We are excited to bring you professionals from a variety of industries, from Taíno linguists working on language reclamation and experts in language-learning software to archeologists, spiritual leaders, film industry veterans, and teachers.
Miguel Rodríguez López
Distinguished Archeologist & Professor
Miguel Rodríguez López is a distinguished Puerto Rican archaeologist, educator, and cultural ambassador with broad academic and professional recognition in the Caribbean region. Until 2019, he served as rector of the Center for Advanced Studies of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean (CEAPRC), a position he occupied for 15 years, after the retirement of its founder Dr. Ricardo E. Alegría. As a rector, he achieved the creation of the first graduate program specializing in Archeology that exists in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean region. In past years, Rodríguez López returned to his former role as Chair of History and Humanities at Ana G. Méndez University (UAGM), Gurabo campus. During his extensive professional career, he has received the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture’s 50 Years Medal (2006), the Ricardo Alegría Foundation Medal for exceptional merits in the field of archeology and culture (2011), the Quijote Award from the Hispanic Society of New York (2012), and most recently, the dedication of the Fiesta de la Puertorriqueñidad from the Department of Education of Puerto Rico (2022), among many other recognitions.
Dr. Reniel Rodríguez Ramos
Author, Archeologist & Professor
Dr. Reniel Rodríguez Ramos serves as Professor at the University of Puerto Rico, Utuado Campus. After completing his bachelor's degree in Anthropology at the University of Puerto Rico, he pursued a master's degree at Texas A&M University and a doctorate at the Caribbean Archeology Program at the University of Florida. Subsequently, he did postdoctoral studies in the Caribbean Archeology Program at Leiden University in the Netherlands. He is the author of Rethinking Puerto Rican Precolonial History (University of Alabama Press, 2010) and co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of Caribbean Archeology (Oxford University Press, 2013). His works have appeared in various professional journals and in several edited volumes on the archeology of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.
Alba E. García Rivas
Award-winning Director & Founder of FANTASIATION Studio
Alba E. García Rivas is a Puerto Rican director, animator, and writer of Taíno descent. Her 2018 film Dak’Toká Taíno (I am Taíno) tells the story of Abuela Yaya, who uses Taíno history and culture to help her granddaughter Marabelí cope in the aftermath of Hurricane María. In addition to qualifying for the 2019 Oscars, this film has been screened at the Smithsonian Museum, The Museum of Moving Image, and The Newark Museum, among others.
Archeology & Symbology
Dr. Carlos A. Pérez Merced
Archaeologist at the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture
Carlos A. Pérez Merced is a professor in the Master's Program in Archeology of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. He holds a Ph.D. in Humanities with a thesis in Archeology from the History of the Americas Program at the University of Seville, Spain.
Dr. L. Antonio Curet
Curator of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian
Dr. L. Antonio Curet is curator of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. Born in Puerto Rico, he completed his bachelor's and master's degrees in Chemistry at the University of Puerto Rico. In 1992, he received his Doctorate in Archeology from Arizona State University. Dr. Curet specializes primarily in Caribbean Archeology with a minor specialization in Mesoamerican Archaeology. He has conducted investigations in various parts of Puerto Rico, in Veracruz, Mexico, and in the state of Arizona. His research is mostly focused on the study of organization and social change in pre-Hispanic times, especially the development of stratified societies. More specifically, he is interested in determining the role of economic, social, political, and ideological aspects in the dynamics of social change in ancient times. Other topics he has worked on include technological studies of ceramics, paleodemography, domestic units, and theory and practice in Caribbean archaeology.
Roberto Pérez Reyes
Author, Speaker & Researcher
Roberto Pérez Reyes received a degree in Social Sciences with a concentration in Ibero-American Studies from the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo. After self-publishing his first popular science book (an in-depth study of the intellectual capacity of ancient Indo-Antilleans), Pérez Reyes participated in a scientific expedition to date Indo-Antillean rock art, directed by renowned archaeologist Dr. Reniel Rodríguez Ramos. In addition, he designed the catalog "The Collection of Father Nazario’s Stones", showcasing some 350 of the 800 pieces with symbols of an unknown writing system, the result of a project also directed by Rodríguez Ramos. Pérez Reyes is the creator and host of Canal Caníbal on YouTube, which promotes the excellence of native Jíbaro Boricua culture.
Cinema & Culture
David M. Massey
Academy Award-Nominated Filmmaker
David M. Massey is an Academy Award-Nominated filmmaker with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications & Education from Ohio Dominican University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Advanced Film & Television from the American Film Institute. He was nominated for an Oscar in the Live-Action Short Film category with Last Breeze of Summer (1992). Massey has been the recipient of several prestigious awards. Additionally, he is a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and serves on the Oscar qualifying festival committee and the Student Academy Awards committee. Among Massey’s latest projects is Golden Flower, a narrative short film that depicts Taíno culture and history.
