La Brega

7. “Vamos Pa’ Plaza” — The Center of Everything

Plaza Las Americas is not any mall — going there, “Pa Plaza,” is a quintessential boricua experience. Young people experience first dates; old people gather and enjoy the air conditioning; you can renew your passport, get vaccinated, and buy an electric car in a single visit. The Pope even gave mass in the parking lot! This mall that has Columbus’ three sails as its logo is like a cathedral to consumerism, with its wide corridors, and glittering fountains. It’s also the second biggest mall in Latin America, and the largest in the Caribbean. Some people even say that to know how the island’s economy is doing, one need only see how full the parking lot at Plaza is. 

While Puerto Rico’s malls have been vessels of mainstream capitalism, they’ve also been incubators of the counterculture. So much so that an early reggaeton classic – Baby Rasta and Gringo’s “Vamos Pa’ Plaza” – is literally about being there: they cruise through Footlocker and Gap, meet some girls, and just… hang out.

Puerto Rican journalist Joel Cintron Arbasetti worked at Plaza - it was one of his first jobs. And while he was drawn to the place by the swagger of Baby Rasta and Gringo’s song, he quickly learned that the reality wasn’t so glamorous. He and the La Brega team spend a day at Plaza Las Americas, meeting people who reflect Puerto Rico’s challenges and are there for a lot more than shopping.

Learn more about the voices in this episode:

• Arlene Dávila, Professor, New York University and author of El Mall: The Spatial and Class Politics of Shopping Malls in Latin America• Watch a video about Luis Muñoz Marin’s speech at Plaza’s parking lot (in Spanish)• Watch the Pope’s mass at Plaza (in Spanish)

Listen to our Spotify playlist, featuring music from this episode – and this season. We’ll keep adding to it each week as new episodes come out.

Special thanks this week to Deepak Lamba-Nieves, Yarimar Bonilla, Juan Carlos Cintron, Ruben Davila Santiago, and Heather Houde – and it’s dedicated to Juan Cintron. Fact checking this season is by Istra Pacheco and María Soledad Dávila Calero. 

This season of La Brega is made possible by the Mellon Foundation.