Thousands attended Sunday afternoon’s 35th Feria del Barrio celebration, where a 60-year-old Puerto Rican band performed traditional bomba, making people dance — and homesick — at Fifth Street and Lehigh Avenue.
It was the first time that Folklore Ballet Hermanos Ayala, from the northeastern coastal town of Loíza, performed in Philadelphia, offering storytelling-songs about the relationship between Puerto Ricans, nature and other Caribbean islands at the festival celebrating the island’s culture and history.
For Lili Cruz, 53, it was a dream turned reality. She hadn’t seen bomba since she and her husband, Iván Marrero, 66, left the island more than 40 years ago. They were so emotional watching the band that they were both clapping and crying.
“This music, the dresses, the movements bring me so many beautiful memories of my beloved Puerto Rico,” said Cruz, who traveled from Bethlehem to see the performance.
Ramón José Trinidad, 62, came from Blackwood, N.J., to watch Hermanos Ayala. He said that giving visibility to bomba, steeped in black Latino heritage, is much needed within communities of the diaspora.
“It’s very important to remind our people that they should also be very proud of these roots and this culture of ours.”
Manuela Saam, 49, has been coming for eight years to the Feria del Barrio to dance salsa, merengue and bomba with three other friends: Nancy Herrera, 48; Donna Chestnut, 62; and July Muchacho, 49. She said she loves the way the group acts out the songs’ narratives as part of the performance.