El Colectivo "Máscaras de Puerto Rico"
El Colectivo “Máscaras de Puerto Rico” (The Collective of Puerto Rican Masks) is a project whose mission is to educate the public, via workshops, panel discussions, and exhibits, about traditional mask-making in Puerto Rican culture. Its goal is to ensure that the cultural legacy of this tradition continues for generations to come. More than 50 mask artisans and folklorists have participated in the exhibitions and panel discussions that the collective has organized since 2019.
Award-winning Actress, Producer & Writer
Isadora Ortega is an award-winning Dominican and Venezuelan actress, producer, and writer. From an early age, Ortega fell deeply in love with the art of acting while watching telenovelas with her mom. While living in New York, Ortega studied at the Conservatory for Dramatic Arts and at Susan Batson Studios and has appeared in various off-Broadway shows. After relocating to Los Angeles, Ortega produced and starred in several projects, including web series, short films, and shows such as "Laff Mob" on TruTV. In addition, Ortega is an author, most recently publishing her first graphic novel, "The Curse of the Flower / La maldición de la flor," based on the legendary Taíno chief, Anacaona. Ortega’s hit novel was met with praise by fans and has now been developed into a short film, titled Golden Flower and directed by Oscar-nominee David Massey.
Taking the Museum to the Community
Founded more than 30 years ago by the artisan-sculptor Héctor De León Vélez, Taller Taíno and its project "Taking the Museum to the Community" offers the public the opportunity to learn more about our Taíno roots. Certified by the Instituto de Cultura, Fomento y Turismo, Héctor is an artisan who creates almost exact replicas of Taíno artifacts, using the natural materials that our Taíno ancestors used. Some of these are stone, wood, bone, and seashell. His pieces have been evaluated by true connoisseurs of Taíno art, such as archeologists Ricardo Alegría and Miguel Rodríguez, as well as Mr. Molina from the Carnegie Library, among others.
Vivionne Grace Keli
Author, Speaker & Independent Film Veteran
Currently a Hospital Spiritual Counselor and Chaplain in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, Vivionne Keli graduated from the prestigious Studio Makeup Academy in Viacom Studios and has spent more than two decades working on independent films as a Key Makeup Artist and on FX makeup. From 2001 to 2003, Ms Keli was COO of Extreme Salon and Day Spa of La Jolla, California where she catered to local sports figures, television celebrities, musicians, and actors. Additionally, Ms. Keli has years of experience producing, directing, casting, and consulting for independent film projects. Ms. Keli’s passion for working on Indigenous indie films began in 2008, which also led her to research her own Taíno roots in Puerto Rico. In 2022, Ms. Keli and her husband relocated to Puerto Rico, where she enjoys working within her community. Ms. Keli holds a master’s degree in Psychology and in the fall of 2023, she will resume pursuing her PhD.
Xavier A. Santiago
Award-winning Producer, Actor & Director
Xavier A. Santiago is an award-winning producer, actor, and director. His company, Saint Productions has produced commercials, documentaries, films, in addition to serving as a consultant for other projects, including long and short form television productions. He also serves as the Festival Director for the International Puerto Rican Heritage Film Festival. When not in the throes of production, Xavier can be found advocating for the greater good of East Harlem (El Barrio) and the South Bronx through service on Community Board 11. He's proud to have produced Golden Flower in the town of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, where a majority of his family originates.
Language & Education
AFT Executive Vice President
Evelyn DeJesús has been the executive vice president of the 1.7-million-member American Federation of Teachers, the first Latina officer in the union’s 107-year history. A longtime early childhood educator, reading specialist and union activist, DeJesús is a forceful advocate for justice―undaunted and unafraid to speak truth to power. At the AFT, she plays a key role in shaping the union’s education policy, professional development, chairs the Latino Issues Task Force and serves as presiding officer for the Asian American and Pacific Islander Task Force, LGBTQIA+ Task Force and the newly formed Native American Task Force. Evelyn has received many awards and recognitions for her work in addressing the needs of ELLs and similarly disenfranchised youth. She serves on several executive boards including the AFL-CIO, the Solidarity Center, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, the National Immigration Forum and was elected president of the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE). Most recently she was appointed by President Biden to serve on the White House Commission on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics. A native Puertorriqueña who grew up on New York City’s Lower East Side, she is proud to be the mother of two daughters and abuela to five grandchildren.
Gladys Yacely Aponte
Anti-colonial Bilingual Educator
Yacely (Gladys Yacely Aponte) is an anti-colonial bilingual educator. She was born and raised in NYC with parents from Moca and Barahona in Ayiti-Kiskeya. Prior to pursuing a doctoral degree, Yacely was a bilingual elementary school teacher in New York City public schools. She is now completing a PhD in Urban Education at the CUNY Graduate Center, focusing on how Dominican children in bilingual classrooms navigate racist ideologies about their language practices. Using a translanguaging approach, Yacely works closely with teachers of bilingual students to develop culturally & linguistically-sustaining classrooms. She teaches in the Bilingual Education and ESL graduate programs at Bank Street College of Education and CUNY City College. Yacely is an enrolled member of Higuayagua Taino of the Caribbean and has been learning the Hiwatahia Taino language for the past two years. She resides in Borikén with her partner, Ra Jikotea Niaku’no Ruiz León, whom she assists with the virtual monthly Taino gathering, “Areito: Taino Voices”.
