Lydia Perez is the founder and CEO of the Puerto Rican Institute for Arts and Advocacy, Inc., a non-profit organization in the state of Rhode Island that advocates for and enriches the lives of Latino artists and the Latino community. She is also the director of a nationally renowned traditional Puerto Rican music and dance troupe called Yoruba 2.
We asked her a few questions about her life and art-making in Rhode Island for our series, Rhode Island Cultural Anchors.
RISCA: Why do you make Rhode Island your home, and how did you end up here?
LP: My husband and I were born and raised on the island of Puerto Rico, knee deep in its traditions and culture. After the birth of my first daughter, we moved to New England. After a few years off the island, I began to get homesick. One day at a friend’s child’s birthday party, I sang them Happy Birthday on a Pandereta de Plena (a traditional hand-held drum) and was delighted to see their eyes lit up with wonder. “OH! THAT’S SO COOL! WHAT IS THAT??” they asked. I knew then that I needed to bring the traditions and culture of my island to the American-bound Puerto Ricans and other communities interested in our culture. My family and I now live in Warwick, but we take our work with us on the road. We work with schools, workshops, community events, and festivals in Providence, Boston, Hartford, Springfield, New York, and as far north as Portland, Maine, and as far south as Tampa, Florida.
RISCA: What are you the most excited about right now in your art practice and work as an arts and culture administrator?
LP: I always find it exciting when people have heard about us and what we do and invite us to share our culture with them. We like to travel!
RISCA: Why do you do what you do? What inspires you, drives you, to create or enable the creation of art?
LP: That’s easy: I LOVE MY CULTURE! I love that I get to spread what makes me happy with others: I love that I can make masks and wooden figurines, and dance choreography for a living. My love of music and dance, in turn, inspires others to do the same. It’s like a fire that spreads. As a teaching artist I love to teach children and students about our traditional instruments and ancestral heritage.