Hielo – or ice – might not be the first thing that springs to mind when conjuring ideas of the Caribbean, the exotic or the tropical. But perhaps it should be.
When developing HIELO a.i.r., we were inspired by the hand-painted words on the residency’s former mini-market façade advertising cerveza (beer) and carne fresca (fresh meat). Encouraged by the dichotomous idea of ice in the unforgiving Caribbean heat, we drew on history to create the residency’s flagship image: children building a snowman in the Puerto Rican sun.hielo (ice),
That image is well known in Puerto Rico as that of former San Juan mayor, Felisa Rincón de Gautier, (known affectionately as Doña Fela) and the children of her district building a snowman out of snow the mayor had imported for them to experience.
Doña Fela was the first woman mayor of San Juan and one of the most prominent local political figures. A suffragist and activist, Felisa was the 5th woman to register to vote when the right was granted to Puerto Rico in 1932 and, in 1938, helped establish the Popular Democratic Party of Puerto Rico. In 1946, she shattered sexist barriers when she was elected mayor of San Juan making her the first woman ever to be elected as a mayor of a capital city in the Americas. For 22 years, she served as mayor with overwhelming public support due to her honesty and steadfast concern with child welfare, health, and the public works of San Juan. During her time as mayor, the population of San Juan nearly tripled, transforming into one of the most beautiful cities in the Caribbean, and elevating it to the center of tourism. While her list of achievements is long, one stands out to us – the bringing of snow.
Having met the owner of Eastern Airlines, Eddie Rickenbacker, Felisa convinced him to send a planeload of snow to San Juan for the Puerto Rican children that most likely would never have the opportunity to leave the island, let alone experience snow. Rickenbacker agreed, and the stunt was an overwhelming success. For three years, from 1952 to 1954, the airline owner delivered a planeload of Christmas snow to the children of Puerto Rico. Many years later when children would ask Felisa how long the snow lasted, with a twinkle in her eye, she would say, “Long enough to throw a ball of snow and a lot longer to play in the pool of water.”
HIELO a.i.r. stands in playful opposition, sure. But it also taunts us with wonder. It threatens barriers and the status quo inspiring us to imagine, “what if?” and “how can we together?” With our program, we hope to inspire and reiterate a much-needed point: often to know one has to actively search, discover and experience. With this history in mind, HIELO sees as its duty to invite artists to the island with the express interest of introducing and networking them with the local Puerto Rican scene to further cultural exchange, understanding and add value to the historic district of San Juan.