by Imani Vieira
Pictured: Carmen Pabón and Luis Rivera, son of Adela Fargas of Casa Adela celebrating at the first Loisaida Festival in 1986. Photo by Marlis Momber.
Carmen Pabón was born in Puerto Rico in 1921 or 1922, she had two birth certificates. She immigrated to New York City at the age of 23 in 1946. Upon arrival she moved to the Bronx where she worked in a factory to send money to her sister and young daughter back in Puerto Rico. Pabón moved back to the island for a short time in 1948, later returning to the United States and relocating in Manhattan. In 1955, Pabón was selected in the NYC Public Housing Lottery where she would remain as a resident of the Lillian Wald Housing Projects for the entirety of her life.
In the late 70s, she joined the New York City gardening movement which had begun in the Lower East Side in the early 70s. In 1984, she founded El Bello Amanecer Boriqueño Garden (informally known as the Carmen Pabón Garden) “with the goal of providing a place for the elderly and children in the neighborhood.” The garden also included “the casita,” where Pabón handed food out to the homeless every morning. The garden served as a place for poetry reading where she also recited her own poetry. The property was later sold under the Giuliani administration to later be given back to Pabón in the decision that it be a permanent community garden and not for profit garden association. She was granted a 99 year lease.
Pabón worked along side members of CHARAS in the reopening and repurposing of the PS 64 school building into El Bohío, a community center. After the building was sold by the city, she continued to advocate for the use of the building as a community center.
Carmen Pabón called herself “a social worker without a license.” With only an eighth grade education, she advocated for those in Loisaida: drug addicts, homeless people, HIV positive residents, and so many more, who at the time were facing huge obstacles and left often ostracized by society. Pabón gave them a voice and the care that they needed and deserved.