Carnaval at Sisa Pakari

A. Goodman/D. Balfoort/S. Leermakers

Carnaval at Sisa Pakari, an Ecuadorian cultural center in the heart of Queens

For communities across Ecuador, the end of February is Carnaval, an indigenous celebration to give thanks to mother earth, and seek good luck for the harvest of the coming year. Families prepare offerings of traditional food to welcome the arrival of Taita Carnaval, a mythical figure who is said to emerge from the mountains during this time of year to bring abundance to the community.

Far from the mountains of the Ecuadorian Andes, families from the region gathered this past weekend to celebrate Carnaval at Sisa Pakari, an Ecuadorian cultural center in the heart of Queens, which is commonly referred to as “Ecuayork” for the fact that Ecuadorian immigrants comprise the largest Latino group in the borough.

Squeezed above the bodegas and taco trucks of Roosevelt Avenue, the hallways of the cultural center are filled with the sounds of the rumbling 7 train, the laughter of children, and a mixture English, Spanish and Kichwa, the language spoken by some indigenous of people of Ecuador.

For many youth in the neighborhood, the center is a second home where they come to learn dance and music lessons from their parents’ homeland. 

“These are children of the pachamama, of mother earth,” says director Fanny Guadalupe of Sisa Pakari’s youth, who presented traditional dances and musical performances to their families, some of whom are unable to return to Ecuador due to their immigration statuses. 

“Wherever we are on earth, we have to let the spirits of our ancestors grow and thrive. It is in our DNA, in our hearts, and in our consciousness. And, as my grandmother used to say, our culture and identity is never lost, it is in the shungu—the heart. And if we do not teach children about their ancestral identity from the heart it becomes empty—like a museum, with no life.” 

For more information on Sisa Pakari, and the classes offered there, visit their Facebook page or call (718) 803-7255.

A Portrait of New York  is an assignment for documentary film students at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism @CUNY and Dutch students visiting from Utrecht University of Applied Sciences, the Netherlands to produce a compelling, character based, visual vignette. The class is co-taught by Newmark-J Professors Bob Sacha, Yoruba Richen and Utrecht Professors Brian Maston and Arjan Kroon.

Ariel Goodman is a bilingual multimedia journalist and filmmaker creating community-based media in NYC. She is currently making a documentary about the journey of Sisa Pakari’s youth group to their parent’s homeland to perform for the first time. Dion Balfoort is a freelance video journalist from the Netherlands. Sammie Leermakers is a creative filmmaker from the Netherlands.

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