Filed under: history, Puerto Rico | Tags: Barrio Pueblo, La Plaza, Moca, Moca Puerto Rico, mundillo, Plazas history
When I stayed in Moca for a few months on my research trip on mundillo, I had the pleasure of being adopted by a group of women at the Plaza and the spot was jokingly called, La Punta de Viejas. We moved around the edges of the plaza, so there really wasn’t one spot, but whereever the gathering was, there was La Punta. It was fun, and over time the mix of women changed for one reason or another. In different sections of the plaza, people grouped by age, family, friendship to talk, crochet, make lace, sing, or play dominoes until 11 or 12. One could relax before sleeping and facing the next day. No need for a watch, as the bells played from the church of Nuestra Senora de la Monserrate, which sits on a hillock on one side of the plaza. Going around to the right is the Alcadia, a combined City Hall and Mayor’s office, Jaime Babilonia’s Pharmacia, different shops, and the police station sits opposite the alcaldia. Most buildings are of concrete and reinforced bars, but years earlier, they were of wood.
Traditionally, the Plaza was a site that served as the crossroads of a town. Located at the heart of town, adjacent to both the Iglesia Monserrate and the Alcaldia, the church and the state, people met to talk, share a quick snack, or just take the breeze. Older folks spoke of the tradition of walking the perimeter of the Plaza, so that youth could check each other out in a controlled manner. One could catch the trade winds, enjoy the company of others, or attend concerts or other events.
The first plaza in Moca was a cleanly swept area at the base of this hill at the front of the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Monserrate, the Catholic church built in 1854. At harvest time, the area was used to dry coffee beans in the sun.
This is the oldest photograph of Moca, taken in 1914 by Benito Rosa Quinones. It shows the church, and at the base of the hill is a small wooden building. This was a small bar, and in the strong tropical sun, two men walk away dressed in loose white suits and straw hats that glare in the sun.
Over subsequent decades, the plaza underwent a series of makeovers to accommodate the growing population.
The views in the next image are from opposite sides of the Plaza– the 1927 image is taken from the steps of the church, looking down. The large wooden buildings that lined the streets around were a mix of homes and businesses, a block of which burned down a year after the 1910 census was recorded. By 1920s, the Plaza was rebuilt as a park, where people could meet for business or pleasure. The courtship ritual of walking the plaza involved an inner and outer ring, the first consisting of young women and their chaperones who walked or sat, while young men walked the perimeter, and initiated contact.
Almond trees were planted and benches installed, a layout modified in the 1930s. By the 1950s, the trees gave way, and in the 1970s, concrete domes were installed for concerts and public celebrations. By the 1990s these were demolished, and later, the electrical cables that lined the sky were put underground.
The latest plaza has small fountains and is filled with tropical plants. Gone are the benches, instead the heavy marble fence that winds around each of the sections serve as seating while subdividing the space that sits before the church. In one corner sits a sculpture of a tejedora, a lacemaker, to commemorate the women who were incorporated into the rise of the garment industry in the early twentieth century, and continues a tradition around mundillo that still gives folks a reason to visit Moca.
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In 2006 I had the honor of visiting Don Pedro Mendez Valentin, one of the founders of Los Enchaquetaos in Moca. Don Pedro built a small building in back of his home, which after my first two visits, he took me on a tour of.
It was a small plywood building with a pitched roof, whose stairs led to an interior lined with shelves. On them were objects that he collected for many years– bottles of products bottled in Moca, that included various sodas, liquors and even seltzer water.
Besides bottles, there were paperweights, a barber’s kit, things that he understood had no value for those discarding them, but that had historic value as the material culture of Moca’s past. Times were changing, and he was fascinated by what was left in its wake.
Moca actually had its own soda and seltzer plants, small businesses that older people remembered, but it was Don Pedro who saved the bottle. Labels identified what area of Puerto Rico the bottles were from.
It was not only bottles, but other things that spoke of the past– a carved wooden handle that ended in a long sharp point was actually used to test the curing of bales of tobacco. One poked it in and could tell by the smell of the residue whether a bale was ready or not. Underneath are some of the cast iron weights used in a scale.
The soda bottle is from La Puertorriquena, a plant established in Moca that lasted from 1925-1932. It seems the owner was one FC Benejam, whose name appears on top of the logo. The bottle originally had a plug with a metal wire that sealed it. According to Angel M. San Antonio’s Hojas Historica de Moca (2004, p.127), the company made cola, lemonade, raspberry, vanilla and cream of anise flavored sodas. Among the employees were Esteban Lorenzo Mendez (chemist), Cayo Mendez, Chilo Mendez, Antonio Hernandez Lebron, Pablo Gerena & Polo el de Trevo. Their sodas were popular across the district of Aguadilla. I’m not sure if the Mendez mentioned were related to Don Pedro or not.