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Remembering Jack Agueros, a Puerto Rican Trailblazer

Image: Jack Agüeros, director of El Museo del Barrio
Former Museo del Barrio Director Jack Agüeros in front of the Heckscher Building at 1230 Fifth Avenue between 104th and 105th Street. (photo by Carlos V. Ortíz, “The Arts: Museo de la Gente,“ Nuestro, April 1978). Agueros passed away May 4, 2014. Carlos V. Ortíz / El Museo del Barrio

NEW YORK, NY --The children who bask in the annual Three Kings Parade in New York City's El Barrio and the tourists who visit El Museo del Barrio might not know Jack Agüeros' name, but many Puerto Ricans and New York City Latinos remember him as a key figure in both of those New York City institutions.

Jack Agüeros, a former director of El Museo del Barrio, as well as a poet, writer,translator and community activist, passed away Sunday, May 4th. He was part of a generation of Puerto Ricans in New York who pushed for increased representation in city government, and went on a five-day hunger strike in 1968 until city leaders met some of his demands, as New York Times' David Gonzalez reports.

Agüeros was also the driving force behind ensuring El Museo del Barrio's current Fifth Avenue location in Manhattan, at the end of Museum Mile, and insisted the Museum expand beyond Puerto Rican and Caribbean art into Latin American art. “We are too culturally rich to force ourselves into ghettos of narrow nationalism,” Agüeros said in 1978, according to Gonzalez.

Image: Jack Agueros
In this 1955 photo provided by Columbia University, Puerto Rican activist, writer and Museo del Barrio director Jack Agueros stands in his barracks at Sampson Air Force Base, Geneva, New York. Agueros died on May 4, 2014.Columbia University via AP

"Jack should be a role model for people who call themselves activists and progressives," said Gerson Borrero, a New York-based political commentator for NY1 News and a City and State columnist. Borrero told NBC that Agüeros pursued education from a humble background, "but he never sold out. He showed you could be a poet, and for the arts, but still be a warrior for your community," he added.

In a statement on Agüeros' passing, a Museo del Barrio statement quoted one of Puerto Rico's most beloved poets, the late Julia de Burgos, in Spanish. "Que nadie me profane la muerte con sollozos," (May no one profane my death with sobs).

Instead, what many hope is that Agüeros is remembered for his accomplishments.

"Jack was instrumental in the inception of our honored Three Kings Day Parade, the relocation of our museum to its current location, and the evolution of our institution to a pan-Latin American mission," stated Tony Bechara, Chairman of the Board of Trustees for El Museo del Barrio.

"He fought the good fight," said Borrero. "If people remember him when they walk into El Museo,I think that would be a tribute."

--Sandra Lilley

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