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Inti Raymi celebration rises above obstacles

QUEENS, N.Y. - On June 21, the Kechuwa people of Peru and Ecuador gathered for their Festival of the Sun, ''Inti Raymi,'' a celebration that says ''Thank you to the sun for good harvests and the ripening of the corn.''

Today the small culturally diverse neighborhood of Jackson Heights in Queens has become the home of the largest community of Kechuwa's in the United States. Many of these recent arrivals originate from the Pueblo community of Otavalo in the Andes of Ecuador, close to the boarder of Peru, which splits the Kechuwa people into two countries.

Like many immigrant communities in New York City, the Kechuwa's have brought along their traditions and customs. They have also learned the difficulties all communities face in the largest city in the world: finding space.

Their celebration began on the first day of summer, June 21, with music, food and dance in parks around the city. The celebration concluded June 25 with a large indoor performance at a theater called ''Native'' located in the heart of their community of Jackson Heights.

Early in the day, dozens of Kechuwa artists and performers from as far away as Seattle arrived at the theater to rehearse and set up their equipment; groups like Yarina, Peru Inka, Inkhay and the Bolivian Mountain Singers were just a few of the attendees.

As performance groups and event organizers walked in and out of the theater, no one noticed the remains of a piece of white paper recently ripped off the window, which had posted a notice from the New York City Building Department. The notice, posted the June 14 listed a dozen building code violations and closed the space since that date.

Fifteen minutes before the festival was to begin, the NYPD arrived, reposted the letter and put an end to what would have been the largest Inti Raymi gathering in the country. Over 500 Natives and hundreds of their guests and visitors where left standing on the sidewalk off Northern Boulevard.

''It appears the owners of the theater where aware of the violations but still rented the space to the community anyway,'' said Fabian Manela, the event organizer. ''If they would have told us about this a week ago, we could have found a new location. We were here all day and no one from the theater ever said a word. Now we have people who drove in from Chicago, Boston and even flew in from Ecuador. What can we do?''

With their venue closed, the organizers improvised and they celebrated their summer solstice on the streets of Jackson Heights.

The groups took out their instruments and began playing the traditional sounds of the Andes as the people began dancing - closing off 82nd Street for almost an hour. The residents of this racially-diverse community began clapping their hands to the sounds of drums, pan pipes and the traditional songs.

After about an hour, the owner of Dantigua, a restaurant/club around the corner, came over and offered his space so the event could continue. Those that remained, about 150 Kechuwa Natives and a few friends, did not walk to Dantigua; they danced and played their instruments into the club, never missing a beat.

Al Andade, a Kechuwa Native from Ecuador, said these events make them stronger as people.

''The people who went home because they thought it was cancelled do not know the nature of our people and Native's in general,'' Andade said. ''We are survivors.''

The owners of the Native Theater and Restaurant had no comment.