood on the sidewalk and moved upon it, and from the sidewalks they flowed to other spaces nearby like a street in front of the entrance to a large apartment building, and next to a refrigerated case at the Department of Food.


Sudden contact with an unforeseen exchange is productive for Glissant's Relation (Glissant 1997: xiii). For Segarra, the public's reactions to this unexpected encounter ranged from ignoring what was happening and no eye contact, to stopping and taking a photograph, to watching and asking questions. She considers the viewer a co-creator of "meaning in the now" (Segarra in discussion with the author, 3 March 2015). The ambiguities and tensions of an unanticipated experience in public space can cause us to value improvisation for what it is, "being aware and responsible in the present tense" (Segarra, email message to author, 7 March 2015). From this point on, PISO refused to settle. It was a place to gather and disperse.

Segarra developed PISO proyecto as a pilot project during her 2011-2012 fellowship at Beta-Local, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and promoting aesthetic thought and practice in Old San Juan. She participated in La Practica, a nine-month program where fellows from diverse disciplines take a project from concept to production. Segarra had a wooden floor built and installed at Beta-Local, and from September 2011 to April 2012, she taught classes on improvisation mostly to the general public and to a few affiliated with Beta-Local. Group collaborations with movement and sound artists took place on Friday evenings. Segarra required that when someone was on the platform there was always an observer as a witness. She encouraged spectators to creatively respond to the movement by writing, drawing, taking photographs or video, offering sounds, or participating in a dialogue afterwards. At the beginning of her fellowship, she articulated her intention for PISO as the following:

In my work, the body is form. Corporeal improvisation is the technique to provoke, access, identify and make use of a particular kind of concentration and other states of awareness and integration. These in turn when practiced often become knowledge and tools not only for gutsy [sic] movement but also for conscious living. I...reveal processes--which are often rich in experiences and opportunities--beyond what is supposed "to be" in both performance and in life. ...[I]n the ambiguous[ness] and complexity of witnessing a body making decisions, and the humanity present in these negotiations [we]...relat[e] in new ways and...create a new set of rules. This is the intent of the PISO project: interactivity that makes us ponder and challenge the given set of rules and structures that we move in as artists and as humans. Contrary to the experience of the-body-as-object, the live body reveals closeness and vulnerability, which can place us in situations that we might not want to face. Additionally, the practice of decision-making--both revealed and discussed--offers tools that are conducive to thinking through possibilities. (Segarra 2011c)

The platform created opportunities for multi-layered participatory structures from passive detachment or intentional disregard on the street, to directed participation in a workshop or class, to creative participation with an interested public, to other movement artists sharing the responsibility of developing the platform with the artist. (Helguera 2011: 14-5). For Segarra, participation in PISO proyecto is co-creation. It is an openness to possibilities in the present and an awareness of one's body and mind making decisions. Engagement with PISO proyecto involves consciousness, commitment, learning, listening and "... una calidad de atencion vibrante vigorosa generosa actualizada con curiosidad con vulnerabilidad con nuevos ojos" [".a vibrant, vigorous, generous attention with curiosity, vulnerability, with new eyes"] (Segarra, email message to author, 28 August 2015). Thousands have participated and engaged with PISO proyecto in Puerto Rico and New York, and around fifty individuals have collaborated closely with the project. Those who have developed the platform with the artist include Marielys Burgos-Melendez, Rebecca Lloyd-Jones, Alejandra Martorell, Felix Rodriguez-Rosa and Andrea Bauza. Part of Segarra's plan for PISO proyecto is that it will extend support and resources to these collaborators so they can develop their projects over time. Segarra builds her community and measures meaningful growth one person at a time, all the while feeling a tension because she wants to share PISO proyecto physically with a great number of people (Segarra 2015c).

Rodriguez-Rosa, an artist, photographer, and walker who also likes to inhabit abandoned ruins, became Segarra's PISO proyecto partner for a little over two years beginning in March 2012. For him, the project "... es observar(se), re abordar(se), re descubrir(se) para deshacer(se) y rehacer(se): una lectura corporea" [".is to observe oneself, re address oneself, re discover oneself in order to undo and redo oneself: a corporeal discourse"] (Rodriguez-Rosa 2012). The documentation and archiving of the platform on the the internet was marked by the talents of Rodriguez-Rosa. He and Segarra wanted different kinds of information to be communicated by "... las distintas capas de observacion: la experiencia fisica vs. la documentacion fotografica vs. la documentacion en video vs. el live-streaming" ["... the different levels of observation: the physical experience vs. a photograph vs. video vs. livestreaming"] (Rodriguez-Rosa 2012). Rather than fixating on what she was doing, Segarra wanted the viewer to ask how would I feel in that space, and how would I reclaim it? (Segarra in discussion with the author, 3 March 2015).

