Joaquin Rivera was born in Cayey, Puerto Rico, in 1946, the youngest of eleven children. He recalls that he loved music, but his family was too poor to afford instruments, so as a teenager he would follow local musicians around, carry their instruments, and pick up their guitars in order to learn a little when they were on break. In this way, he learned how to play both guitar and the cuatro. When he turned eighteen, he moved to Philadelphia. He worked in a fabric-laminating factory while going to night school to learn English and complete his GED. Later, he studied at Community College and Rutgers University. For some thirty years he worked at Olney High School counseling bilingual students. He has been a tremendous advocate for sustaining Puerto Rican folk arts here. He says, "I also try to keep our culture alive by writing and playing music. Once I settled in Philadelphia, I really missed the music that surrounded me in Puerto Rico. In the 1970s during one Christmas-time some students and I caroled the classrooms at school, explaining to other students what Puerto Ricans do to celebrate Christmas." This led to the revitalization of community traditions of house-visiting at Three Kings' Day, and a community parrandas group and musical ensemble, Los Pleneros del Batey, that has performed Puerto Rican folk music (plena, bomba, and musica jibara) in the Philadelphia area and far beyond in the last twenty years. Los Pleneros have performed in schools, hospitals, senior centers, prisons, as well as at strikes, political rallies and protests, funerals and other occasions. The ensemble performs some well-known traditional plenas, but also play many originals composed by Rivera, such as songs in homage to Puerto Rico, or about timely issues such as U.S. bombing practices on Vieques or AIDS or other social issues. Mr. Rivera composed and recorded a song. "Philadelphia, I choose to stay in my home" for the documentary by Community Leadership Institute and Philadelphia Folklore Project, called "I choose to stay here," about peoples' fight, in his neighborhood, to stop the city from taking their homes for urban "removal." The song has been embraced by community members as a resource in, and emblem of, their struggle. (Hear clips).
Daily News obituary (12/1/09)