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Painting Puerto Rican pride in Boston’s South End

New mural by Héctor Collazo celebrates island heritage

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Painting Puerto Rican pride in Boston’s South End
Artist Héctor Collazo (center rear) celebrates the completed Puerto Rican flag mural with the Villa Victoria community. PHOTO: COURTESY OF IBA

Villa Victoria’s proud Puerto Rican community has a vibrant new reason to celebrate their heritage: a mural of the Puerto Rican flag by artist Héctor Collazo. Organized by Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA) and the restaurant Vejigantes, the mural is a continuation of Collazo’s “78 Pueblos y 1 Bandera” project, painting Puerto Rican flags in different styles all over the island. By artistically planting the flag here in Boston, the Puerto Rican community claims its neighborhood.

A view of the completed Puerto Rican flag mural in the archway. PHOTO: COURTESY OF IBA

“The placemaking in Boston for the Latino community within the South End is lacking. It’s not as visual. That was the biggest aspect that brought us to the work,” says Juan Carlos Gonzalez, IBA’s arts program director. “And at this time of the year the Latino community gets very nostalgic, mainly because in Puerto Rico we celebrate the holidays, Christmas, Thanksgiving and so forth.”

The mural is located in Plaza Betances, in and around an architectural arch next to the Vejigantes restaurant. Collazo remarks that in a way, he was able to paint several flags. One is on the exterior of the structure and the other adorns the ceiling of the arch. “Not only will it allow people from the outside to see the flag, whether they’re walking or driving … it’s a great opportunity to invite people into the space,” says Collazo. The flags are painted in two different styles but embody the same pride.

Collazo began the “78 Pueblos y 1 Bandera” project after the death of his brother. Traveling around the island became an important part of the artist’s grieving process. During that journey he realized there was no unifying connection from town to town. As a result, he began to paint a Puerto Rican flag everywhere he went, connecting the island in artistic spirit. There is one other of his murals in the mainland United States, in Miami, but Boston is one of the first to be graced with a flag.

“It’s almost like bringing a piece of the island to the Boston Latino community,” says Collazo.

And that is exactly what IBA and Vejigantes were hoping for. During the pandemic, when travel is uncertain and communities are physically separated, a visual reminder of shared heritage goes a long way in lifting spirits.

“The people that live up here in the Boston area, they sometimes can’t afford to go back to Puerto Rico. Some can’t go back to Puerto Rico at all,” says Gonzalez. “So the goal is for the community to be able to come to this mural, to the flag, and remember where they came from.”