The characters portrayed in blackface and drag in a comedic performance, “Reca-r-guesa de Risa” that took place over the weekend, raised questions about First Amendment rights and brought out local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) leaders calling for a moratorium on future performances at the Boulevard Theater and Restaurant, located at 82-22 Northern Blvd. in Jackson Heights.
“A show that mocks African Americans by using black face and transgendered people by dressing up as a woman isn’t funny and shouldn’t be run,” Dromm said at a rally in front of the theater on the Friday prior to the show. “I was shocked and alarmed to see this poster advertising such a racist event.”
After hundreds showed up for the performance on Sunday night, Councilman Daniel Dromm’s office reported that the FDNY slapped restaurant owners with three criminal summonses related to code violations, including one for unlawful public assembly, the lack of fire safety personnel and having an open flame without a permit.
Each summons carries a maximum penalty of $5,000.
Thomas Rodriguez, general manager of the Boulevard Theater and Restaurant, disputed the racist nature of the performance, but said he discussed the grievances with the promoters who said they would consider the performance without blackface.
“The truth is, we are a multicultural country,” Rodriguez said. “This is a person that is very popular in Columbia, but his comedy means no offense. It is very popular and the people love this guy. He is an actor of the number one television program in Columbia.”
Rodriguez said he was surprised to hear claims of looming fire code violations, stating that the restaurant had already made necessary repairs to the building, which he says is capable of holding a maximum of 380 patrons in its second-floor theater.
“The violations, it has been two years, and now with the DOB, everything is running okay,” he assured. “The building was improved.”
Councilwoman Julissa Fereras denied the restaurant’s claim that the humor is representative of the Latino culture, and joined Dromm and other local leaders to boycott the establishment.
“To think that they are representing Latinos, or that this is about Columbian culture or how we do our comedy is absolutely disgusting,” Ferreras said. “As a Latina, and as someone who represents this community with pride, we have stood with leaders of every color and every race to fight these injustices.”
George Gibson, the president of the Corona/East Elmhurst NAACP, said he was disturbed to hear of a flyer promoting the show being posted in windows along Northern Boulevard.
“This flier here portrays negative activity from people that do not reside in this country and know the issues that we have gone through many years to eradicate this type of publicity,” Gibson said.