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Artist presents a personal connection to hard history

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Like much of Europe, Corsicans took part in the immigration to the so-called "new world" in search of economic opportunities. Spain's Cedula de Gracias of 1815 encouraged Spaniards and other Europeans to settle and populate the colonies of Cuba and Puerto Rico. In the 19th century, hundreds of families from Corsica (a Mediterranean island located between France and Italy) relocated to Puerto Rico, helping to establish the plantation economy and subsequently Puerto Rico's coffee industry in their new home.

Rochester-based artist Jose Olivieri Rivera has spent years researching this history, inspired by its connections to his own genealogy. This project has culminated in more than 50,000 words that chronicle his family's journey from Corsica to Puerto Rico, and centering on his father's life, from birth to death. Rivera says he plans to develop a community theater piece around the narrative. You can hear a distilled spoken word version of the story that Rivera will present Saturday night at The Hungerford Building.

The story's gravitas comes from the fact of subsequent segregation and marginalization of a disenfranchised portion of the population. People like Rivera's father, who was born of a mixed union, were ostracized by family and community.

Rivera's dad worked on plantations, and when he was orphaned at age 16, was left to fend for himself. "He was taken in by relatives and utilized as part of the labor force to continue to work whatever enterprises they had in terms of agriculture and harvesting," Rivera says. "The story revolves around the challenges he had as a young person and as an adult as a result of the history of colonialism in Puerto Rico."

Rivera says his research and anecdotes shared by his father and other elders led him to discover "things that add to the complexity of Spanish and of Latino culture in the new world."

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