SAN JUAN – La Perla, one of the best-known districts of the Puerto Rican capital, has a splendid future in store following the renovation of some 400 houses located in historic Old San Juan and because of the continued visits of hundreds of tourists and curiosity seekers following the filming there of the wildly popular music video “Despacito.”
Mara Nieves, a resident of this district with views of the Atlantic Ocean and surrounded by walls and castles from Spanish colonial days, told EFE that La Perla is a place where brotherhood has overcome the violence for which it was known for so long.
“La Perla is a treasure. The people are humble and their humility is special because here, though people talk about its austerity, very few go hungry,” said Nieves, who looks after a vegetable garden in San Miguel, one of the four communities of La Perla, a former shantytown settled in the 19th century.
La Perla’s other communities are Waipao, named for a “wipe out” of homes by a tidal wave; Lucila Silva or “Old Perla”; and La Lomita, near the historic Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery.
La Perla also has the Carmelo Anthony Basketball Court, which the basketball player of Puerto Rican descent helped rebuild, and El Bowl, an arts and entertainment center that artist Chemi Rosado and skateboarder Boly Cortes built by hand in 2006, and which combines a skateboarding track and a swimming pool.
“Every part of La Perla has its personality,” said Nieves, who in her vegetable garden grows medicinal plants like turmeric, ginger, culantro, citronella, spearmint, mint, aloe and oregano, vegetables like broccoli, tomatoes, basil and eggplant, taro, yautia and yucca.
And for all its cultural exhibitions, last December the Puerto Rican director Carlos Perez decided to shoot in La Perla the video of “Despacito,” the worldwide hit duo sung by Puerto Ricans Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee.
However, it wasn’t until last January that the video was posted on the Web and started getting thousands of likes and comments from people around the world who were impressed by the images spotlighting the tropical beauties of La Perla.
Several months later, through an initiative of Puerto Rican artist Pablo Marcano, a project called “La Perla Paints its Future” was launched that aimed at restoring, decorating and publicizing the neighborhood of approximately 400 houses.
According to the organization, La Perla was founded in the 19th century when San Juan’s poor had to find somewhere else to live after their homes downtown were destroyed.