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Latino and Native American Film Festival builds cultural bridges in New Haven

Carlos Torre is a filmmaker born in Santurce, Puerto Rico. He is proud of his indigenous Tainos ancestry. The Tainos used to call the island "Borikén," which means "Land of the Valiant and Noble Lord."

"People used to laugh at us because they said that according to the history books, the borinquenos disappeared,” Torre said. “And we say, well, we're still here. Our culture has survived, our language has survived."

Those nuances and melting of cultures are a major influence for Torre and throughout the 13th Latino and Native American Film Festival in New Haven he helped organize.

Torre moved to Chicago with his mother when he was 8. But the island was always in his heart.

At age 17, he made a film called “Puerto Rico, drama al desnudo” (Puerto Rico conspiracy made naked).

Torre later studied sociology and psychology and earned a doctorate in education. Now he is a professor at Southern Connecticut State University and a fellow at Yale University.

Torre was the chair of the Latino and Native American advancement committee. From there, he came up with the idea of the Latino and Native American film festival, which has been connecting both communities for the last 13 years.

"Before, we had cameras resembling bazookas," Torre said. "Now people can record films with their phones."

He believes the festival offers a unique opportunity for recruiting young Hispanics, Native Americans, and faculty to create films at a college level.

Through the Latino and Native American film festivals, Carlos has built relationships with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation in Connecticut, the Oglala Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, and natives from the Caribbean. His group has also been helping Native Americans address mental health issues like suicide.

This year the festival's theme is "quienes somos" (who we are) and is expected to attract nearly 200 students across the state at the opening ceremonies Friday. The festival has grown over the years, initially showing roughly 60 films and now showcasing over 450 films this year.

“People think they understand who Latin Americans are and they just throw us into one category,” Torre said. “But we are probably the most complex group.”

Research from the American Journal of Physical Anthropology in 2005 suggested 61% of Puerto Ricans have indigenous ancestry.

Maricarmen Cajahuaringa is a journalist with extensive experience in Latino communities' politics, social issues, and culture. She founded Boceto Media, a digital Spanish-language newspaper based in Connecticut. Maricarmen holds a Bachelor's in Social Work from Springfield College, and a Master's in Journalism and Media Production from Sacred Heart University. As a reporter for Connecticut Public, she is dedicated to delivering accurate and informative coverage of the Hispanic/Latino population in the region. Maricarmen is an experienced and passionate journalist who strives to bring a voice to the stories of her community.

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