Life » Culture



Age: 62
Occupation: Voter registration coordinator for the Monroe County Board of Elections
Current residence: Rochester
Hometown: New York City

As she sat in a booth at Casa Campo, a popular Puerto Rican restaurant on East Main Street, Annette Ramos was deep in an abridged version of a Puerto Rican legend about how the island’s tiny but beloved coqui frogs got their powerful voice, which can approach the volume of a jackhammer.

She grew animated and enthusiastic as she told the tale of how the frogs worked together to help one of them win the reward of song.

“Today on the island of Puerto Rico, as the sun sets, all the coqui frogs on the island sing their night songs, and it is a piercing, loud, resonating sound that reminds my people you’re never too small to accomplish anything,” said Ramos, whose petite build belies her big personality.

Ramos, who is known around Rochester as the Latina Storyteller, has spent half a lifetime sharing the folk tales and traditional stories of Puerto Rico and other Latinx cultures. She started in her native New York City then in Los Angeles, continuing when she moved to Rochester in 1996.

Ramos’s mother was born in Puerto Rico, and she learned many stories from her grandmother, who’d tell the tales as they sat on the fire escape outside of the elder’s Brooklyn apartment.

“My storytelling came out of the true love of my culture and passing on the traditions and customs of my culture,” said Ramos, who has a day job as the voter registration coordinator for the Monroe County Board of Elections. “So telling the story of the coqui frog, who overcame every obstacle, it's really telling the story of the Puerto Rican people who continue to overcome every obstacle.”

Ramos is also well known for tirelessly advocating for Latinx representation and inclusion in Rochester’s arts and culture scene.

After repeatedly running into each other at auditions, she and Stephanie Paredes launched the Rochester Latino Theatre Company in 2011. They both had realized that, while Rochester had a vibrant theater scene, too often the roles they were landing were "maids or hot-headed Latinas,” Ramos recalled. The community didn’t have a cultural connection with the Latinx and Spanish-speaking community.

The two women set out building bridges with local theater and community groups, and Paredes said Ramos has been an invaluable part of that work.

“Annette is a wonderful, charming woman who makes people feel comfortable, who also understands how to hold people safely accountable to inclusion,” said Paredes, who is chair of the theater company’s board. “She has this gift of gab, as they say, but she also has this gift of humanity.”

Over the years, RLTC has staged its own productions, started a reading series for playwrights, and partnered with other theater companies, including Geva Theatre Center and Blackfriars Theatre, to help them improve Latinx representation in their productions and stage Spanish-language and dual-language performances.

“(When) theaters invite us to experience diverse audiences, they also experience the language access, the food, and the music because when Latino Theatre Company is in the house, you get all of that,” Ramos said. “We even had cigar rolling at Blackfriars.”

Ramos also serves on numerous boards, including the Memorial Art Gallery’s Hispanic Heritage Committee, a City of Rochester arts committee, and the Rochester Association of Performing Arts , and is constantly searching out opportunities for local Latinx creatives.

“I really feel that part of my role is educating the next generation of creatives,” said Ramos, “creating pathways and opportunities for them to be successful.”