By Gadiel Rivera
As visitors walked up the stairs leading into the Lipkin Theatre they were met by a peculiar sound — Ko- kee- Ko-kee- Ko-kee.
The cacophony is produced by Coquies, a tiny frog native to Puerto Rico, whose ceaseless call for mating partners dominates the night’s soundscape in rural areas of the island.
But the audience gathered at the theater were not there for an exotic pets exhibition. They came to see the talented Puerto Rican artist, Angel Vazquez, show Hecho en Puelto Rico. The monologue served as a powerful reminder of the island’s many historical figures, through the story of a young Puerto Rican college student, on the cusp of graduation, eager to flee the embattled island.
The students had no clue about the cultural lesson that awaited him when his dad, taken aback by his son’s sudden decision to depart, delivered a suitcase left behind by his grandfather.
Inside the suitcase were a series of items. Each representing an important moment in his ancestor’s life, the items served as a lesson to the young Puerto Rican, who like many in and outside the island, are ignorant about its history.
Angel’s talents as an actor and educator were on full display as he brilliantly tackled a wide range of topics; from the centuries-long colonial status to the current hardship which millions of Puerto Ricans face after Hurricane Maria. The theater remained filled with laughter for the near two hours duration of the show. But more than a comedic show, Angel’s Hecho En Puelto Rico shined as a heartfelt ode to the island’s heritage. There were moments of reflection that induced tears on audience members.
The actor went out signing has the crowd delivered a standing ovation. After the crowd settled, English professor Dr.Javier Avila took the mic and provided the actor with an open forum. “I want to have a conversation with you guys” Angel announced “The people of Puerto Rico went through a traumatic experience, and you – the diaspora- serve as their ambassadors in the states, is there anything you want to tell them?” Members of the audience raise their hands. “Yes, questions?” said Angel, as he pointed to a gentleman in the audience “No, I just wanted to thank you for doing such a great job of transporting us back home.”
Many in the crowd nodded their heads agreeing with the statement. Another audience member raised their hand “I came here as a consequence of Hurricane Maria, thank you for the much needed humor”; one after the other multiple crowd members came forward with their own story — that night the Lipkin Theater lent itself to Angel’s talent, who through his jokes helped a reeling community heal.
After the show, Northampton’s Hispanic Caucus collected monetary donations for Puerto Rican families who have come to the Lehigh Valley after the hurricane, and the audience donated hundreds of dollars for their fellow Puerto Ricans.