Launching the New York Diversity Coalition!

Posted by maijagarcia - January 10, 2014 - Blog - No Comments

Artwork by Pablo Caviedes

Artwork by Pablo Caviedes

This idea has been in the works for some time…  2014 is a year of major expansion for Organic Magnetics- OM is an artistic network for collaboration; OM is a producer of interactive live installations; OM is a provider of theater arts education for urban youth.  Now, OM is launching the New York Diversity Coalition! 

The greatest gifts are also the greatest responsibilities.  When Juan Rodriguez was brought to my attention by co-writer Armando Batista during the creative process for Ghosts of Manhattan, the concept of this first immigrant of New York being a mixed race man from the Caribbean had deep resonance.  As we embarked on research at the start of 2013, presented readings of the work in progress throughout the year and earned a residency at El Museo del Barrio- I realized  that it is a cultural imperative to share this story.

Last May, Broadway was co-named Juan Rodriguez Way in Upper Manhattan.  There was a big celebration, led by certain political celebrities of the Dominican and African American Communities in Washington Heights and Harlem.  There were a lot of Dominican Republic flags being waved in the air and I was astonished by the illegitimate claim to nationalism that occurred.  The United States did not exist when Juan Rodriguez arrived on the island of Mannahatta in 1613- in fact there was no Dutch or European settlement at all, it was a native Lenape dwelling and trading post.  And Rodriguez did not come from the Dominican Republic, he came from an island called Haiti, or Quisqueya, by the Taino natives who were caught up in the cultural collision of Columbus’ first expedition in the so called ‘New World’.   The Dutch sailors whose depositions provide the only proof of Juan Rodriguez’ existence refer to him as ‘mulatto’, and a ‘spanish rascal’, according to the Dominican Studies Institute who recently published an impressive monograph on the surviving documents of Juan Rodriguez.  So he was probably African.  And Spanish.  And Taino.  So why was everyone waving Dominican flags?  Where was the representation of the American Indian or Caribbean Taino community in this celebration?  And one year later, why has the City of New York made absolutely no effort to educate New Yorkers about this significant historical figure?

The play we are creating in residency at El Museo del Barrio is greater than a work of art, it is an initiative toward social transformation.  We want to light the fire and invite the storytellers to help us contemplate, and to help us create this urban legend, with respect for his multiplicity.  We want to take on hybrid identity because it mattered then, and it matters now.

Organic Magnetics launches the New York Diversity Coalition to initiate cross-cultural dialogue in public spaces.  Join an alliance of NYC institutions that support diverse cultural programming to increase interaction between communities. 

graphic illustration by Delano Franklin
graphic illustration by Delano Franklin


I Am New York: Juan Rodriguez reframes New York history and compels us to examine our American identity.  An interactive livetheater installation by director/choreographer Maija Garcia (FELA!) co-written by Armando Batista with original music by Daniel Bernard Roumain,I Am New York: Juan Rodriguez transports audiences to a seminal moment in New York history to meet Juan Rodriguez – a free man of mixed ­race origin from Santo Domingo who, in 1613, became the “first immigrant” of NYC.

Click to view I Am New York: Juan Rodriguez work in progress at El Museo

The discovery of Juan Rodriguez inspired the co-­naming of Broadway in upper Manhattan, yet most New Yorkers have never heard of him.  Hybrid identity is at the root of American culture, and one of New York’s trademarks- 

So why is the city of New York keeping Juan Rodriguez a secret?


Join the New York Diversity Coalition: Get Programming, VIP Admission & Visibility.

photo of Armando Batista by Maija Garcia

photo of Armando Batista by Maija Garcia

Cultural Programming: Host an interactive reading of I Am New York: Juan Rodriguez followed by a forum discussion on hybrid identity.

VIP Admission: Premium seating for your members at the live installation on May 28, 2014 at El Museodel Barrio’s 599 seat Hecksher Theater.

Visibility: Your name and logo will appear on I Am New York: Juan Rodriguez marketing materials. Include Am New York: Juan Rodriguez in your newsletter or e-blast.  Increase the visibility of your brand through cross-pollination.  

To join the New York Diversity Coalition



I Am New York: Juan Rodriguez premieres May 28, 2014 at El Museo del Barrio.

The live installation:  A free public performance in the 599 seat Heckscher Theater at El Museo, the audience enters an immersive visual and sonic installation sampling African, European and Native American expressions from the seventeenth century.  Our Narrator, an immortal character whose mysterious identity evokes magical realism, tells the story of Juan Rodriguez – a child of chance born of cultural collision. We meet Rodriguez in Santo Domingo as he boards a Dutch trading ship heading north.  When adversaries challenge Juan, he defends his freedom, and chooses to stay on the island of Mannahatta.  At a pivotal point in the play, our participant audience breaks through the fourth wall to become agents of change.  You can determine Juan’s fate- and his legacy.