By Naeisha Rose
In the bustling neighborhood of Jamaica, Queens is a new cultural center, the Latin American Intercultural Alliance.
Its purpose is to showcase the works of Latin American and Iberian cultures through contemporary and classical works of art, while enriching the lives of senior citizens, children and the community at large.
Initially the organization was called the Latin American Immigrant Alliance in 2005, and it used to encompass central and northeast Queens and focused solely on immigration rights and women’s issues. Over the years LAIA evolved into something more starting in 2009.
“It became more involved in arts and culture, particularly in literature and poetry writing, and they decided to go more intercultural in the hopes of being more involved with the community on a wider variety of subjects,” said Ruben Cruz, treasurer of the alliance.
Today the organization has over 23 activities that are both Latin and non-Latin to address the needs and desires of the multicultural landscape of Jamaica.
LAIA offers theatre, live music, dancing, belly dancing, ballroom dancing, stand-up, photography, children’s theatre, senior citizen’s services, television, film, broadcasting, web design and many, many more classes, programs and workshops to entertain, educate and bring the community together.
“We’ve done four short films with the senior community and we’ve been in international film festivals. We have workshops on self-esteem, women’s rights, immigrant rights. Health workshops on self-exams. We have physicians come in to give advice,” said Cruz.
After leaving the Corona, Jackson Heights and Flushing areas, which were already oversaturated with Hispanic and Latin organizations, LAIA decided to not just relocate, but to find a permanent home where there was an Iberian enclave that was underserved.
“The main impetus for that was having a market supersaturated with Latino-based organizations providing similar services and we felt that we needed to reach out to communities that didn’t have the kind of services that we offered,” said Cruz. “We were a traveling organization that didn’t have a home and we wanted to branch out as visionaries for a place with further need and we found it in Jamaica were there is a significant Hispanic population, in particular El Salvador.”
To fund the organization Cruz, his wife Mariana Buoninconti, and 11 others put their own money together to lease the space located on 148-15 Archer Ave in December.
Later, they were able to get additional help from the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation and Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) as well as other elected officials.
The organization has two main divisions.
“We have a bilingual musical children’s theatre and we also work in 12 senior centers throughout the city where we perform all the work that we mentioned and that is a significant part of the work that we do now,” Cruz said. “At our center we plan to have the senior services from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every weekday, and in the evenings and weekends it will be a full cultural center.”
On Jan. 12, the center hosted the Queens County Young Democrats for its panel on labor unions and labor rights.
In February it plans on having a panel for women and immigration rights in the new Trump administration. In April, LAIA has plans for a film festival, but despite his dreams for the center Cruz has some worries about its future.
“Everyone in the organization is concerned about the effects of the new administration on what we do because we are right in the cross hairs and have a target painted on our back as an immigrant and women’s rights organization and an arts organization. It’s like we have three strikes against us as far as we can see,” said Cruz.
“The National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities are under serious threat,” he said.
According to the Washington Post Trump intends to cut spending for cultural programs and organizations like the NEA and NEH.
These two establishments are the major sources of aid for non-profit cultural institutions like LAIA.
If all does go well, LAIA hopes to have a grand opening in late March or early April with state and local elected officials.