5 Puerto Rican New Yorkers you need to know

Sunday’s the day to celebrate Puerto Rican pride in NYC. And as we cheer on the parade and feast on mofongo, here are five of the honorable Puerto Rican New Yorkers on our minds.


Daisy Martinez: Cooking in the spotlight


New Yorker Daisy Martinez’s path to becoming an award-winning chef, author and Food Network personality has been diverse.

Born and raised in Brooklyn by Puerto Rican parents, Martinez attended Long Island University before beginning work as an actress and model in commercials for Ford and AT&T, as well as in small roles in several films, most notably “Carlito’s Way” (1993) and “Scent of a Woman” (1992).

In 1998, Martinez made a career shift and enrolled in the French Culinary Institute before going on to work as a prep-kitchen chef for the popular PBS program “Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen” soon after.

Martinez later had the opportunity to become a TV personality herself with her program “Daisy Cooks!” premiering on PBS in 2005. Her book, “Daisy Cooks! Latin Flavors That Will Rock Your World,” was published the same year and was awarded the Best Latino Cuisine Cookbook in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.

Martinez also spent time on the Food Network in 2009 with her series “Viva Daisy!” where she further showcased her passion and talent for cooking Latin cuisine.

With several more acclaimed cookbooks published since (“Daisy: Morning, Noon, and Night”; “Daisy’s Holiday Cooking”), Martinez has also been a contributor to magazines such as Siempre Mujer and Every Day with Rachel Ray.

She is currently living in Brooklyn with her four children where she continues to share her passion for food and remain an active participant in Latino community organizations, including Latinas Unidas in Rochester, and The Committee for Hispanic Children and Families.


Richard Pena: Molding minds in the world of film


Richard Pena is perhaps best known in New York today for his contributions to the study of independent film, having served as program director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and as the director of the New York Film Festival for 25 years before stepping down in 2012.  

Interested in cinema from an early age, Pena received his Master’s degree in film from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after earning his undergraduate degree from Harvard University.

He has been a full-time faculty member at the Columbia University School of the Arts since 1996, specializing in Latin American film studies and founding the University’s MA program in Film Studies. He was honored with the title of Professor of Professional Practice in 2003.

Pena is currently the co-host of Reel 13, a weekly online film series that airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. on channel 13 and tackles everything and anything film.


Pura Belpre: Inspiring through literature


Using puppets, folktales and stories of her youth, Pura Belpre became one of the most celebrated New York Public Library librarians of her time.

The first Puerto Rican to be hired by the New York Public Library, Belpre wasted no time in bringing her own passion for learning and love for her native country to her position as the library’s Hispanic Assistant in 1921.

At a time when the Puerto Rican community in Upper Manhattan was beginning to grow in numbers, Belpre introduced more welcoming and inclusive activities in the library, including a bilingual story-time where she engaged diverse groups of children with tales of her days in Puerto Rico. Belpre also shared traditional Puerto Rican folk tales, often using homemade puppets, a storytelling method she would later become known for.

After gaining national attention for her work and drawing new crowds to the New York Public Library, Belpre published multiple books and anthologies of Puerto Rican folktales for children, the most successful of which was “La Cucaracha Martina y el Ratoncito Perez” (A Love Story between a Cockroach and a Rat) in 1932.

In 1996, Belpre’s legacy was honored by the Association for Library Service to Children with the Pura Belpre Award, which, according to its website, is “presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.”


Judge Edwin Torres: Putting criminals in line


Widely recognized for his gritty novels-turned-movies such as “Carlito’s Way,” Puerto Rican-American Edwin Torres became known for his tough courtroom quips while overseeing high-profile Criminal and state Supreme Court cases during his 30-year service as a New York state judge.

Born in East Harlem, Torres attended CUNY’s City College and Brooklyn Law School before becoming the first Puerto Rican assistant district attorney in Manhattan in 1958.  He proceeded to be nominated for the City’s Criminal Court bench in 1977 and then for the State Supreme Court in 1979.

Torres spent the next 30 years gaining a reputation for both his wit and uncompromising sternness in his position as judge, often overseeing the most heinous crimes. During a heated case, he infamously and ominously informed one murder convict: “Your parole officer has not yet been born.”

His three crime novels, “Carlito’s Way” (1975), “Q&A” (1977) and “After Hours” (1979) were based off of his own experience as a lawyer and judge in New York City and were each adapted into a film.

Now retired from the State Supreme Court, Torres, 84, serves as a Commissioner on the New York State Athletic Commission.


Bobby Sanabria: Bringing on the beat


Bringing the beat to this list of influential Puerto Rican New Yorkers is Bobby Sanabria, the multi Grammy-nominated jazz percussionist and drummer born and raised in the South Bronx.

A lifetime advocate for the legitimacy and artistic merit of Latin music, Sanabria is known today for helping to spearhead the Afro-Cuban big-band tradition in the New York City jazz scene, drumming in the Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra with the legendary Mario Bauza, who is often credited as the movement’s founding father.

After performing on several Grammy-nominated albums and film scores with Bauza, Sanabria found success and acclaim leading bands as well, receiving a total of seven Grammy nominations of his own for albums such as “African-Cuban Dream…Live & In Clive!!!” (2001), “50 Years of Mambo — A Tribute to Damaso Perez Prado” (2003) and “Big Band Urban Folktales” (2008), which the New York Times hailed as being “New York up and down, and back and forth across the last century, from the street to the mambo palaces to the conservatories.”

Sanabria has served as the chair of the Afro-Cuban Jazz Resource Team for the International Association of Jazz Education and has been a professor and Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra conductor at Manhattan School of Music since 1999.

In recognition of his artistic contributions to the city, Sanabria was inducted into the Bronx Walk of Fame and had a street named after him on the Bronx Grand Concourse in 2006.


More from around NYC