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What makes the Island beautiful? 'La Isla Bonita' nails it

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Fathers dancing with their baby girls, Mexican folkloric dance, naps in the sun and seeing that friend you've been meaning to catch up with: It really is a beautiful island.

La Isla Bonita (The Beautiful Island) art and music festival brought hundreds of Staten Islanders together on Sunday afternoon and evening at Faber Park in Port Richmond.

The now-annual festival was organized by La Isla art collective and artist Lina Montoya (A.K.A. Ele Eme), with a helping hand from the city's Partnership for Parks and Sol Collective.

Kicking the festival off was Nuu Davi Staten Island, a multi-generational and traditional Mexican folklore dance group. Kids and adults in the group performed the choreographed dances to mariachi music, the ships passing through the Kill van Kull serving as a backdrop.

Throughout the day, musicians serenaded a diverse crowd of families, skateboarders, picnickers, artists and out-of-towners. Acts included New York City-based "tropical circus punk band" Consumata, and Los Angeles-based Gingee, who combined traditional Filipino instrumentation with electronic beats and spoken word.

Representing Staten Island was the fierce female-fronted dream punk band Yeti. The band will be changing their name after Sunday's performance, they announced.

An open mic session organized by Staten Island's literary magazine NYSAI brought to the stage everyone from comedian Nanci Richards to rapper Andre Altrez. Artists who had never sung before tried it out before the crowd.

In addition to the music, there was also a station for people of all ages to create "rhyme books" with Stapleton's Nani Castle, a teacher and musician.

Underlying the fun was a sense of relief: The past week has seen a surge in protests over deaths involving police officers in Minnesota, Alabama and Dallas.

"We need more events like this because it gives us motivation. It shows us why we're doing what we're doing."

Many who came to La Isla Bonita expressed a tired anger over the deaths.

"We're angry in a sense, but more than anything, we're sad and heartbroken," said Krystal Sanchez, a CSI student and leader of the group, Staten Island Against Racism and Police Brutality.

"You can see it in the community -- we're crushed. But this festival came at a perfect moment. We need more events like this because it gives us motivation. It shows us why we're doing what we're doing."

Seeing different cultures and generations coming together for a laid back day was inspirational, Sanchez said. It validated the justice her community is seeking through social activism.

"We're doing this because we want every day to look like this," Sanchez said.

A tiny, poignant reminder of the now-politicized environment Sanchez referenced was 2-year-old Legacy Garner, the youngest child of Eric Garner, who died in police custody in 2014.

Legacy danced to music spun by Staten Island DJ Dizzle between acts, and wore a button with her father's image on it. Her presence was a reminder of the incident that sparked heated dialogue across the country over race and justice.

Protests as recent as Saturday were a reminder of the divisions left in the wake of Garner's death and the activism that has come of it.

Gia Dupree, a founding member of Isla Collective, said the positivity of La Isla Bonita had a powerful effect.

"We're seeing that we're not alone."

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