Towards the end of her fellowship at Beta-Local, Segarra, RodriguezRosa and Marili Pizarro took PISO proyecto to the streets of San Juan as plancha, an eight-foot-by-four-foot sheet of plywood. They moved on top of the floor in places that receive heavy foot traffic like a bus stop, a commercial stand, in front of a public school, or near outside diners at a restaurant on the market plaza in Santurce. As Rodriguez-Rosa reflected, they created contrasts, juxtapositions or contrapositions, as they exposed themselves ".en contextos distintos, a menudo fuera de contexto" [".in different contexts, often out of context"] (Rodriguez-Rosa 2012). Like Guy Debord, co-founder of the Situationist International, Segarra wants to critique the capitalist "spectacle" in Puerto Rico where social relations are largely mediated by images and the consumption of commodities. Debord's statement in his "Report on the Construction of Situations," 1957, "What alters the way we see the streets is more important than what alters the way we see painting," particularly resonates with en transito and plancha (Bishop 2006: 100). Segarra is not concerned with representations of life, but life itself, the three-dimensional (Segarra in discussion with the author, 3 March 2015).

Claire Bishop outlined two approaches to participatory art in her introduction to Participation, "... an authored tradition that seeks to provoke participants, and a de-authored lineage that aims to embrace collective creativity; one is disruptive and interventionist, the other constructive and ameliorative. In both instances, the issue of participation becomes increasingly inextricable from the question of political commitment" (Bishop 2006: 11). PISO proyecto embraced both approaches. It began as a practice in Segarra's home, and then she questioned it in a semi-public enclosed space (Beta-Local). Next, she exposed PISO proyecto to unbounded exchanges in the urban out-of-doors, and then it took a turn towards community activism. With each move, Segarra increasingly exercised her "right to the city," and she exposed the platform, a conduit for social change, to a more ambitious context. By making the artist and the public equal partners, PISO proyecto counteracted Puerto Rico's robust consumer society that privileges individuality and exclusion (for example, the island's first luxury mall began construction in 2012), and the buzz of cultural entrepreneurship. For Segarra, the body is the first site of activism, resistance and protest, "... un acto generoso, valiente, creativo, provocativo de subvertir ordenes y prioridades" ["... a generous, courageous, creative, provocative act to subvert orders and priorities"] (Segarra 2015c). The platform's political commitment served as a catalyst for collective acts of relation, healing, urban kindness and city planning.

In 2012, while walking her dog, Segarra entered an "abandoned" property popularly referred to as "El Pedregal," a four-acre lot full of rubble. Located in Santurce, between the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico and Ciudadela, a recent high-end apartment development, "El Pedregal" was once the site of the Barrio San Mateo de Cangrejos community until 2005, when the central government used their power of eminent domain and performed a taking for economic development. This action resulted in the displacement of approximately 438 persons and the destruction of their homes. Segarra noticed that the property was an awkward convergence of a makeshift parking lot, debris, and lush nature. She came across a decaying, free-standing, two-story wall and, next to it, the only residence left standing which is occupied by the Lasanta family. The three women living in the house were stubbornly existing in a "no man's land." (Ironically, in 2015, a judge used this term in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston to describe Puerto Rico's legal status because the United States Congress had excluded the commonwealth from Chapter 9 and not given it the authority to enact its own bankruptcy law.) Facing the acute nature of Puerto Rico's reality, Segarra imagined this property as a multi-use space where the public could converge to plant and harvest, to care for and learn from nature, and to respect one's neighbors (Segarra, email message to author, 7 March 2015).

