|photo by George Soler|
Born in Utuado, Puerto Rico, Espada only spent his first nine years on his native soil before immigrating to New York with his family. He showed an interest in taking pictures as a youth, and after service in the Air Force, studied at the New York Institute of Photography under the G.I. Bill and discovered documentary photography, the art form that would be his greatest legacy. Through this work, he was inspired to take direct action in his community and bring much-needed attention to the plight of his fellow Puerto Ricans and all those living on society’s margins. He soon found himself deeply involved as a leader and tireless advocate for social justice, working with the Puerto Rican Community Development Project and organizing strikes against unfair rent increases, arranging sit-ins, leading voter registration drives and marches for safe streets, and speaking publically, once even sharing a podium with Malcolm X. In 1979 Espada received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and continued his community activism with the National Welfare Rights Organization, the National Latino Media Coalition and many other organizations. Despite all his efforts, Espada looked back on his life of activism as wasted time. In the introduction to his masterwork, The Puerto Rican Diaspora, he wrote, “In retrospect I can say that I believe it was all a bloody waste of my creative years. Although I documented some aspects of the struggle, I was too busy being an organizer and ‘leader’ to think of much else.” In 1985, Espada moved with his family to San Francisco, where he found a new passion – teaching. He spent 18 years teaching his love for photography to new generations of artists at the UC Berkeley Extension Program in the Embarcadero before retiring in 2005. He died unexpectedly of a heart condition in February of 2014.
On Sunday, August 9th, percussionist and composer John Santos presents a multi-media concert in tribute to Espada, whose arts and advocacy continues to resonate as strongly as ever.
More Info: John Santos & Friends: Tribute to Frank Espada