The first Spring Equinox celebration was held at Yolanda Garcia Park in Melrose on Saturday, hosted by Nos Quedamos (We Stay), with the aim of drawing the community together to heal and putting the pandemic behind.
On the Spring Equinox, the length of day and night are roughly equal, and daylight hours grow until the summer solstice in June. The crowd of youngsters and adults drawn to the event were more than ready for brighter days ahead.
“Especially after COVID, our community needs to get out more,” said Edwin Pagán, director of communications and media for Nos Quedamos. Sunshine and breeze helped enhance the day’s healing vibe.
Event performers noted that the South Bronx is still rebounding from the pain of pandemic losses. A study by the State Comptroller’s office found that although The Bronx did not have the highest rate of COVID-19 cases compared to other boroughs, it had the highest rates of hospitalization and death.
A last-minute grant from the NYC Green Relief and Recovery Fund made the event possible, according to Pagán. It served the purpose of “activating” Yolanda Garcia Park for the season while also providing opportunities for individual and community holistic healing.
The park, located at Melrose Avenue between East 159th and 160th Streets, opened in 2019 and was named for the founder of Nos Quedamos.
Participants saw a variety of creative performances:
- Jose Ortiz, aka “Dr. Drum,” set up a semicircle of five bomba drummers seated at the end of rainbow-colored tunnels, with small domed tents at the other end. Participants laid on the ground with their legs through the tunnel (feet pointing towards the drum) and head under the dome, feeling the steady rhythmic vibrations. Ortiz explained that their chosen rhythm is akin to the human heartbeat and provides a “real connection to our ancestors.” He added, “It’s not English, it’s not Spanish, it’s what’s inside of you.”
- Poet and educator Maria Aponte spoke extemporaneously about COVID loss, the importance of family tradition, and concern about climate change. She then read poems from her book “Transitions of a Nuyorican Cinderella” and from her forthcoming collection. Aponte advised the audience, “Never forget your pain, because that’s what’s gonna heal you.”
- Aponte’s husband, Bobby Gonzalez, a Native American (Taino) and Puerto Rican storyteller, entertained a group of children with stories using stuffed frog, manatee, bat, and turtle hand puppets. Gonzalez grew up in the Melrose Houses and has family roots in the neighborhood dating back to 1952.
- Children’s author Karla Mayenbeer Cruz Cuberos read her book, “The Adventures of Pepita Morales at City Hall.” The story is about a community that comes together, young and old alike, to save a public garden from being sold to “Mr. Big Box.” Children in the audience joined Cruz Cuberos in a chant of “People power!”
- Representatives of Nos Quedamos Environmental Justice Youth Team discussed their current work, including activation of a rooftop garden built with community input at a nearby building.
- Zayda Rivera soothed members of the audience with the energy healing practice of Reiki, accompanied by calming music and the scent of burning herbs.
Event organizers said they plan to make the Spring Equinox celebration an annual occurrence. You can follow Nos Quedamos on Instagram @nosquedamos.