Cliff Matais
Jose Quijano dances at the 20th annual Gateway to Nations pow wow in Brooklyn, New York

NYC 'Gathering of Nations': Hustle, Bustle, Tainos and No Buses

Simon Moya-Smith

Just east of the Manhattan skyline, in an open field brimming with moccasins and iPhones and fry bread and Brooklyn brogues, Jose Quijano lugs a large drum to his sedan parked behind a cluster of trees. “I’m selling it,” he says. “$500.”

It’s late Sunday, the final day of the 20th annual Gateway to Nations New York City Native American Heritage Celebration and Pow Wow. Quijano is packing up his grass dancing regalia. He said he spent the weekend competing in the men’s grass dance category, but he knew that he wasn’t going to place going up against the burgeoning, limber young 20-somethings dipping and stretching and bopping to the deep rhythm of the drum groups encircling the dirt-grass arena.

Congregated around his car is Quijano’s family, his brother and sister – each one born in Puerto Rico and clad in red, white and blue. A pair of Puerto Rican flags on a nearby SUV whip in the breeze. In honor of Puerto Rican Heritage Day in New York – which was also Sunday – Quijano has tied a small Puerto Rican flag to the top of his roach in recognition of his people, he said.

Quijano is not only Puerto Rican. “We have Taino heritage,” he said. Quijano, of Brooklyn, said his parents moved his family to New York City in 1956. Soon after they settled, Quijano enrolled in the Boy Scouts, and it was there that he learned about Native America, about dancing and singing – it intrigued him.

“We used to get a regalia in the boy scouts (and dance), then after years boy scouts was not that cool anymore, so we started off-shooting from the boy scouts and (we’d) just go to the pow wows. Then we used to go sing and dance, compete – hoop dance, fancy dance.”

Quijano said no one in particular taught him or his siblings how to dance or to sing in the Native American way; they taught themselves by observation, he said.


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licymann's picture
Submitted by licymann on
This article is the biggest embarrassment for the Taino people I had read in a long time!!! People!! learn to be part of the Indian community at large before going anywhere, especially a pow wow and play Indian!! A Puertorrican wearing a grass outfit, which I'm sure have no idea what is the history behind such of regalia is, wearing a puertorrican flag in top of the head like an antenna! mocking not just grass dancers but us Taino people! I am not a Puertorrican, I am a Taino and the Puertorrican that cannot understand that concept should stay puertorrican and stop playing Indian! This gentlemen is telling the world that he learned about Indians at the boys scouts!! how embarrassing! Everything that the boys scouts teach kids about Indian culture is wrong...don't you people know that! I'm sure there were a lot of TAINO people at the pow wow, representing the people and the culture properly, with honor and dignity, but of course when you have one person clowning around that's the one person, the arrogant reporter needs to pay attention to. Taino people are not mythological creatures who can be represented by any fool with a custom. Pow wows are ceremonial places for Indian people to get together sing, and dance, and pray. Its a sacred circle where we Indian people go to see our old friends and make new ones. This mocking of our Taino culture must stop. The Puertorrican "grass" dancer has a lot of learning to do, and so any reporter that choose to bring to light the ugly of the pow wow and not the good of it. I'm sorry if I am offending anyone, but I am angry to see this article, very angry! don't we know by experience that one ignorant behavior by one ignorant person put an entire group of people into one category! as indians we should be very familiar with that! All the well done research, ceremonies, language efforts, UN participation...all the well done work for our Taino people and culture by Taino people goes down the drain in one flush with one picture and one article done by one Indian wannabe and the journalist who chooses to waste time on putting such of person in the spot light.

Taino Ray
Taino Ray
Submitted by Taino Ray on
In the 1960s NYC area there were indian people who worked with the Boy Scouts..The Pamanauke PoW Wow in Copiague Long Island is an example of that.. The Pow Wow with over a 30 year History was ormed by Boy Scouts and Indian people.. It was a Lakota man that taught Joe Quijano and his friends The Western plains Cuture... Mr Quijano a teenager at the time travelled to Pine Ridge and other reservations in the 1960s .. He participated with The Lakota who had accepted Joe and his friends.. An Indian elder teached young inner city youth Western Plains Culture.. Whats wrong with that???

Holly Hood
Holly Hood
Submitted by Holly Hood on
If you've attended any pow wows in the NYC scene over the past decades you would know the Puerto Rican "grass dancer." He's been dancing & singing for decades and been part of a drum group that sing Native American songs . He and his drum have been acknowledged in published material. They have obtained much knowledge about American Indian regalia,& culture over the years from visiting reservations & participating in pow-wows throughout the states & Canada. So don't speak of things & people you do not know about. He wears his Puerto Rican flag on his roach on this 1 day of the National PR Parade in NY to represent his culture. He also clearly states in the article that he never claimed to be American Indian to anyone. If someone chooses to learn about another culture and participates positively, who are you to denounce that? So the only one who is acting ignorant is you. Ranting & raving and name calling. You make yourself sound foolish. Watch & listen to this video and hang loose.

Joe Espanol
Joe Espanol
Submitted by Joe Espanol on
What is profoundly embarrassing is the irrational unfounded response by the commentator, who clearly has allowed for his "Anger" to dictate his logic, because if he was to know Mr. Quijano, he would not had engage in such an emotional, unsubstantiated, Buffoonery! I happened to be a life long member of the Brooklyn Drum, who like Joe and the various other members, are very well educated, professionals who are well respected in both our various disciplines, our Puerto Rican Community and by members of the American Indian community! We also have traveled quite extensively not only domestically but internationally! We as a group have been involved with the Pow Wow circuit for the past 45 years plus! As Puerto Ricans we brought and introduced our unique culture to the various Indian reservations, not only have we embraced the American Indian culture, we mastered not only their style of Grass Dance but singing also, by actually competing against numerous singing and dancing groups from around the nation and winning numerous awards and accolades! While participating at these numerous ceremonial events around the country WE never once failed to promote our culture and indigenous Taino roots! As passionate historians and students of indigenous cultures, we have as a result been fully embraced by numerous Indian elders, medicine men and women! We have earned their respect and the admiration of numerous Indian tribes! While there are individuals that "pound their chest to boast about their Puerto Ricaness or their Taino roots", there are individuals that make it a life long commitment to learn and teach the masses about the beauty of the countless indigenous cultures that live within our very community! We as members of the Brooklyn Drum live by example and as such we "Never Judge a man, until you have walked in his Moccasins"!