WNYC Studios and Futuro Studios present “La Brega: Stories of the Puerto Rican Experience”
Hosted by On the Media’s Alana Casanova-Burgess, Created with a team of Puerto Rican journalists, producers, musicians, and artists
Seven-part dual-language podcast series, co-produced with Futuro Studios, about life, politics and history on the island
(New York, NY — February 24, 2021) — Bregar: trabajar con entrega y luchando contra las dificultades.There’s no direct translation of “la brega” in English, but for Puerto Ricans, it’s a way of life. To bregar means to struggle, to hustle, to find a way to get by and get around an imbalance of power. It’s got a creative edge, a bit of swagger; as Puerto Rican scholar Arcadio Diaz has observed, it’s a word that belongs to the underdog.
Today, WNYC Studios and Futuro Studios present “La Brega: Stories of the Puerto Rican Experience” —a seven-part podcast series hosted by New York-born Puerto Rican journalist Alana Casanova-Burgess — that tells stories of an island and a people trying to cope with too many challenges, and who deserve and demand better.
“La Brega,” now available for streaming in its entirety in both English and Spanish, uses narrative storytelling, investigative journalism, and first-person reflections to reveal how la brega has defined so many aspects of life in Puerto Rico during its 120-year history as a colony of the United States. A persistent state of crisis, longstanding neglect by national leaders, and corruption in local politics have made recent events — including a 15-year recession, devastating storms and earthquakes, and deep cuts to basic services — even more arduous. What does it say about life in Puerto Rico that “la brega” is such a defining experience?
Led by Casanova-Burgess, who co-executive produced the series with Marlon Bishop of Futuro Studios, “La Brega” is the work of a team of Puerto Rican journalists, producers and musicians from the island and the diaspora. Participants include: Cristina del Mar Quiles and Luis J. Valentín Ortiz, reporters at El Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (the Center for Investigative Journalism); San Juan-based editor Luis Trelles; Yarimar Bonilla, professor in the Department of Africana, Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Hunter College; independent journalists and producers Victor Emanuelle Ramos, Ezequiel Rodríguez Andino, and Mark Pagán; New York-based photographer Chris Gregory-Rivera; Diana Ramos Gutiérrez, journalist and audiovisual producer for Radio Vieques; Julio Ricardo Varela, award-winning journalist with Futuro Media; illustrators Mya Pagán, Rosaura Rodríguezand Fernando Norat. Plus, music from Brooklyn-based electronic indie band Balún and Puerto Rico-based group ÌFÉ — who wrote the podcast’s theme song.
“The stories in this anthology are a labor of love,” said Casanova-Burgess. “Crises in Puerto Rico get passing media coverage, but the island is rarely given thoughtful, sustained attention. We’re in this extraordinary moment of urgency around questioning how we got here, and centering the voices of people who live these experiences. It’s an honor to work together with a team of boricuas to share stories that are important and beautifully told, and that give weight and prominence to Puerto Rico beyond the headlines.”
“In creating this series, we wanted to bring Puerto Rican stories to audiences everywhere. But we also thought, ‘how can we create a series that would deeply serve Puerto Rican audiences, both on the island and in the diaspora?’” said Marlon Bishop, co-executive producer of “La Brega” and VP of Content at Futuro Studios.
The episodes — all available for binge listening — are as follows:
Episode 1: What Is La Brega? // ¿Qué es la brega?
In this kick off episode, host Alana Casanova-Burgess sets out to define la brega and explore whether the word is really serving Puerto Ricans. A brega implies a challenge we can’t really solve, so you have to hustle to get around it. The challenges of potholes (hoyos) and what people do to fix them or get around them is a metaphorical and literal brega in Puerto Rico. The scholar Arcadio Diaz Quinones reflects on how this useful word has its limitations, and how la brega sometimes asks too much of boricuas.
Episode 2: Levittown: Where the Good Life Begins // Levittown, donde la buena vida comienza
Alana Casanova-Burgess traces the history and development of Levittown, a massive suburb that was founded on the idea of bringing the American middle-class lifestyle to Puerto Rico during a time of great change on the island. Casanova-Burgess (herself the granddaughter of an early Levittown resident) traces the story of the boom and bust of Levittown and explores what its shortcomings tell us about the promises of the American Dream in Puerto Rico.
Episode 3: An Encyclopedia of Betrayal // Una enciclopedia de traición
Photographer Chris Gregory-Rivera examines the legacy of the surveillance files known in Puerto Rico as las carpetas — produced from a decades-long secret government program aimed at fracturing the pro-independence movement. Gregory-Rivera looks at las carpetas through the story of one activist family, the traitor they believed was close to them, and the betrayal that holds more mystery than they realize.
Episode 4: Vieques and the Promise to Build Back Better // Vieques y la resiliencia que nunca llegó
On the island of Vieques — which has the highest rate of cancer in Puerto Rico — there hasn’t been a hospital since Hurricane Maria destroyed its only one in 2017. Now, a young girl has died from lack of care, and a neglected community fights for their basic human right: access to quality medical services. Reporter Cristina del Mar Quiles from El Centro de Periodismo Investigativo explains how federal red tape has hindered hurricane recovery.