On January 31, 2013, Segarra decided to carry out PISO proyecto at "El Pedregal," and her decision ignited a series of interdisciplinary collaborations and community events for two years. PISO proyecto asked, "How can we in the now, aware of our immediate past and considering parts and aspects of the history of Puerto Rico--often forgotten or invisible--shape the future of our environment and ourselves in a fair and equitable manner?" (Segarra in discussion with the author, 3 March 2015). At the beginning, Segarra and others listened to "El Pedregal" and waited. They cleared a site next to the free-standing wall and uncovered a tile floor which became the base for a new platform. Segarra worked with professors Andrea Bauza and Yazmin Crespo and their second-year students at the University of Puerto Rico's School of Architecture to design and build PISO movil [mobile] for "El Pedregal" using the wood from the floor at Beta-Local. The platform was made of differently sized sections that fit together like a puzzle, and it measured twenty-feet long by nine-feet-and-four-inches wide. The students painted black lines on each section and together they suggest a rhizome or a network of convergences. For Glissant, rhizomatic thought is the principle behind his Poetics of Relation, "... in which each and every identity is extended through a relationship with the Other" (Glissant 1997: 11).

Segarra sowed the seeds for communication, understanding, and collective creativity through various activities at "El Pedregal" like a picnic, The Market That We Want, where just and equal trade took place with and without currency, creative workshops, a Monarch butterfly habitat made by high school students in the neighborhood, and plantings of vegetation. Eventually, "El Pedregal" was fenced off and there were rumors that central government was considering making it a permanent parking lot. Segarra and community leaders initiated a cooperative relationship between the neighborhood, central government, the private sector and design professionals because they believed that a broad collaboration and co-creative work would lead to a better outcome for the life of "El Pedregal" and its neighbors.

In 2014, Segarra and Dr. Ariel Lugo, a scientist, ecologist and director of the International Institute of Tropical Forestry based in San Juan, who was inspired by the educational potential of "El Pedregal's" urban forest, organized the Citizen Coalition for Santurce (CCS). Community leaders, neighbors, and representatives from institutions, organizations, businesses, and public schools met at the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Puerto Rico (MAC) in Santurce and Museum Director Marianne Ramirez Aponte designed the coalition's logo. The goals of the CCS were to raise public awareness about the site, to dedicate the land to public use, to create an interactive green space, and to celebrate the history of the place, maintaining the existing floors of the demolished homes, and respecting the environment of the Lasanta family (Coalicion Ciudadana por Santurce 2014). If the CCS could accomplish this, it would set a new standard of corporate social responsibility for urban design in Puerto Rico.

The CCS organized several events, including a community driven urban design festival, to receive the public's input on what they would like to see at the property. Architecture students conducted one-on-one interviews with stakeholders in the community. The press, public talks and walks, and PISO proyecto en El Pedregal 2013-2014, an exhibition at MAC organized by Ramirez Aponte and Segarra, articulated the synergy between PISO proyecto, "El Pedregal," the CCS, Santurce, and greater San Juan. As Dr. Lugo reflected, "Initially, I saw PISO proyecto as an artistic expression of Noemi and her students, but gradually I realized that it serves us as a model for projecting a new relation between the residents of Santurce and the city. "El Pedregal" became Santurce's geographic platform from which we could project a new vision of the city. There, everyone can interact ... to conceptualize our spatial and ecological geography in a novel and valuable way for a quality of life for all" (Lugo, email message to author, 8 March 2015).

Towards the end of 2014, representatives of central government listened to the CCS as they presented their broad-based community driven proposal for the site, and it became clear to Segarra that no change would occur at "El Pedregal" for some time. As Grant Kester points out in his article "On the Relationship between Theory and Practice in Socially Engaged Art," "... durational art practices, and forms of activism, always move through both provisional consensus or solidarity-formation and conflict and disruption" (Kester 2015). Segarra persisted in asking, how could PISO proyecto continue to address insensitivities and power struggles, transform neglected spaces inside and out, and integrate people into a larger community, a bigger conversation? She realized she no longer needed the island of PISO movil or plancha to hold space and contain the spectator's attention. What had been her mainstay in the in-between and the back and forth had sunk into her body. She would dance with life with the floor inside of her (Segarra in discussion with the author, 17 February 2015). She can be at home wherever she is. A novice can practice PISO proyecto without PISO movil or plancha by walking with another person, selecting a site, choosing when to begin, selecting and forming one's experience in real time, deciding when it's over, and exchanging perceptions with the observer (Segarra in discussion with the author, 22 September 2015).