Author & Taíno Language Specialist
Javier A. Hernández is a Puerto Rican polyglot and Taíno language specialist who authored the "Primario Básico del Taíno-Borikenaíki" in 2018, which ignited the Taíno language reconstruction & revitalization project. Javier is currently working on further developing this modern Taíno
for current learners and
Kasíke Jorge Baracutay Estévez
Higuayagua Taíno of the Caribbean
Kasike Jorge Baracutay Estevez hails from the town of Jaibón in the Cibao region of the Dominican Republic. Estevez has identified with his Indigenous ancestry his entire life. He worked at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian for 25 years as an Assistant to the Research and Workshops Coordinator. In addition, he founded the Taíno Cultural Group, Higuayagua Taíno of the Caribbean, which dedicates itself to exploring and preserving all aspects of Caribbean Indigeneity and backing up its claims with in-depth research. Their latest project is Hiwatahia: Hekexi Taino Language Recon-struction, which is now going into a second English edition as well as a Spanish edition.
Co-founder & Creative, Casa Areyto
As a writer, artist, teacher, and language nerd at heart, Priscilla Colón has shared her passion for education, working on language programs for more than 20 years. As co-founder and creative of Casa Areyto, her mission is to promote the Taíno language and culture via online videos, live events, and children’s books.
Ra Ruiz León
Dancer, Singer & Teaching Artist
Ra Ruiz León JibaRa Jikotea Niaku’no is a kiwari (queer), Taíno-Boríkua dancer, singer, poet, and teaching artist. Her focus is to celebrate Indigenous Caribbean identity. She hosts “AREITO: Taino Voices”, a monthly virtual gathering that showcases and celebrates the creativity of Taíno community members. She is also the creator of “Kiwari Taino Ahuiki’no (Queer Taino Voices)”, a growing archive of personal narratives by kiwari Taínos. Ra is an enrolled tribal member of Higuayagua and is also a member of the Hiwatahia Taíno language team, where she teaches classes to members of the community.
Executive Director, 7000 Languages
Stephanie Witkowski has over 10 years of experience in both language revitalization and the nonprofit sector. She holds an MA in Linguistics from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa with an emphasis in Language Documentation and Conservation, and has worked with speakers of multiple under-documented languages, including native languages of California, the Pacific, and Russia.
Uahtibili Báez Santiago
Indigenous Author & Jíbaro Spiritual Leader
Uahtibili Báez Santiago is a spiritual leader and author of Puerto Rico: La gran mentira. Though he majored in accounting, Uahtibili always had a passion for learning about his ancestors and culture. Once his soul awakened, he rediscovered his true purpose: to show the world that the Indigenous people of Borikén haven’t disappeared. Uahtibili is the grandchild of the last Chib’.al.o (jíbaro) grandmothers who practiced the original religious rites at Caguana Ceremonial Center in Utuado, Puerto Rico. In addition, Uahtibili is the co-founder of “Superhéroes Kassabe”, a musical project for young musicians and the founder of the CanXibalo (jíbaro) Boríkua, a non-profit organization that provides education about the history of the Indigenous jíbaro people of the Island.
Víctor Manuel Bonilla Sánchez
AMPR President & AFT Vice President
Víctor Manuel Bonilla Sánchez is the President of the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico and Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers. He was born and raised in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico and has a bachelor’s degree in education with a major in Spanish and a master's degree in administrative leadership. As a member of the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, Bonilla Sánchez has worked as an educator for 27 years. In addition, he was recognized with the award of Teacher of Excellence from the San Lorenzo School District. His life has not been limited to the classroom and the institution. He has served as president of the organizing committee of the bicentennial of the San Lorenzo Foundation and a member of the municipal Legislature of San Lorenzo for 18 years, holding various positions, including legislator, vice president of the Legislature for four years and eight years as president.
Spirituality & Healing
Taíno Artist & Medicine Woman
Irka Mateo was born in the Dominican Republic. Throughout her life, Irka has expressed herself through singing and exploring the ceremonial music and syncretic spirituality from rural Dominican areas. Irka worked at the National Museum of the American Indian for ten years as an educator, creating and implementing programs for children. She also supports the “Sacred Taino Healing” community through ceremonies and spiritual healing. Currently, Irka is studying Indigenous pottery and producing Taíno-inspired ceramics.
Miguel Sagué, Jr.
Bejíke, Caney Spiritual Circle
A leader in the Taíno Indigenous community, Miguel Sagué, Jr. was born in Cuba, and grew up knowing about his Taíno ancestors. Sagué’s interest in his Indigenous roots accompanied him to Pennsylvania where he went to live in the early 1960s. More than four decades ago, Miguel co-founded the Caney Indigenous Spiritual Circle, an organization that helps those seeking to reclaim their Indigenous spiritual traditions. He also serves on the board of Pittsburgh’s Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center. In 2021, Sagué released his debut album “Songs From the Stone Hoop”, which features music inspired by his Taíno Indigenous culture.