The strains of “Ave Maria” resounded through the pristine East Harlem community room where Fernando Salicrup lay in state on Tuesday night. A huge Puerto Rican flag hung behind his open coffin, a reminder that Mr. Salicrup — an artist and activist — had helped to carve out a cultural space that defined Puerto Ricans in New York City.
Outside, the streets were slick with frozen snow. It was a reminder of the chill that has descended on the city’s Puerto Rican cultural world, which in a little more than 14 months has been buffeted by the deaths of five major figures who started to make their marks in the 1960s: the poets Tato Laviera and Jack Agüeros; the photographer Frank Espada; Juan Flores, a scholar who focused on Afro-Latin culture; and now Mr. Salicrup, who helped found Taller Boricua, the Puerto Rican Workshop, which nurtured a generation of visual artists in El Barrio.
Each of the five served as a bridge, connecting Puerto Ricans in New York to their roots, while forging new modes of expression. They were members of a generation that is slowly being consigned to blessed memory, and their deaths have left others wondering not only who is next, but what.