Community group still cares for the kids, eighty years after opening
Simpson Street was alive with the sounds of celebration last Saturday afternoon as hundreds came out for Casita Maria’s 80th anniversary.
The community group and partner arts organization Dancing in the Streets threw a day-long block party, the latest in its series of South Bronx Culture Trail events, to commemorate eight decades of service to Hunts Point and Longwood. The non-profit has held after-school classes and programs in music, the arts and dance for young people of the South Bronx since it opened in 1934, and has produced a long line of internationally renowned artists and musicians.
The event kicked off with Hip Hop performances, cultural dances and live music, spoken word presentations, circus performance by performers from The Point CDC, raffles and face painting. Later in the day, the center unveiled a new mural created by Casita students, featuring the names of distinguished alumni such as Latin jazz great Tito Puente, poet Americo Casiano, percussionist Benny Bonilla, artist BG183 of Tats Cru, and photographers Joe Conzo, Jr., David Gonzalez, Edwin Pagan, Francisco Molina Reyes II and Ricky Flores of the South Bronx photographers collective, Seis del Sur.
Flores was recognized as one of many notable alum who made names for themselves after growing up “Casita kids.”
“To come back and to be recognized for the work you do,” Flores said. “It’s a humbling thing.”
Willie Estrada, 56, a professional dancer and pioneer in the Spanish Hustle dance movement said, “This is a wonderful celebration of Latino culture from different parts of the world” motioning toward the members of the Puerto Rican dance company Bombazo, who had dazzled the audience.
“I come and perform every year,” continued Estrada, who credited his introduction to dance while at Casita with his transformation from gangbanger to artist.
City Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo pledged a $20,000 grant for after-school youth programs to Casita, along with $170,000 for the Bronx Studio School for Writers and Artists, which is housed in Casita’s building. The money will be used to upgrade the multipurpose auditorium on the ground floor of the six-story Simpson Street building, Casita officials say.
Local resident Maryann Montalvo, 51, said the event “brought the community together.”
“We need more celebrations of the arts in the South Bronx. I want to see more of this,” exclaimed Rita Ortega, 22, while swaying to the Caribbean rhythms.