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American Folklife Center Collections: Puerto Rico

This guide provides access to ethnographic resources documenting expressive culture in the territory of Puerto Rico at the Library of Congress.


Sidney Robertson Cowell, collector. Aurora Calderon, Eleanor Rodriguez, and Cruz Losada, group portrait, photograph. W.P.A California Folk Music Project collection, 1936-1991 (AFC 1940/001). Library of Congress, American Folklife Center.

American Folklife Center (AFC) collections from the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico document expressive culture from throughout the island and within the continental U.S., and span nearly a century. Beginning with the Alan Lomax 1938 Library of Congress Sessions Collection recorded primarily at the Library of Congress, and continuing with StoryCorps interviews made today, AFC collections illustrate the rich variety of folklife found in this territory and its diaspora.

Community Across the Diaspora

The WPA California Folk Music Project Collection

Particularly noteworthy are the recordings of the WPA California Folk Music Project Collection, which includes a field survey of songs, instrumentals, and ceremonies recorded in northern California by Sidney Robertson, November 1938 through March 1940. This collection includes 14 songs of Puerto Rican origin recorded in Oakland, California, including the Puerto Rican song "La Tierruca," or in English, "The Homeland."

This New Deal project was organized and directed by folk music collector Sidney Robertson Cowell for the Northern California Work Projects Administration. Sponsored by the University of California, Berkeley, and cosponsored by the Archive of American Folk Song (now the American Folklife Center archive), this undertaking was one of the earliest ethnographic field projects to document European, Slavic, Middle Eastern, and English- and Spanish-language folk music in one region of the United States.

Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection

Another collection of interest is The Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection. The Chicago Ethnic Arts Project survey was conducted in 1977 by the American Folklife Center at the request of the Illinois Arts Council to assess and document the status of ethnic art traditions in more than twenty ethnic communities in Chicago. The collection includes an interview recorded on June 29, 1977, with muralist Gamaliel "Bobby" Ramírez. Ramírez was a member of the five-person collective that ran the community arts center El Taller (The Workshop). In this interview, Ramírez discusses the impact of El Taller and the arts on the city, including their workshops on poetry, murals, silk-screening, photography, and music. These workshops were particularly impactful for the youth in the neighborhood, and as a result built community coalitions across the city.

Additional Collections of Interest

The following materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digital content are provided when available.

Podcasts and Blog Posts

Public Programming

Using their unique sounds on display in this concert, Gabriel Muñoz & Melodias Borinqueñas hope to introduce Puerto Rican folk music to people around the world, and to provide a nostalgic experience to Puerto Ricans living away from their homeland.

Musician Gabriel Muñoz talks about his life and work with folklorist Dan Sheehy. Muñoz is co-founder of the musical ensemble Melodias Borinqueñas.