Todes Vejigante
El Ancón de Loíza & Proyecto Tódes  


In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, one of the oldest towns in the Caribbean risked losing its ancestral heritage to gentrification and ongoing economic inequality. El Ancón de Loíza, Puerto Rico is a historic place where afro-descendants fight to preserve a traditional way of life and create a new vision for a community center providing sustainable job training for locals and cultural enrichment. El Ancon needed to tell the world its story of deeply rooted traditions and a new identity as advocates for dispossessed people in the community.

The Vejigante masks of Loiza have been a traditional symbol against oppression for generations. The hand carved and elaborately decorated coconut masks with accompanying costumes, dances, and festivals are a way of both obscuring identities and speaking truth to power through stories about race, colonization, and issues in society. The masks became the backbone of an integrated digital campaign that raised awareness and funds for project and brought people face to face with El Ancon. 

First - a documentary about the site's history and current status was released on social media, tapping influential networks of Puerto Rican artists and Latinx tastemakers across the country to help spread the word. 

Next - the masks were adopted by another group fighting for their voice - the LGBTQ community in Puerto Rico. Proyecto Todes was launched in Miami, Florida to shed light on their beauty yet ongoing struggles while establishing El Ancon as a place of support and resilience. 

Proyecto Todes was a portrait photography exhibition that provided a window into the community through 12 people of Afro-Caribbean descent representing a diversity of genders, ages and beliefs. The intensity of their facial expressions, amplified by traditional makeup, along with the machetes and other tools of manual labor in their hands symbolize their daily struggle. The photography was displayed on a mix of indigenous plants and material native to Loiza, as well as found objects and debris that were remnants of the lingering effects of Hurricane Maria.

The immersive event brought the sights and sounds of El Ancón to Wynwood - the arts epicenter of Miami - with video mapping installation, and live performances from traditional bomba drummers, singers, and dancers. Limited edition custom merchandise and message ambassadors helped raise funds through mobile payment tech and encouraged hundreds of attendees to spread the word on social media. 

El Ancón Documentary and Proyecto Todes served as powerful tools for setting a new foundation as a community center and voice of the people of Loiza. High profile artists and advocates like Spike Lee purchased original vejigante masks while institutional partners like the the Knight Foundation provided recurring grants and ongoing support. A second local charity El Estuario joined El Ancon building an onsite water purification system that will provide much needed infrastructure to the area.  

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