Ivelisse Pabon de Landron is passionate about many things in her Puerto Rican heritage. Most tangible is her making of black dolls like the ones shown here. Having learned doll making from her mother, Ivelisse went on to do extensive research on the Puerto Rican black doll, and eventually met with older doll makers in Puerto Rico. She is passionate about preserving the history of the black doll as a way of honoring Puerto Rican women of African descent and their contribution to Puerto Rican cultural history. For example, the women’s role as slaves on sugar plantations, as la comadronas (midwives) and as la jibara (country peasants.)
Born in New York, Ivelisse grew up in the barrio of the Lower East Side, where her mother was a community organizer. As an adult, Ivelisse relocated to Massachusetts, but in 2000, she was inspired to move to Puerto Rico. “I wanted to know about my heritage. I wanted to understand the culture, because my dad was black and my mom was white. Also, because there was something missing. I found out that what was missing was that I didn’t know where I came from. I wanted to know why the culture was the way it was — the music, the food, the dancing.” After doing ancestral research in old church records, Ivelisse learned that she is the great great-grandaughter of a woman who was brought to Puerto Rico in 1834 from Africa to work in the sugar plantation in Vega Alta.
After arriving in Puerto Rico, Ivelisse sought out older doll makers to learn from them. She eventually marketed her dolls at the Plaza in Old San Juan. Ivelisse has moved back to Massachusetts and is eager to share what she has learned of Puerto Rican traditional culture.
Photos by Maggie Holtzberg