El Coquí, the tiny Caribbean frog and national symbol of the popular Puerto Rican culture is singing among the din of heavy traffic from the sidewalk of El Centro de Oro.
The presence of the beautiful sound in Philadelphia is possible thanks to Raul Romero sound installation “Onomonopoetics of a Puerto Rican Landscape.” The sound installation is both outside in the street and inside Taller Puertorriqueño, the Latino cultural center on 5th Street in El Centro de Oro.
Romero who lives in West Philadelphia graduated from Yale University School of Art with an MFA in Sculpture, 2018, and a BA in Communication from the University of South Florida, 2008. He currently works at the University of the Arts with the position of Film Coordinator and Lecturer.
“El Coquí is a very small frog and it produces a very loud sound,” said Romero.” To make this sound installation, he traveled into the island’s mountainous interior around Utuado with recording equipment, coming back with hours of Coquí sound.
“It’s kind of like witnessing a 360 degree chorus of sound. Completely immersive,” he said. “You’ll hear one coquí start to sing, and then another one will join in. After a few calls they all pick up as if there is a crescendo.”
El Coquí (Eleutherodactylus coqui) is named after the distinctive sound it makes, as the males signal to the females for mating. There are about 17 different varieties of Coquí in Puerto Rico but only two of them make that commanding biphasic (two-phased) sound. The tiny frog constitutes an important aspect of the culture of Puerto Rico and has become an unofficial symbol of the island.
El Coquí conjures up a culture
Romero wants his “Onomonopoetics” to help residents of El Centro del Oro reconnect with Puerto Rico. The show’s website has an interactive feature, asking people to describe how they reconnect with Puerto Rico. Users can make audio recordings of themselves and upload them to the site.
For Romero, the sound of el Coquí represents a connection to his cultural identity. After standing on a mountainside enveloped by the sound, he said it never left. “When I arrived back to Philadelphia I would still hear the sound.”