[OP-ED]: The True Heart of ‘Taller’: Carmen Febo-San Miguel
Taller Puertorriqueño´s new building, on the corner of Fifth Street and Huntingdon, was inaugurated 2 weeks ago, in a ceremony packed with neighbors and luminaries of the Latino Philadelphia community, in addition to the city’s mayor, James Kenney. Under the slogan of “The Cultural Heart of Latino Philadelphia,” inspired by the mosaic that decorates the entrance to the old education building, Taller Puertorriqueño exists since 1974. After almost twelve years of budgets and fundraising, this venerable institution has been transformed from a one million-dollar- institution to one of eleven millions. Carmen Febo-San Miguel, beaming with pride in her opening remarks, thanked Ángel Ortiz for subsidizing this project from its inception. She also mentioned John Irizarry, who was Taller´s Executive Director for fourteen years, as well as other members of the board and from the community. But the true heart of this institution is, without a doubt, Carmen Febo-San Miguel.
Carmen Febo-San Miguel arrived to Philadelphia from Puerto Rico, where she had studied medicine at the Interamericana University, to do her residence here in the seventies. From the beginning, she volunteered at Taller, but the young doctor went back to Puerto Rico for a few years and she started practicing family medicine there.
When she returned to Philadelphia permanently, she continued her connection with Taller Puertorriqueño, first as a member of the board and later as its chair. “Taller, along with medicine, was always one of my passions,” Carmen says. Taller started in Aspira´s basement and it moved to Fifth Street later, where the Julia de Burgos bilingual bookstore was installed. Some years later the Lorenzo Homar Gallery was opened in the second floor, which was dedicated to show Latino art, with such well-known Puerto Rican artists as Antonio Martorell and Myrna Báez. From 2010 Rafael Damast, in his position as Exhibition Manager, curated more than thirty exhibits related to the entire Latino Philadelphia community.
Carmen continued working as a full-time family practitioner until 1997, while her responsibilities as Taller´s director grew and required more of her time. Bit y bit, she reduced her work as a physician and increased her commitment to Taller and the Latino community. From 2014 on, with the ongoing new building project and her work as Executive Director, Carmen has focused completely on this enterprise.
As it is generally said, the rest is history. The dream has become a reality. Taller´s new building, with more than 24,000 square feet, has almost tripled the classroom space; it houses a 200-person auditorium, continues to run the gift shop and bookstore and has a significantly enlarged art gallery. Carmen wished for this building to me more than a continuation; she hopes that it will be a transformative project. She is rightfully proud of her accomplishment. She is the one that gave it life and her heart beats within it.