Taino Productions: Preserving cultures, one event at a time
New London ― Near the end of a recent interview, Liz Quinones, who along with her husband Willie founded Taino Productions in 2018, hit on an apt description of exactly what it is their event-organizing enterprise does.
“We connect the dots,” she said.
Indeed, Taino, a for-profit limited liability company, has had success promoting the Hispanic and Latino cultures in the area by linking entertainers, musicians and artists to audiences eager to be entertained and inspired. And they do it all without employees or offices, the two of them coordinating events from their Rogers Street home in the city.
Earlier this month, Taino helped arrange back-to-back events on Sept. 4, the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend. The day’s first event, held from noon to 6 p.m., was a second annual Back-to-School Haircuts benefit, which provided hundreds of kids with free haircuts courtesy of local barbers who set up chairs in a pavilion at Bates Woods Park in New London.
Taino’s partners in the project included Southeastern Connecticut Barbers United, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and The Salvation Army.
Later, Taino brought DJ Richie Rich to Ocean Beach Park for a night of “old school freestyle music.”
Willie Quinones said the haircutting event originated with Carlos Montes of Carlos Barbershop & Salon on Jefferson Avenue in New London, who approached Taino with an idea about “wanting to give back to the kids.” The Quinoneses took it from there.
“We were a very small part of it,” Willie said.
Another Taino doubleheader is coming up Oct. 1, headlined by its “fall classic,” Salsa con Guayabara, at Ocean Beach Park, a nighttime celebration featuring live salsa music, dance lessons and a DJ. A car show will take place at the park earlier in the day.
The Quinoneses, both of whom are 43, said Taino’s mission is to help preserve the culture of Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth, as well as the cultures of other Spanish-speaking locales, about 17 of which are represented among residents of southeastern Connecticut, according to Willie Quinones. Hispanics, he said, make up about 32% of New London’s population.
Among Latinos, Puerto Ricans are perhaps at greatest risk of losing touch with their heritage because they’ve become so “Americanized,” said Liz Quinones, who came to the United States from Puerto Rico as a third-grader.
“They say Puerto Ricans have ‘mancha’ ― the stain of Puerto Rico ― about them,” she said. “It’s like a birthmark. We take pride in being authentic, in staying true to our roots.”
She said most Puerto Rican-Americans, including those born in the United States, would identify as Puerto Ricans rather than as Americans if they had to make a choice.
Willie Quinones was born in the United States.
He and Liz met as teenagers in New Haven, where he played football at Wilbur Cross High School. Liz enrolled at Connecticut College in 1996 and Willie joined her in New London when she graduated four years later. She’s been teaching at New London’s Regional Multicultural Magnet School ever since. One of the Quinoneses’ two adult daughters also teaches there.
After 15 years with the city’s Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication, Willie, a facilities manager, works for North Stonington public schools.
When the Quinoneses arrived in New London, the nonprofit agency Centro de la Comunidad was the hub of activity in the Latino community. While Puerto Ricans had been a strong presence in the city during the 1980s and ’90s, that was no longer the case in the 2000s, Willie Quinones said, leaving a void that needed to be filled.
The Quinoneses staged their first event, a Latin music festival, at Ocean Beach Park in 2016 and scored a major hit with a similar event in 2017, leading them to establish Taino Productions LLC the following year. They said the encouragement and help of Dave Sugrue, now the Ocean Beach Park manager, was key to their early success.
“We thought we should make it a little more official,” Willie Quinones said of Taino’s formation. “It’s a for-profit organization that operates like a nonprofit. The idea never was to make money.”
They connected with locals like Jeffrey Zapata of Jeffrey’s Barbershop, who had the know-who to put them in touch with “sound guys” and bands.
“I remember when they got started at Ocean Beach,” Zapata said. “I was the first person to meet with Willie and figure out how to do the event. I shared my knowledge about how to bring sponsors to the event and what kind of music to play. I have some really good connections with musicians and gave Willie the opportunity to connect with them.”
“Now I see Willie doing very well,” he said.
Typically, Taino organizes seven or eight events a year and weighs in on plans for Puerto Rican festivals and events staged by larger, nonprofit groups in other cities around the state, including Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and Norwich.
Will there be a time when what Taino does is no longer needed?
“I don’t know,” Willie Quinones said. “People want to hold onto who they are. As long as we can help with that, that’s great.”