Segarra's desire to create an unfolding space, where people can choose freely and speak for themselves, led her to conceptualize a future project for PISO proyecto, an oral history and documentary film shaped by the Lasanta family in collaboration with Segarra, a lawyer, a filmmaker, and an investigative reporter. What started as three women writing through their bodies on a wooden platform in Segarra's home, was now a similar act of listening, witnessing and publicly sharing the lives of three women in another house nearby. "The circle opens up once more, at the same time that it builds in volume" (Glissant 1997: 203).

At three critical moments in PISO proyecto, Segarra shared her practice with the public in New York City, mainly in the Bronx, and these experiences shaped the platform upon her return to San Juan. Many of her fellowships in New York City stemmed from her deep relationship with Pepatian, a South Bronx-based organization dedicated to creating, producing and supporting contemporary multidisciplinary art by Latino and Bronx-based artists. Founded by Patti Bradshaw, Pepon Osorio and Merian Soto, Pepatian's artistic and general director was Jane Gabriels. Segarra's experiences, questions, and reflections generated by these San Juan-New York City exchanges produced conversations (some recorded on the internet) and propelled expansions in her work.

In 2011, Segarra received a grant to participate in the Young Roots Performance Series at Hostos Center for the Arts and Culture. She collaborated with New York percussionist Henry Cole, and Hostos Community College and Jane Gabriels co-produced her structured dance improvisation, de rumbo de rumba. The title, and the way it sounds when spoken, were a play on the ideas of demolishing (derrumbar) and heading to a party with music. The piece explored collapse and breakdown and anticipated something new coming to life. It also investigated ".. .being ok with the 'in between' of a transition, of not knowing, of learning not to expect anything, but instead being.. .alert and open at all times." (Frederick and Segarra 2011). Segarra described her working/collaborative relationship with Cole as situations that make her think of life. "We will get to know each other and discover and get to know all over again and start to take layers of conventions, fears, judgments, insecurities, expectations off till we get to some understanding and encounter, agreement of some sort" (Frederick and Segarra 2011). This approach to relation permeated Segarra's move back to San Juan, PISO proyecto and the CCS. De rumbo de rumba was the last time she performed for an audience. From making a work about change, she went on to build a platform that was change.

For Segarra, "Young Roots" asked, "What are 'the roots'? .How do we create a R-evolution? Roots, ancestors, past, present, future all move through me and every one of us" (Segarra, Rivera, and Dos Santos 2011a). How can understanding be unfixed, deterritorialized, and yet grounded? How can we be at home without being held by a place? Segarra's performance in the Bronx made her more aware of and engaged with where she was coming from. "It struck me that identifying as part of ... a diaspora that ... has been part of the New York City experience makes where you are from move into a sense of connection, community and an ongoing conversation in multiple languages that opens and creates a space for the crossing, bending, stretching, reconsidering of boundaries, fusion and creative con/fusion" (Segarra, Rivera, and Dos Santos 2011b). Similarly, for Glissant, "... identity is no longer completely within the root but also in Relation" (Glissant 1997: 18). After this experience, Segarra sought opportunities to take PISO proyecto to New York City so that the Puerto Rican diaspora could pose questions to the project. Although she preferred to develop PISO proyecto in San Juan, where she could study how the practice unfolded over time, she knew that part of trusting the project's process was to allow it to exist in different contexts whether it was in New York City or in El Yunque, a national forest reserve in Puerto Rico (Segarra in discussion with the author, 3 March 2015).

Inspired by PISO proyecto, Jane Gabriels organized Urban Conversations: City as Choreographer at Danspace Project in the East Village in May 2012. She invited Segarra and her practice to New York City to be part of a one day performance and post-performance discussion. As curator of this event, Gabriels wanted to explore the platform's potential in New York City (Gabriels 2012). Segarra traveled with Marili Pizarro, Felix Rodriguez-Rosa and plancha and they moved upon it at such diverse public sites as the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, St. Patrick's Cathedral and Times Square. Segarra learned that PISO proyecto was more effective when there was no expectation of spectacle and when its context was conducive to social relation (Segarra in discussion with the author, 3 March 2015). Gabriels posed two questions to Segarra, "How do we continue to create a conversation with the city where we live?" and "What are the possible roles that artists who work with movement improvisation can play in urban design?" (Gabriels 2012). In addition to her on-going project en transito and the Sidewalk Improvisation Marathon in Santurce, Segarra responded to these two questions by focusing PISO proyecto on a better future for "El Pedregal." Then, in 2014, she developed a course called Cuerpo y Ciudad [Body and City] which she taught for a semester at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras. The interventions of Segarra and her students in Rio Piedras explored the possibilities of the body in urban space and how it could motivate others to engage with their community.


