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Hostos Library | Archives

Information about the Hostos Archives including college history, finding aids, and visitor information.

πŸ“„ Collection Overview

The collection consists of original materials from the 1991 exhibit curated and produced by Betti-Sue Hertz and Bill Aguado, both former associates of the Bronx Council on the Arts (BCA). This exhibit was a collaboration honoring the little houses, better known as “Las Casitas” on the island of Puerto Rico. The exhibit was mounted at the Smithsonian Institution in February of 1991 by BCA as part of the Longwood Arts Project.  The casitas are reproductions of working class homes and remain a vital expression of Afro-Puerto Rican culture in the diaspora. 

The collection contains framed pictures (collage style), exhibition text panels, 3D triangular text panels as well as regular panels, Casitas film positives, roll (pictures by J.F. Morales), 3D artworks, 1 box of film reels and DVDs, a binder of Betti-Sue’s exhibit development documents, 3D art masks and 2 boxes of curatorial records from Betti-Sue Hertz.  Within the curatorial records from Betti-Sue, the material is organized by date (1985-1992), title of grant work, topic of contents and individual name. 

πŸ“„ Historical Note

Puerto Rican migrants came to NYC from Puerto Rico's countryside and bought with them aspects of “jíbaro” or peasant culture (Lemann, 1991) which are expressed within the Casitas. Casitas were based on Taíno, an indigenous people of the Caribbean, thatched huts called “bohío” (Sciorra, 1990). These one- or two- room houses with wooden porches, cross beams and wooden shutters laid in sharp contrast to the brick exteriors of tall buildings surrounding them and were meant to replicate the brightly colored ones of the rural Caribbean surrounded by small pastures with farm animals (Sciorra, 1990). They also defended neighborhoods by keeping out drug dealers and preventing other forms of illegal activities on the abandoned lots or served as shelter for homeless residents due to gentrification (Sciorra, 1991). Casitas also symbolize the strong connection Puerto Rican New Yorkers have to their island roots.

The idea for an exhibition about casitas was initiated by Bronx Council of the Arts program director Betti-Sue Hertz. Hertz led a team of sociologists, anthropologists, urban planners, folklorists, and artists who contributed essays that became part of the exhibition and supported museum programming through panels (W. Aguado, personal communication, October 21, 2015). Their resumes can be found inside the boxes of curatorial files. 

The exhibit exemplifies transformation of abandoned urban spaces into sites of cultural and historical memory.  Las casitas are the historical memory of the Caribbean and Puerto Rico in the Bronx.  The collection could be a useful resource for developing multi-cultural pedagogy. It is a chance for students to work collaboratively with archival material and create interpretive text. Additionally, this material could be useful for anyone creating a visitor’s guide of the neighborhood. The exhibition initially opened at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.  It was also exhibited at the Bronx Museum of the Arts (BxMA) and Syracuse University.  

After further research, the Smithsonian exhibit was developed by BCA’s Longwood Art Gallery, housed at Hostos, into “Las Casitas Revisited” to feature photographs by the renowned photographer Martha Cooper in 2010.  The collection includes photographs, found objects, video footage and musical instruments that reflect the history of one of the best known casitas, the beloved Casita de Chema (formerly called Rincon Criollo). This exemplary casita is an important catalyst and incubator of Puerto Rican culture in New York City.  The centerpiece of the Las Casitas Revisited installation by William Aguado is a reproduction of a portion of Casita de Chema designed and installed by José “Chema” Soto, the casita’s founder and Juan Fernando Morales, the exhibition’s designer.

Mr. Aguado supported the Las Casitas exhibit in his role as Executive Director of BCA from 1978 through June 2011.  He continued to support this collection, even after retiring from his role at BCA by arranging for the Hostos Archives to serve as the permanent repository for these materials beginning in 2015.  After his role at BCA, Mr. Aguado became a member of the Board of Commissioners for the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), for a term that expires in 2022.  Aguado is known for his affinity for and devotion to the arts.  As part of the arts movement in the Bronx in the 1980s, he helped to highlight local culture in the Bronx during a time when the image of the Bronx was not altogether positive.

Ms. Hertz served as the curator for the exhibit in her role as Director of Development and Programs for BCA.  Ms. Hertz’s background in Art and Education coordination, as well as Executive Director Experience at Bronx River Art Center and Gallery made her contribution to the project invaluable. Since then she has been an Art Curator at Museums and Art Centers in California.  Ms. Hertz, in her role as curator of the exhibit, created the opportunity for casitas to travel and become better known, and her curatorial records reveal thorough planning and dedicated labor on behalf of Las Casitas in the form of numerous grant applications including many outreach efforts.

