The 46th year of Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico Friendship celebrations kicks off with a free concert Saturday at Sunny Isles on St. Croix, featuring local artists and headlined by Puerto Rican gospel singer Lourdes Toledo.
Toledo has been a major player in the world of popular Christian music for years now, having won the Christian Music Award’s Tito Lara for best female pop-rock album in 1997 for her debut "And I Think." In 2005, she became the first female gospel singer to perform twice in San Juan, Puerto Rico’s Luis A. Ferré Performing Arts Center. The concert begins at 4 p.m. in the Sunny Isles amphitheater. Entrance is free thanks to sponsors Ka-Ma-Kris Hardware, VI Nails and Frederiksted Federal Credit Union.
This week’s concert is the first of several weeks of festivities culminating on Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico Friendship Day (Oct. 11) with an evening of music and dance with local steel pan and calypso bands.
Puerto Ricans have been a significant part of U.S. Virgin Islands and especially St. Croix society for well over a century. Some celebrations and pageants occurred at least as early as 1960, when the first VIPR Friendship Queen Nereida Santos was named, according to information from the VIPR Friendship Committee. It became official in 1964 when Gov. Ralph Paiewonsky signed an act making Columbus Day into Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico Friendship Day.
The act calls for the territory to "observe the occasion with fitting ceremonies honoring Puerto Ricans residing in our midst and who have made substantial contributions to the advancement and progress of the Virgin Islands." The Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico Friendship Committee organizes and puts on the festivities.
When the territory’s first Hispanic governor, Juan F. Luis, took office in 1978, his wife Luz María Luis began commemorating Friendship Day with ceremonies in Government House on St. Croix. St. Thomas also had a luncheon.
What started as a luncheon, moved on to three days, then a week, and in 2005, spurred on by the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico Friendship Committee (VIPR) expanded to a whole month of pageants, concerts and festivities. Now it has combined with Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations nationwide, recognizing contributions of Hispanics of every origin to the national fabric.
In 2007, the celebrations were extended to St. Thomas. The first VIPR village was at the Christiansted waterfront and dedicated to the late Miguel Duchesne, first VIPR Committee president. The village is always dedicated to an outstanding community servant and this year that honor goes to Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights, who are celebrating their 40th year together. Bandleader Stanley Jacobs is himself a "Cruzan-Rican," according to the VIPR Committee.
The Friendship Parade that was part of past celebrations returns this year on Oct. 10, starting from Estate Richmond and ending at this year’s Friendship Village in the D.C. Canegata Ball Park grounds.
There will be four full days of concerts and festivities in the Friendship Village from Oct. 8-11 as well as the following special events over the next several weeks:
- Sept. 18, Thanksgiving Concert featuring Lourdes Toledo, 4 p.m. in the Sunny Isles amphitheater;
- Sept. 25, Friendship Food Fair, 11 a.m. Buddhoe Park, Frederiksted;
- Oct. 2, Miss VIPR Friendship Queen Show, 5 p.m. John H. Woodson School;
- Oct. 3, Family Fun Day / La Fiesta Del Batey, noon to 6 p.m. Whim Plantation;
- Oct. 10; La Gran Parada de la Amistad / Friendship Parade, noon, Estate Richmond to D.C. Canegata Ballpark, Christiansted;
- Oct. 10, Governor’s Reception honoring exemplary youngsters, 6 p.m. Government House, Christiansted (by invitation).