Sharing Buffalo’s Hispanic story through the theatre

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Music is one of the pillars of Hispanic culture. For Victoria Perez, singing is a way to show her love for her heritage. Perez is the artistic director of Buffalo’s sole Hispanic theater company Raices, which shares the Hispanic experience on-stage.

“I am enamored by my people, mi gente and I want everyone to see the beauty of mi gente,” said Perez.

She just wrapped up a one-woman show entitled “Islena,” directed by her sister Maria.

“Islena is that love story to Puerto Rico,” said Perez.

 It’s the story of a woman returning to her home country after 30 years of living in Buffalo.

“It’s a personal story because it’s my story,” said Perez.

When asked why it took her so long to return to Puerto Rico, she says Buffalo felt like home.

“That sense of community is the thing that allows you to find joy in a new beginning,” said Perez.

“Hispanics began to migrate and settle here in Western New York in the greater Buffalo area, since the 1800s,” said Casimiro Rodriguez, founder of the Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York.

Rodriguez says the draw for Hispanics was the farmlands, the industrial industry, the steel industry and many factories.

Today, Hispanics make up more than 12% of Buffalo’s population.

Avenida San Juan, a portion of Niagara Street, has been designated the Hispanic Heritage Corridor.

“This is the heart of the Hispanic community here in Buffalo,” said Rodriguez, “It’s a beautiful area, where we’ve been able to tell the story of our Hispanic community.”

Coming soon to the corridor is the future Hispanic Heritage Cultural Institute.

“This growing community, this large Latino, Hispanic community needs a place where they can celebrate and share their heritage, history and culture,” said Rodriquez.

Among the many features, the institute will offer a theater, the new home for the Raices Theatre Company.

For Perez, Hispanic Heritage month is an opportunity to celebrate a sense of belonging, in buffalo and her native Puerto Rico.

“Just that joy of thinking, I belong to a place,” Perez said. “My people, generations ago started in that place. And here I am. And when I think of that place, I think I’m whole. There’s nothing better than that.”