El Taller Latino Americano Celebrates 40 Years with New Green Building

El Taller Latino Americano director Bernardo Palombo teaching a workshop. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

(…) El Taller Latino Americano (The Latin American Workshop), a renowned cultural and educational organization in Manhattan’s El Barrio, is celebrating four decades of teaching Spanish, promoting the arts and serving as a meeting point for people of all ages and origins.

(…) Folk singer Pete Seeger is among the great artists the institution has hosted. He defined El Taller as “one of the few places in New York where all communities come together.” At the moment, the organization has a new endeavor: Taking an old building on 110th Street and Lexington Avenue and transforming it into a green space.

Thanks to the support of the city, Council member Diana Ayala and other institutions in the Big Apple, El Taller has received the go-ahead to start renovations on a NYCHA-managed space. They hope that the building will become a model for the use of green resources for El Barrio and the rest of the country.

“We are going to transform the building they are giving us into a ‘green’ building and, with the technology that is available right now, we want it to be energy-independent, with solar panels, and we can also experiment with vertical farming,” said Bernardo Palombo, the Argentina-born founder of El Taller Latino Americano.

(…) The organization, which serves more than 15,000 people of all ages every year, has the backing of institutions that have benefited from the programs El Taller has offered for 40 years.

“First off, we are going to start a vegetable garden. The idea is to educate ourselves about healthy eating. El Taller has been active for 40 years and, because of the wide variety of activities we have carried out, we are capable of making a building to serve the community. Doctors from Montefiore Hospital, where we teach Spanish, can help our people with their nutrition and, with the garden we will have on the roof, we can teach children that tomatoes come from a plant, not from a can,” said Palombo. “The plan is for seniors to teach us recipes that are in style right now because of the organic food fad but that our grandmothers know better than us. It is basically about bringing together the culture and history that we have here in El Barrio, the history of our migration, starting with Puerto Ricans, who are also immigrants because they left their country.”

Jennifer Pliego, director of special projects at El Taller, said that the “greenification” of the building, as they call it, is based on a plan that was meticulously created a few years ago.

“My father, Ricardo Pliego, expanded his expertise as an architect with all the available information about using renewable energy. He reached out to the Buckminster Fuller Institute in California and similar organizations, which helped him finish the blueprint and the instructions to create a ‘green territory’ in any of the many city-owned buildings that are currently not in use,” said Pliego. “All this demonstrates in practice that the ‘Green New Deal’ is not an elitist program. On the contrary, it is something that can be done from and with the communities.”

Colombia-born Alexandra Castaño, office manager at El Taller Latino Americano,  pointed out that the new green building will also have educational purposes: (…) “We always use recyclable materials to make art projects, and our goal is to continue on that path teaching how to avoid pollution and make the most of discarded materials to create [things].”

“El Taller is made up of a community of not only Latinos but also North Americans, Europeans, Asians, white, black, children, adults… It is an integration of cultures but it is also good to have an organization managed by people from different countries who can show their culture to others. The idea is to save energy and use the community’s resources better,” said Castaño, as she taught a mask-making workshop to over 50 children and a few moms.

Claudia Sierra with her son Steven. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

For the last several years, El Taller has been located at 99th Street and Third Avenue, after moving from the Upper West Side.

Mexico-born Claudia Sierra, one of the mothers at the class, said that El Taller is an escape. “Here, I feel relaxed. It’s like being a child again. That relieves my stress, and I learn and spend time with my son while I’m at it,” she said about the organization. El Taller has been offering Spanish classes for the last two years, in addition to free English classes for immigrants and assistance on immigration issues. They also have a main space where they hold art exhibits and concerts.

(…) “El Taller Latino Americano has proven to be an exceptional source of creative arts for El Barrio’s youths. The green building proposal will perpetuate the unique contributions of El Taller to our community,” said activist Lew Zuchman, executive director of SCAN New York, the oldest organization offering services to young people in the area. “Our community needs to enter the 21st century with regard to a healthy lifestyle. Creating a green building will serve as a vital, educational role model for our youth.”

(…) “El Taller has been and is a magnet for cultural and educational activities; a place where New Yorkers of all ages come together not just to celebrate the arts but to learn Spanish and English. I applaud the organization for its 40 years of great service to the immigrant community, to the neighborhood and to New York City,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

(…) El Taller’s “green” building will be at the Clinton Houses, on 110th Street and Lexington.

For more information: tallerlatino.org

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