This collection helps to document the history of Puerto Rican culture with art and artifacts. Though not all of the feedback from the exhibit was positive, casitas are truly dynamic social and cultural spaces. The photographs and pieces of the exhibit together can lend to understanding the setting of this time in history. The exhibit also serves as evidence of the casitas phenomenon as it developed in the South Bronx.  In this way, the migration of Puerto Ricans and how they contributed to their community in NYC can be seen.  The exhibit also highlights Puerto Rican culture and its contribution to NYC history that can be seen in many ways throughout the Bronx.

Throughout the collection, gentrification that occurred in the Bronx can also be seen and understood.  Las Casitas were built on top of empty plots that arose throughout the Bronx as a result of unscrupulous landlords, many of whom would burn down their properties that they deemed unviable, in order to receive insurance money.  Las Casitas were meant to be cultural centers where community members could share with each other their memories of various towns on Island of Puerto Rico and similarly, the Caribbean.  Las Casitas can be viewed as a historical contribution of Puerto Rican culture in the form of vernacular architecture that can be seen throughout the Bronx.  In addition to serving as an important incubator of Puerto Rican culture, casitas are one of the most successful examples of the City’s urban greening and continue to gain unparalleled notoriety among (musical) practitioners of Puerto Rican bomba and plena traditions.  Casita’s greatest contribution to the cultural life of New York City has been in its role as a center for new talent and cultural expressions.  A large theme that can be understood is that amidst extreme economic tension for many Bronx residents, Las Casitas helped Puerto Rican community members come together.

The Casita Project, initiated by the Bronx Council on the Arts in 1987, was one of the new initiatives that came out of the desire to seek out artistic and cultural activities in the grassroots communities of the Bronx. The first iteration of the Casitas exhibit opened at BCA’s Longwood Gallery.  On February 1, 1991 “Las Casitas: An Urban Cultural Alternative” was one of several exhibitions that inaugurated the opening of the Smithsonian Institution’s new Experimental Gallery which was created to give museum professionals a “laboratory” to explore exhibition development, context and design, and marketing and accessibility strategies.  Las Casitas was included in the Experimental Gallery exhibition series in History and Material Culture.  Another exhibit on display at the same time under this series included “Project Face to Face” targeted toward local teenagers and college students.  It was an exhibition of life masks of people from all walks of life who have been diagnosed as HIV positive.  Under exhibitions in the Physical and Natural Sciences was one from the “National Air and Space Museum: Principles of Flight.”  The Air and Space Museum developed its first hands-on interactive exhibit gallery to help children understand how planes fly. There was also a series of exhibits under the title “Exhibitions in the Arts.”  One on display during at the same time as Las Casitas was Phillip Mallory Jones’s, “Harmattan.”  This was a multi-channel/audio, optical disc and computer installation which used African diaspora traditions rhythms and symbols to compose narratives that were interpretable in various cultures and languages.  All of these took place in different areas of the Experimental Gallery, located in the Arts and Industries Building and closed on March 25, 1994 after presenting a total of 15 exhibitions.  Comments and reactions to Las Casitas can be found in the curatorial file labeled “Smithsonian Audience Comments.”

πŸ“„ Timeline

πŸ“ƒ Las Casitas Timeline
  • 1987 | Casitas initiated by BCA
  • 1991 | Longwood Art Gallery at Hostos
  • 1991 | 2 February 1991 – 30 June 1991, Experimental Gallery, Smithsonian Institution Washington D.C.
  • 1991 - 1992 | 22 October 1991 – 12 January 1992, Bronx Museum of the Arts
  • 1992 | 20 September 1992 - 18 October 1992,Chicago Museum of Science and Industry
  • 2010 | “Las Casitas Revisited” at Longwood Art Gallery at Hostos
  • 2011 | “Las Casitas Revisited” at Syracuse University's grand opening of new cultural center "La Casita"
πŸ“ƒ Historical Timeline
  • 1898 | The U.S. won control of Puerto Rico
  • 1920s - 1930s | Shanty dwellings in Puerto Rico were built on marginal, swampy lands 
  • 1928 | Hurricane Saint Phillip strikes and hundreds of Puerto Ricans were killed
  • 1929 | Wall Street stock market crash
  • 1931 | Hurricane Saint Nicholas strikes the island
  • 1932 | Hurricane San Ciprian strikes and hundreds of Puerto Ricans were killed
  • 1945 | Puerto Ricans began to emigrate to the U.S. looking for jobs and better economic situations
  • 1950s | Increase in airplane travel allowed many Puerto Ricans to migrate
  • 1960s | Civil rights movement
  • 1970s | Community in the South Bronx declines
  • Late 1970s | Casita Rincon Criollo was built

