Artist Juan Pablo Vizcaino Cortijo’s work is a symbol of our people’s cultural survival and agency in the world. In 2006, Juan began carving and saw the symbolic character of “El Vejigante”, one of the principal cultural symbols of his people, as a defense of the magical village of Loíza. A symbolic defense of Puerto Rican tradition that is needed in our movement today and rightfully leads and stands with us in support of our people during this time.
The Vejigante has long stood as a symbol of resistance and the fight between good and evil for many people in Puerto Rico. This is in opposition to the origins of tradition. Originally the Vejigante was to drive fear and represent the victory of the catholic militia, who they say were led by St. James the Apostle, over the Muslim Moors in the 12th century. It was customary to see the Vejigante in processionals in Spain as demons meant to scare people into going back to church. But because of the African and Taino influence in Puerto Rico, the Vejigante took on a new face and meaning.
Now, they are viewed as symbol of resilience, survival and african lineages. Fitting that they would lead the Defend Puerto Rico contingent at the 60th Annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City. In solidarity with the communities and students in Puerto Rico who have been struggling and fighting back against the imposing actions of an absolutist government and their austerity policies, our Vejigantes abandoned the traditional color schemes for a monotone decoloring that symbolizes the absence of light and the death of our governmental powers. A symbol aligned with the Puerto Rican Black Flag introduced in July of 2016 by the artists in solidarity that has been the uniting defining image of the current resistance movements in Puerto Rico.