Episode 5: Basketball Warriors // Guerreros del basket
Despite being a U.S. colony, Puerto Rico competes as its own country on the world stage. Facing unfavorable odds at the 2004 Olympics, the Puerto Rican national basketball team was up against the U.S. Dream Team with the likes of Lebron James and Allen Iverson. In a story of grit and perseverance, the Island’s basketball team used the U.S. squad’s advantage — their height — against them. Futuro Media’s Julio Ricardo Varela tells the incredible story of how Puerto Rico went on to win 92-73.
Episode 6: The Bankruptcy Letters // Las cartas de la quiebra
El Centro de Periodismo Investigativo journalist Luis J. Valentín Ortiz tells the hidden story of Puerto Rico’s micro-creditors — thousands of impoverished retirees and former public employees with claims that the government may never pay, ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars. As a federal judge prepares to make a decision on whether they’ll get paid, this episode asks: how can the government settle its many debts — not just monetary — with its citizens?
Episode 7: The End of the Promises // Se acabaron las promesas
Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States has long been a subject of intense debate. In 1952, Puerto Rico adopted a new status that was meant to decolonize the island. In English, we call it a “Commonwealth.” In Spanish, it’s called el “Estado Libre Asociado”, or ELA. Puerto Ricans were promised for decades that this unique status meant they had a special kind of sovereignty while maintaining ties to the U.S. Now, a series of recent crises on the island have led many to question that promise, and to use the word “colony” more and more. In this episode, political anthropologist and El Nuevo Día columnist Yarimar Bonilla looks at who still believes in the ELA, and asks what happens when a political project dies.
In this special episode, we go behind the music of the series with some of the most creative artists working out of Puerto Rico today. IFE, created by Otura Mun,wrote the show’s theme song — a translation of an Afro-Puerto Rican bomba rhythm that Mun transformed into his unique sound of digital folklore-meets-club-music. For the underscore, Puerto Rican indie band Balún composed five pieces of original music, drawing on their signature sound combining textured dream pop with Puerto Rican sonic influences.
“As a Puerto Rican journalist who believes that we must keep uplifting Puerto Rican voices in media, I am thrilled that Futuro Studios partnered with WNYC Studios to create an unprecedented series like ‘La Brega,’” Julio Ricardo Varela, VP of New Business for Futuro Studios, said. “If we as Puerto Ricans want to change the media landscape, we must continue to create new lanes and opportunities for storytellers. ‘La Brega’ has done that.”
“After Hurricane Maria, Alana was trying to get in touch with her relatives on the island, desperate for any news about what was going on,” said Katya Rogers, Executive Producer, On the Media. “Mainland U.S. newsrooms at that moment didn’t know the extent of it, but the diaspora did, and Alana became a vital source of real time updates for WNYC’s listeners in New York — which of course has the largest Puerto Rican community outside of the island. ‘La Brega’ is a stunning expansion of the service Alana was providing at that time, and we’re absolutely honored to partner with Futuro Studios to bring this ambitious dual-language storytelling series to a national audience.”
“La Brega” can be found in its entirety in both English and Spanish wherever podcasts are available. Select episodes will also be broadcast on the radio on WNYC Studios’ On the Media and Futuro Media’s Latino USA in the coming weeks.
Leadership support for La Brega is provided by the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, with additional support provided by Amy Liss.
ABOUT WNYC STUDIOS
WNYC Studios is the premier producer of on-demand and broadcast audio, and home to some of the industry’s most critically acclaimed and popular podcasts, including Radiolab, On the Media, Trump, Inc., The New Yorker Radio Hour, Death, Sex & Money, Dolly Parton’s America, and The United States of Anxiety. WNYC Studios is leading the new golden age in audio with podcasts and national radio programs that inform, inspire, and delight millions of intellectually curious and highly engaged listeners across digital, mobile, and broadcast platforms. Programs include personal narratives, deep journalism, revealing interviews, and smart entertainment as varied and intimate as the human voice itself. For more information, visit wnycstudios.org.
ABOUT FUTURO STUDIOS
Futuro Studios is the new creative division of the Futuro Media Group, an independent nonprofit organization producing multimedia journalism that explores and gives a critical voice to the diversity of the American experience. Based in Harlem and founded in 2010 by award-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa, Futuro Media is committed to telling stories often overlooked by mainstream media. In 2019, Futuro Studios debuted with The Battle of 187, a co-production with theLos Angeles Times, following up with Con Todo: Brown Love, in collaboration with Netflix. Recently, it launched two other podcasts: Anything For Selena with WBUR and Norco 80 for LAist Studios. Futuro Media also produces Peabody Award winning Latino USA, the In The Thick political podcast, and pioneering digital news outlet Latino Rebels. More at futurostudios.org.