La Perla Neighborhood After ‘Despacito’: This is How They Do It Down in Puerto Rico

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A report by Suzette Fernandez for Billboard.

Where was the “Despacito” video filmed? That is the question hundreds of tourists ask residents from the neighborhood of La Perla in Puerto Rico daily.

I grew up in Puerto Rico. If I told my parents “I am going to San Juan with my friends,” the answer that I got back was: “Be careful, and do not go to La Perla. It’s dangerous and people get killed every day.”

That used to happen back in the ’80s and ’90s when crime and drugs were unstoppable, and the war between residents and the police was insane. Now, La Perla is a tourist hub. Who could have seen that coming?

Truth is, the turnaround started around four years ago with Angel Marcano, who until two months ago used to be the area’s community leader, and and an advocate for a new La Perla. “I wanted to change La Perla’s image. So, every time we did something positive I called the press to let everybody know what we were doing,” he tells Billboard.

La Perla has always been an attractive place, and Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee are far from the only artists to have filmed there. Years ago, Residente shot a video (with Nelly Furtado) in the neighborhood, and Rubén Blades and Benicio del Toroare some superstars who have done projects there.

Yesterday, for first time in my life, I went down to La Perla, to do what everybody calls “The Despacito Tour.” It was one of the best experiences of my life.

Walking the neighborhood is very interesting. “Despacito” had two locations, one on the sidewalk in front of the ocean, and another on the main street that links the only two entrances that La Perla has. Both locations are very colorful, and they keep it as appeared on the video. Any resident can show up and say (very proudly), “The Despacito video was recorded here.

The residents are really happy to see new people around visiting the community, especially the lady with the “chinchorro” (which is a little convenience store right on the street), known as Doña Carmen, who has been living in La Perla for 23 years. Before “Despacito,” she used to make $29 a day, tops. Now, after the the song’s success, her income has been noticeably boosted.

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The store is ready with more supplies, and boxes of all kind of beverages, due to the amount of different people that take the tour every day — mostly during weekends — and stop at her store to buy something to drink.

“We paint all the houses, we did a total renovation, because after the video, everybody wants to know the place,” says Doña Carmen. “This has been thanks to Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee.

Not long ago, Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, declared the country bankrupt in order to restructure a $70 billion debt. However, Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s global smash has aroused the interest of foreign tourists who want to get to know the place where the superstars were born, giving the country and community the hope of growing culturally. To date, however, Puerto Rico’s Tourism Company has not taken action to join this movement, and so they don’t have yet an accurate report on tourists visiting La Perla.

All efforts have been done by residents, who are working to provide the best they can. For example, the houses look better than in the video, children hnow ave a skate park that on weekends becomes a pool, and even one resident painted Puerto Rico’s flag where every visitor stops to take a photo. They are turning the neighborhood into a tourist area.

“I would like to have the Tourism Company involved with us, because Puerto Rico has international artists that other countries are using to promote their countries,” Daddy Yankee says.

“Puerto Rico is the true protagonist of this song and this video,” Luis Fonsi wrote on an Instagram post, last month. “I congratulate the residents of La Perla community for joining in this effort,” he added on a different post.

This week, Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito,” featuring Justin Bieber, continues atop of Songs of the Summer chart. It also reached its 26th week at No. 1 on the Hot Latin Songs chart, and tied for the longest-running Billboard Hot 100, with its 12th week on top.

3 thoughts on “La Perla Neighborhood After ‘Despacito’: This is How They Do It Down in Puerto Rico

  1. La Perla has always been beautiful it just suffered an image problem. Just like the island of Puerto Rico has suffered from the negative and even fake media that is presented to the people so much that even they are starting to believe it. I am proud to say I am leaving the mainland US to Ceiba, Puerto Rico and going to live there the rest of my life. The people are so warm and friendly and very helpful that I can not help but love them. The scenery throughout this tropical paradise is spectacular and the beaches are some of the best I have ever seen.

  2. We were fortunate enough to meet someone who took us into La Perla 3 years ago. Loved the people, loved the history and great stories. Great community.

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