It should come as no surprise that Teatro LATEA (Latin American Theater Experiment and Associates), a theater formed in the 1980s by Latinos who believed their stories needed a permanent New York City theatrical venue as well as recognition should nowadays feature a broad variety of stage, screen and word productions. LATEA was founded in 1982 by Nelson Tamay, Nelson Landrieu and Mateo Gómez, veteran award-winning film, television and stage actors committed to raising the profiles of Latino actors, directors, writers, dramaturgs and producers.
Originally, Tamayo, Landrieu and Gomez ran Rincon Taino Café (Originally located on 13th St.), a hub for new voices in literature, Latin American folklore music and a diverse sampler of visual arts exhibitions. With the actual wooden bar from this venue in tow, the three amigos then moved LATEA to Solidaridad Humana, a Suffolk Street community-based continued education center.
After becoming the anchor tenant of a remarkable but dilapidated former 1897 C.B.J. Snyder public school building, LATEA founders Mateo Gómez and Nelson Landrieu along with Marta García-Landrieu and LATEA Board Chair, Puerto Rican writer Ed Vega Yunqué created The Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center in 1993. Naming the building after the Puerto Rican poet, Landrieu, Gómez and Vega Yunqué adroitly repurposed 107 Suffolk Street by cleaning it up and making it safe. They infused The Clemente Soto Vélez with new energy, reinvigorating Teatro LATEA’s programming and organizing performances, dances and concerts in other spaces in the building as well as renting affordable studio space to visual artists and smaller cultural non-profits.
By 1998, Vega and the LATEA crew had engineered the transformation of the almost derelict city
owned property into a unique Puerto Rican, Latino and Multicultural downtown cultural venue. Shortly thereafter the City of New York graciously acceded to withdraw the building from public auction as per the requests of the various cultural stakeholders at the Clemente, including Teatro LATEA. For this, and for Teatro LATEA’s foundational role in the creation of The Clemente, both Mateo Gómez and Nelson Landrieu remain Ex-officio Board members in perpetuity of the Clemente.
LATEA’s original logo was designed by Alfredo (Freddy) Hernández (1954 – 2005). His work is archived at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies and documented in the book “On the Wall: Four Decades of Community Murals in New York City” by Janet Braun-Reinitz and Jane Weissman
Teatro LATEA (Latin American Theater Experiment Associates) is a theater production company, which for over 30 years has run its own performance/rehearsal space in The Clemente located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Since its inception LATEA has opened its doors to a multitude of performers, artists and theater companies to forge theatrical experiences in this 76 seat experimental space. The mission of LATEA involves promoting multicultural theater and developing underrepresented audiences while presenting a variety of theatrical works with a Latino emphasis
As mentioned, in the early 1990’s LATEA was again faced with losing its home. The City owned property, formerly leased to Solidaridad Humana, was placed on auction and the building’s tenants began to move out. LATEA Theater decided to stay and fight the fight. In 1993, Ed Vega “Yunque”, Puerto Rican novelist and then Chair of LATEA’s board of directors, had a vision for the building… it was to become a Latino operated institution whose administration was to be as self-sufficient as possible. In 1993 Vega, Nelson Landrieu and Mateo Gomez signed the Articles of Incorporation for the formation of the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural & Educational Center, named after the Puerto Rican poet. Some of LATEA’s members fought to include the term “Educational” in the incorporation to honor Solidaridad Humana and the former public school building’s history. Vega, Gomez and Landrieu’s vision was to have community-based affordable space for local artists and nonprofit organizations. The plan included a profit making movie house for independent filmmakers with a café to be located on the first floor entry-level area. Architectural drawings and a business plan were developed. Vega’s vision was not free of marauders who resisted the idea of a Latino operated institution. A ten-year battle ensued over the building’s administration. The battle lasted over a decade.
Ultimately, reason prevailed. A fine group of reasonable people, artists, elected officials; community members have helped develop an award-winning landmark building whose services and patrons are as diverse as New York City.
The board of “The Clemente”, as the Center is today called, composed mostly by Latinos, is fashioned after its founder’s dreams…creative minds working together for a common good.
Mateo Gomez and Nelson Landrieu were made Ex-officio Board members in perpetuity of the Clemente. The late feisty Ed Vega“Yunque” remains gratefully in the minds of LATEA for his vision of the Center. LATEA is proud of its contributions and the legacy it leaves for new generations. Its philosophy arts as aviable unifying force for human expressions, experiences, dreams, visions, values and aspirations continues.