In the summer of 2013, Segarra participated in Interventions and Conversations at Longwood Art Gallery at Hostos Community College to close the two-year "Young Roots" program. Supported by a grant from the Franklin Furnace Fund, she designed a new experience with PISO proyecto in the Bronx, and Felix Rodriguez-Rosa and Rebecca Lloyd-Jones collaborated with the project. Segarra and her participants used a two-foot by two-foot piece of plywood (pisito) as a kind of table that rested on the knees of two people seated facing one another. They had conversations with Bronx residents in public spaces that often started with "What is it?" (PISO proyecto) and took off from there. Segarra also had one-on-one conversations with such respected figures in the field of arts and culture as artists Pepon Osorio, Dean Moss, and Soldanela Rivera, the director of Hostos Center for the Arts and Culture, Wallace Edgecombe, performance artist and founding director of Franklin Furnace, Martha Wilson, and Jane Gabriels, among other colleagues. She spoke with them about PISO proyecto's involvement with "El Pedregal," and there was a screening of community activist Mary Anne Hopgood's documentary on the destruction of the San Mateo de Cangrejos neighborhood. Pepon Osorio's questions to Segarra particularly resonated with her, "What do you need to get from this experience? What does the site need? What does the community surrounding the site need? What does the Lasanta family need?" (Segarra in discussion with the author, 3 March 2015). For Segarra, the Lasanta family became a site where collective expression could find articulation through a documentary project.

In The Diaspora Strikes Back, author Juan Flores focused on "cultural remittances" by the "counterstream," "... the ensemble of ideas, values, and expressive forms introduced into societies of origin by remigrants ... as they return 'home'.and as transmitted through the increasingly pervasive means of telecommunications" (Flores 2009: 4). When discussing "art remittances" in the last chapter, "Coda: Visual Crossings," Flores mentioned artistic interactions, rather than specific diaspora-Island influences, because "[t]he lines simply seem to go in too many directions to allow for any easy generalizations" (Flores 2009: 203). Whereas the Puerto Ricans that Flores interviewed in The Diaspora Strikes Back had moved back to the island to retire, Segarra, like many of her colleagues, are the diaspora eternally en transito, in constant escape of impasses. Under these conditions, "art remittances" to Puerto Rico are intermittent, and this effects the production, documentation, and discourse of cultural history on the island. By recording on the internet everything that effects PISO proyecto, Segarra builds a collective memory.

Like a body in transit, Segarra resists fixed definitions or labels (Segarra in discussion with the author 4 August 2015). PISO proyecto is committed to continuous transformation as it unfolds in the present. She identifies herself as a movement artist who makes socially engaged art and Pablo Helguera's book Education for Socially Engaged Art has formed her thinking about this term. Helguera states that socially engaged art ".functions by attaching itself to subjects and problems that normally belong to other disciplines, moving them temporarily into a space of ambiguity" (Helguera 2011: 5). This is where Segarra likes to be, dwelling in an unresolved state, much like Puerto Rico.

According to Helguera, socially engaged art operates also ".in the context of our cultural history (and/or art history) and [enters] into a larger artistic debate" (Helguera 2011: 36). Art museums, cultural institutions, alternative art spaces, and art and architecture magazines in Puerto Rico have embraced Segarra's work. The island's chapter of the International Association of Art Critics awarded PISO proyecto and Segarra "Best Public Art" in 2014, but the platform is meaningful also in the absence of a contemporary art context judging from its presence in neighborhood online magazines and affordable housing and community development blogs, for example. However, Segarra's practice has not been examined within the discourse of socially engaged art on or off the island. In general, this field is not widely discussed, understood, valued or considered a full-time option among artists in Puerto Rico.