πŸ“„ Folder List

πŸ“ƒ Curatorial files from Betti-Sue Hertz in Box #1
  1. Readers Digest Lila Wallace community folk life program 1992
  2. O’Shaughnessy Corrine 148 FIC 17 1989-1991
  3. Puerto Rico Culture materials from PR 1990
  4. Possible Materials display 1990-1991
  5. Personal Histories Exhibition Proposal 11 December 1989
  6. Correspondence/Notes/Photos 1991
  7. Experimental gallery receptions March-April 1991 / Correspondence and notes 1991
  8. BCA "Casita culture" video agreement, slide narrative + correspondence 1991
  9. Martha Cooper 1990
  10. BXMA proposal – Casitas script draft 1991
  11. Susan Slyomovics 1990
  12. El Balcon Boricua – Bill Aguado 1990-1991
  13. Casitas photo placement – negatives 1989-1991
  14. Installation notes – Funding requests 1990-1991
  15. Ana Negron 1988-1989-1990
  16. Bronx Museum of Arts- Casitas public programming 1991-1992
  17. Smithsonian Museum-shop, Alexander’s 1990
  18. Experimental Gallery Orientation Meeting, Smithsonian Inst. 18 June 1990
  19. Experimental gallery correspondence 1990-1991
  20. Experimental gallery Exhibition agreement + other materials 1990
  21. Summary documentation for las casitas exhibition - experimental gallery 1991
  22. Experimental Gallery Exhibition brochure - duplicates 1991
  23. Casita project materials from August East Harlem community 1990
  24. Cecilia vicuna translator 1990
  25. Correspondence 5/91
  26. Correspondence venue options for las casitas 1990
  27. Smithsonian institution 1991
  28. Casitas key planning tests 1990
  29. Casita invite mailing lists
  30. Betti-Sue 1991
  31. Funding application list Andy Warhol foundation casitas
  32. Folk arts 90 1988-1989
  33. Smithsonian audience comments 1991
  34. Text panel layout 1990
  35. Typology, Historical Notes, Draft Description
  36. Video scripts Las Casitas Exhibition 1990
  37. Las Casitas proposal drafts, resumes, budgets, object summary 1990-1991
  38. Las Casitas Draft Brochure 1990
πŸ“ƒ Curatorial files from Betti-Sue Hertz in Box #2
  1. Slide narratives/Resumes 1985-1987
  2. Back office feasibility study 1991
  3. Benny Ayala 1990
  4. Dir. article 1990
  5. Las Casitas museum of science + industry - Chicago 1992
  6. Casita tape Latin American video archive 1990
  7. New York Council for the Humanities grant for las casitas 1991
  8. Las Casitas BXMA articles 1991
  9. Barker welfare foundation 1990
  10. TDR – The drama review-  article about Puerto Rican casitas 1991
  11. Folklife + field work introduction 1990
  12. Location of casitas
  13. Casitas publication 1988
  14. Holiday Inn Henley Park hotel 1991
  15. Irving McManus lists contracts
  16. New York State folk arts round table 1991
  17. New York State Council on the Arts folk arts 1991 supplementary request
  18. New York State Council on the Arts 1990 video documentary request
  19. Bronx Council on the Arts - Las Casitas documentary video
  20. Proposal materials 1988
  21. Traveling possibilities casita show 1991
  22. P.O.V programs 1991
  23. Public programming 1991
  24. Rockefeller Foundation 1990
  25. Casitas + folk Arts – New York State Council on the Arts request revisions 1990
  26. New York State Council on the Arts request 1991
  27. New York State Council on the Arts - supplemental application 1990
  28. National Endowment for the Arts application 1990-1991
  29. New York Council for the Humanities 1990
  30. Nina Montanez
  31. Norman Cruz
  32. New York State museum proposal, stuff, etc. 1990
  33. New York Council on the Humanities 1991
  34. Las Casitas Spanish narrative