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Film Music and Community Development in Rural Puerto Rico: The DIVEDCO Program (1948-91)

From: Latin American Music Review
Volume 26, Number 1, Spring/Summer 2005
pp. 102-114 | 10.1353/lat.2005.0010

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Latin American Music Review 26.1 (2005) 102-114

The DIVEDCO Program (1948–91)

Donald Thompson

The creation of the Division of Community Education was one of the more imaginative initiatives of the Popular Democratic Party of Puerto Rico as it came into absolute legislative and executive power following the 1948 general elections. The party was founded eight years previously by poet-politician Luis Muñoz Marín, with a deep commitment to a broad program of social and economic reform. A great part of this reform effort concerned the island's rural population: the largely poverty-stricken white jíbaros, subsistence farmers of the inland mountains and valleys. It was, in fact, this population that had brought the Popular Democratic Party to power during the 1940s and had elected Muñoz governor of Puerto Rico in 1948.

The conception of the Division of Community Education is attributed to Muñoz himself, who envisioned a program that would provide the island population with ". . . Basic teaching on the nature of man, his history, his life, his way of working and of self governing in the world and in Puerto Rico." Drawing heavily on his knowledge of U.S. relief programs in Puerto Rico during the 1930s and of the workings of other New Deal programs in the United States, Muñoz further polished the idea during the late 1940s with particular attention to the needs of rural dwellers:

In practice this will mean giving to the communities and to the Puerto Rican community in general the wish, the tendency, and the way of making use of their own aptitudes for the solution of many of their own problems of health[,] education, cooperation, [and] social life through the action of the community itself."

A Division of Cinema and Graphics was created within the Commission of Parks and Public Recreation, headed by Edwin Rosskam, formerly of the federal Farm Security Administration (FSA). Jack Délano, also a veteran of the FSA, was placed at the head of film production and his wife Irene in charge of the production of graphic material. A tripartite thrust was employed, utilizing films, posters, and booklets in a program designed to provide the stimulus and motivation for democratic group action, first in the creation of community consciousness and then in the home-grown solution of serious problems common throughout rural Puerto Rico. In 1949, with Muñoz now governor of Puerto Rico, the program was transferred to the insular Department of Public Instruction as the Division of Community Education (División de Educación de la Comunidad, or DIVEDCO).

Music was a very important part of the DIVEDCO film program from the beginning, and gradually incorporated many of the technical advances that had been made during several previous decades of sound on film. At first, music shared with other aspects of the DIVEDCO mission effected a spirit of enthusiastic improvisation: cooperative zeal directed simply toward getting the job done. As other production aspects gained in sophistication, music also became better organized, more purposefully conceived, and more professional both in concept and in execution—but without completely losing its ties to the island's own modes of musical expression. The early recognition of the importance of music to film in the work of DIVEDCO can be attributed to Délano. Délano was himself a trained musician, and his musical skills answered an urgent need in the first films produced, as he turned his hand to a previously unexplored field: musical composition. Out of necessity he found himself performing "as a producer, director, teacher, composer, and cameraman." When Délano left the directorship of the DIVEDCO Film Division in 1952, he left the basic concepts of film music firmly established in the agency's program, and along with them some of the techniques involved in their realization.

Another pioneer in film music at DIVEDCO was José Raúl Ramírez. A professional pianist and organist, Ramírez was a student and colleague of José Enrique Pedreira, the most significant Puerto Rican composer of his generation and a fine pianist himself. Ramírez was initially engaged as an assistant to Délano, and through the years became an...

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