Few artists in Puerto Rico define what they do as "socially engaged art," where "... the act of production ... and reception are coincident" (Kester 2015). Many apply artistic methods in collaboration with community members to address an issue of importance, but it is not their sole practice. It is difficult to maintain over time a paradoxical position of being both a part of "... new, counter-normative insights into the constitution of power and subjectivity" and apart from determining what forms these insights take (Kester 2015). Artists who have created a significant space for the possibility of individual and collective agency within the context of a stalled situation in Puerto Rico are Nequi Gonzalez and Colectivo Soplo, Edgardo Larregui Rodriguez, Papel Machete, Jesus (BuBu) Negron, Omar Obdulio Pena Forty, Chemi Rosado-Seijo, Rosina Santana, and Jose Luis Vargas, among others. Because Segarra approaches socially engaged art from corporeal improvisation and somatic practices, one of the cultural remittances she brings to Puerto Rico is a broadening of the questions and possibilities around this praxis. For Segarra, socially engaged art begins with an individual and collective interrogation of how we inhabit our bodies which are mediators of life itself (Segarra 2015c).

Another cultural remittance of PISO proyecto is its impact on a younger generation of movement artists who are making their own mark or trace in terrains of disturbance "en transito," on and off the island. They are creating new memories of their derelict surroundings and constructing new spaces with their actions. Segarra recently wrote about how Felix Rodriguez-Rosa, Nicole Soto, Edwin Muniz and Marielys Burgos-Melendez

"... toman espacios y ponen su cuerpo en la raya. Quizas nadie se entera. No importa. Es un ejercicio intimo de encarar el contexto y los tiempos en los que vi-vimos: re escribiendo la vivencia personal de la mano de la colectiva donde sea que estemos, incluyendo la diaspora." ["... take spaces and put their body on the line. Perhaps nobody knows this. It doesn't matter. It is an intimate exercise to address the context and the times we are seeing and living: re writing the personal experience of the collective labor wherever we are, including the diaspora."] (Segarra 2015c)

I introduce this essay with a quote by Glissant that captures the essence of PISO proyecto, and what made it unusual and rather unique for Puerto Rico. Segarra created open boats that we all can claim, and we sail them in uncharted territory for everyone. Anyone can be a captain and determine their interdisciplinary, interconnected, and interdependent routes. The actions of a younger generation of movement artists involved with PISO proyecto have inspired Segarra to continuously advocate for society to value and financially support an ever deeper understanding of our bodies in public space. The transformative power of this self-knowledge can effect health, education, transportation, social spaces, political activism, land conservation, local agriculture, environmental quality and recycling, to name a few areas.

PISO proyecto challenged museums, cultural institutions and curators to exhibit socially engaged art that advocates for radical liberation and reinvented freedom. From 2014 to 2015, PISO proyecto participated in five exhibitions at four institutions in Puerto Rico--Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Puerto Rico (MAC), Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquena, Museo de Historia, Antropologia, y Arte at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras campus, and Area, an alternative art space in Caguas. Like all ephemeral art practices, it was hard to translate PISO proyecto into an exhibition. Segarra felt they were flat when the artist was not present, but she committed herself to working with institutions. Museums and alternative spaces offered the platform new audiences, an expanded network, and an infrastructure that enabled Segarra and the institution to take small risks and push the project in different directions.

Segarra focussed her energies on how exhibitions of PISO proyecto gave form to the platform and circulated ideas around it, rather than the esthetics of the production and presentation of the project. Exhibitions of PISO proyecto included PISO movil, videos of Segarra and collaborators in different contexts, documentation of the platform, objects and a timeline of the project at "El Pedregal" and the CCS, and four-by-six-inch digital prints of en transito and PISO proyecto. Segarra organized conversations, movement inside and outside the exhibition space, and interdisciplinary public programming. When museums asked her to perform as part of the exhibition programming, she offered to lead public conversations about urgent discourses of the everyday. PISO proyecto, with its floor made of many parts, insisted that a commitment to transformation and change be shared by large institutions as well as individual participants.

