It is perhaps the most memorable and enduring of the Puerto Rican Christmas traditions. Though it is known in other parts of Latin America, the Puerto Rican “parranda,” where family and friends go to someone’s house at night, sing Christmas songs with maracas and guiros, eat and drink a bit, and then take the host family with them and go on to next house, is truly synonymous with a boricua Christmas. Aside from the music, the “coquito” and the revelry, it is mostly about connecting.
A group of 18 Puerto Rican entrepreneurs, business leaders and scientists decided to take this concept and run with it. The result, announced today, is Parranda.org, the creation of a virtual “home” which will link a Puerto Rican in Abilene, Kansas, for example, to a fellow “Rican” two towns away — or an ocean away, in a city in Puerto Rico. This “net” will help foster professional connections, like linking a budding Puerto Rican entrepreneur in the island with an established Puerto Rican investor in Boston, or simply act as a resource for a “boricua” island family who just moved to the U.S. and is looking for information on schools, or family resources.
“Puerto Rico is ready for something like this for at least three reasons,” says co-founder Giovanni Rodriguez, a Silicon Valley-based technology and social media expert and CEO of SocialxDesign, ”the recent flight of its middle class, the new political strength of Puerto Ricans in the U.S., and the recent wave of social unrest which has brought so many Puerto Ricans into social network-seeking solutions,” Rodriguez explains.
Puerto Rico — and Puerto Ricans — have been in the news lately for a variety of reasons. The island has been reeling from economic challenges which have resulted in more Puerto Ricans leaving to find better opportunities in the U.S. and contributing to a middle-class ‘brain drain.’ The island is also experiencing an alarming crime and homicide rate which recently made headlines as millions of Puerto Ricans took to social media to condemn the particularly cruel hold-up and eventual killing of a young executive.
On the other hand, the growing number of middle-class Puerto Ricans in central Florida, for example, has contributed to revitalizing the area and increasing Latino political power. Puerto Rican voters have been credited with significantly contributing to the Democrats’ victory in Florida in the November elections, and are being aggressively courted by both parties. While Puerto Ricans from New York have been in Congress for decades, the recent election of Idaho Republican Raul Labrador, born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, is an example of the “spreading” Puerto Rican diaspora in the U.S.
On Christmas Eve, parranda.org will launch a beta version of a “digital map,” an interactive map of where all Puerto Ricans live. Other parts of the project will include an online mentoring program, crowd-funding, and other initiatives to foster Puerto Ricans’ civic, economic and cultural development.
Parranda also serves to highlight the success stories of many Puerto Ricans who are now working in the top echelons of business, government and technology, stories which have largely been under the radar. These professionals, in turn, can help inspire and mentor the next generation of Puerto Rican success stories. More importantly, the founders say, just like parrandas are happy occasions, the network wants to focus on the positive which results from cooperation and connections.
“As we saw after the community’s reaction following the murder of the executive in Puerto Rico, “los buenos somos más (there are more of us ‘good ones’),” says Natascha Otero-Santiago, one of the group’s founders and a co-director of LATISM in South Florida. “So the aim of parranda.org is that if you build community, people will help other people.”