As a curator in Puerto Rico, I met Segarra in 2014, when I was questioning my professional role and principles. I noticed that PISO proyecto embodied the majority of the constituents of contemporary curatorial thought that Terry Smith articulated in Thinking Contemporary Curating and it summoned me to do the same in my projects. Segarra and the platform, "Exhibit art's work. Renounce reticence ... Build research capacity ... Archive the achievements ... Activate infrastructure. Embrace spectatorship" (Smith 2012: 256). PISO proyecto, like many contemporary curating initiatives, is committed to experimentation, inquiry, knowledge production and dissemination, and outside-the-art-world participatory activism (Smith 2012: 178). In addition, Segarra's socially engaged art challenged institutions in Puerto Rico to develop other necessary elements of contemporary curatorial thought that Smith advocated for like "Articulate curatorial thinking.. .Reinvent exhibition formats. Proliferate alternative exhibitionary venues" (Smith 2012: 256).


In 2014, Segarra participated in a two-month workshop at MAC with PISO movil, and she invited fellow movement artist Alejandra Martorell to participate with her MAPA project. While Segarra documents her practice digitally and builds her archive on the internet, Martorell traces the history of the development of dance in Puerto Rico, above all, experimental dance, through personal memory expressed orally and artistically. Like Segarra, Martorell had recently moved back to Puerto Rico, and every day during Taller Vivo: PISO proyecto y MAPA, they asked questions like what do we want our practice to be and how can it take shape in a museum? Segarra and Martorell created utopias, moving, relating with others, teaching, collaborating with peers, and documenting their experiences. They also asked, how can we sustain these utopias?

For the last four years, Segarra has asked, "?[Q]ue necesitamos para poder seguir? ?Como se crean practicas sustentables a largo plazo en las actuales condiciones de Puerto Rico para la cultura y las artes --para la vida misma?" ["What do we need in order to be able to continue? How can we create long-term sustainable practices in Puerto Rico's current conditions for the arts and culture--for life itself?"] (Segarra 2015b). Because PISO proyecto does not generate objects or events for sale, Segarra writes grants, and she negotiates with herself how far she will go to make the project grant-friendly. Will the platform be a series of insertions in everyday life and the larger circuits of dialogue, whose impact remains elusive? How will she define a platform that is unfurling in the unknown? Should the project attain a certain level of engagement with the public? Does PISO proyecto become a nonprofit organization that partners with other institutions and has metrics to indicate success? What skill sets and survival strategies will she need to sustain the platform in the complex circumstances of a colonized territory in crisis? What is the right balance of openness and direction for the project? (Segarra in discussion with the author, 3 March 2015).

PISO proyecto has operated against Puerto Rico's political and economic infrastructure through the exchange of goods and the sheer will of artists to resolve and make possible nearly anything. As Marielys Burgos-Melendez points out in her thesis, "Movements beyond Spontaneity: Dance Improvisation in the Colonial Context," "Segarra uses alternative economic systems and networks that do not respond to capitalist agendas for she understands that most independent artists do not necessarily have direct access to 'money' as a good. She claims that artists have the capacity to mobilize other resources like transportation, services, trade of skills ..." (Burgos-Melendez 2014: 29--30). After six years of supporting PISO proyecto with relations and non-monetary exchanges, Segarra has decided to maintain the next phase of the platform through grants, knowing that it will take time to access this funding source.

Another cultural remittance of PISO proyecto is that it is an example of how to sustain a platform with subtle architecture. Segarra defines subtle architecture as a structure that is built over time within and with the body alone, and it expands outward as the body creates ephemeral constructions and situations in public spaces. The subtle architecture of her socially engaged art practice has included receptive and sensitive states, balancing reason and intuition, trust, interpersonal relations, exchanges of ideas, learning about oneself, listening, and being open and anchored to the present. Building blocks have been words, memories, documentation, archives and museum exhibitions (Segarra in discussion with the author, 3 March 2015). Carla Acevedo-Yates, Marina Moscoso, Marianne Ramirez Aponte, Julia Lugo and Gisela Rosario in Puerto Rico, and Jane Gabriels and Merian Soto in the United States, have played important roles in PISO proyecto's subtle architecture. Likewise, one sees and feels all the elements of Segarra's subtle architecture in her open, honest and generous public dialogues.

PISO proyecto is a platform that changed speed, direction, and mutually mutated without compromising its will, values and intentions. As Segarra's movement art colleague Alejandra Martorell stated:

PISO has functioned as a catalyst, as an example of innovation for cultural and artistic models ... In the current context of the country and art, I find that it subverts many paradigms with its mutant, alert and dynamic identity ... It is a practice that did not wait for accolades, nor did it accommodate itself to models, rather it named and articulated things while they developed. Through a consistency of work, as it names and articulates, it continues to take greater form. (Martorell, email message to author, 7 March 2015)

PISO proyecto is a rare example of an art platform in Puerto Rico that blurs the boundaries between disciplines and focuses on the social process of exchange rather than points at itself (Helguera 2011: 81). It offers new considerations about how knowledge of the body can contribute to one's practice. Martorell believes, "PISO has opened a space for the body and investigation from the body that is being recognized by other arts and other disciplines in a different way.... I feel it is a new model for a new generation. Something that was not there before" (Martorell, email message to author, 7 March 2015).


PISO proyecto keeps memory and history alive in Puerto Rico through re-activating and inhabiting the forgotten spaces of the body and the city, and instigating conversations to grow extended families and communities in San Juan and New York City. The four-year documentation of PISO proyecto, which includes diverse voices, is another way the platform is a portal to memory and history. It resists the collective amnesia and selective history that plagues Puerto Rico's colonial status (Burgos-Melendez 2014: 36). The project is also part of recent initiatives on the island to document individual and collective histories of improvisation and raise its visibility through social media. Movement artists in Puerto Rico were inspired by Segarra for her assiduousness. Awilda Rodriguez Lora commented, "She offers us rigor. Discipline. For me as a body artist I admire and am inspired by her arduous work" (Rodriguez Lora, email message to author, 11 March 2015). Segarra motivated people to work reflexively, to think with others to change, and to reconfigure and stretch the dialogue of their practice. For Marielys Burgos-Melendez, who participated in the initial practices of PISO in 2011, "[t]he experiences of Segarra...are vivid examples of responding, contesting and resisting colonialism ratifying [her] own moving [body] as private/public enactments of emancipation" (Burgos-Melendez 2014: 51).

Glissant ends Poetics of Relation with a complex vision of internal and external movement and transformation. "The man who walks (because that's who it is) ... once again he is making sense of the beach. His energy is boundless, his withdrawal absolute" (Glissant 1997: 208). He goes to acknowledge himself "... in the unclear and so particular effervescence, of another sort, one with no accumulation of forgetting, and unending because always changing" (Glissant 1997: 208). Glissant's point of departure with open boats, and his ultimate arrival on the beach with the man who walks, speaks to the cultural remittances of Segarra's platform in Puerto Rico. She is in transit, revisiting her urban surroundings, perceiving and conceiving her ecological vision of relation in an uncomfortable territory of neglect. She created PISO proyecto, a life project, "... in which the medium is the body/ the documentation is the archive of the process of living/life itself" (Segarra, email message to author, 23 September 2015). It is a bridge upon which we can build a new future with tools found together--trust, dialogue, investigation, mediation, compromise and transformation. PISO proyecto challenges the establishment by cultivating a self, dwelling in possibility and making decisions in an unpredictable world. It thwarts disremembering by amassing scattered histories and sharing them publicly as concrete presences in the world. Its flexible, permeable structure allows it to continually evolve on the island and in the diaspora. PISO proyecto is an example of Glissant's preferred concept of understanding--"... giving-on-and-with [donner-avec] that opens finally on totality" (Glissant 1997: 192). In this gesture there is movement, relation, generosity, and inclusion. PISO proyecto is making possible in Puerto Rico places and networks of confluence and participation with undefinable limits.


I would like to thank Xavier F. Totti, Laura Bravo Lopez, Carlos Garrido Castellano, and the peer-reviewers of this article; Marielys Burgos-Melendez for sharing her Master of Arts thesis with me; Awilda Rodriguez Lora, Dr. Ariel E. Lugo, and Alejandra Martorell for their insight and perspectives on PISO proyecto; and Noemi Segarra, for her extremely generous collaboration, challenging ideas, inspiring actions and courageous art.


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The author ( is based in Ponce, Puerto Rico, and investigates contemporary art in the Caribbean. Working independently with artists and experiences at Scripps College, New York University, University of Texas at Austin, Museum of Contemporary Hispanic Art, Dallas Museum of Art, Miami Art Museum, and Museo de Arte de Ponce, have shaped her thinking.
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Author:Hartup, Cheryl D.
Publication:CENTRO: Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies
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Date:Mar 22, 2016
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