Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Real NYC Part 15 - Festival de Loiza

Loiza is a small town on the north coast of Puerto Rico. It is one of two towns that were founded by the descendants of slaves. Their African heritage continues in evidence today. For more information on the town you can see my blog entry here. In New York City there is a group of Puerto Ricans who trace their roots to Loiza and years a go the formed Los Hermanos Fraternos de Loiza. Every year for the past 37 years, this organization and the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute hold a three day festival in El Barrio to celebrate the Afro-Latino culture of Loiza. This is a wonderful party with cultural displays, music, dance and food. this year I had the honor to cover one day of the event.

The full name of the festival is The Festival de Santiago Apostol, but it is commonly known as the The Loiza Festival of El Barrio. For those of you who don't know El Barrio, it is the area of East Harlem going north from 96th street and east from 5th Ave. While much of this area was originally settled by Italian immigrants, in the 1920's it became home to the first influx of migrants from the island of Puerto Rico. As other groups moved out to the suburbs during the 50's and 60's more Puerto Ricans moved in and by the mid 1960's El Barrio had become the cultural home to Puerto Ricans living in New York. During the 19990's El Barrio changed again, most of the Puerto Ricans also moved on to the suburbs, following the path of ethnic groups before them, and new immigrants moved in, mostly from Mexico and Central America. Today the Hispanic culture of El Barrio is under stress as gentrification is taking place. Rents are rising and many poor people are finding it hard to live in the neighborhood. 

Yet the Hispanic culture of El Barrio does continue. The neighborhood is filled with street art the celebrates that history.


On of the most prolific and celebrated artists there is Manny Vega. Born in the Bronx, Manny's work can be seen throughout El Barrio. he is also an artist in residence at El Museo Del Barrio and The Guggenheim Museum.

These pictures are from a work called EspiritĂș on 105th street east of Lexington Ave.


Buddha and Elegua


The Loiza Festival draws hundred of people each of its three days. One reason is the excellent live music performances. I saw two wonderful groups the afternoon I was there. The first is BombaYo! Bomba y Plena is a tradition form of music and dance from Puerto Rico that has its roots in the African slave community. It is comprised of a dancer, who leads the group and drummers who follow the rhythm of the dancer. they are usually accompanied by one or more singers.

BombaYo! @ Loiza Festival 7/25/15

BombaYo! @ Loiza Festival 7/25/15

BombaYo! @ Loiza Festival 7/25/15

If you are interested in learning more about dancing Bomba, there is Bombazo Dance company. Founded by Milteri Tucker, the company runs classes and workshops for dancers of all ages. Dance class for adults are Saturdays from 12 noon to 1pm at Casita Maria located at 928 Simpson street in the Bronx

Milteri Tucker @ Loiza Festival 7/25/15

The second group I saw was Retumba! Retumba is a multi-ethnic all female music and dance ensemble Founded in 1981, it ties together rhythms and cultures of African Europe and the Caribbean into a wonderful performance.

Retumba! @ Loiza Festival 7/25/15

Retumba! @ Loiza Festival 7/25/15

Retumba! @ Loiza Festival 7/25/15

The Festival of Loiza is a fantastic celebration of Puerto Rican culture, but the real reason I came to cover it was that this year it included a tribute to "La Casita," a true icon of the culture of the  island. More on that tribute in my next blog piece.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Real NYC Part 14 - The Harlem Book Fair

The publishing industry in the United States has always underrepresented writers and readers of color. It still does today. But if you really want to know what is happening among African American writers and readers go the Harlem Book Fair.

Started in 1998, The Harlem Book Fair is a celebration of much that is happening in the literary world of African American lives. This is a two block long celebration of reading and writing. Most of the authors are self-published, or published by small independent presses. I would break them down into four categories - Children’s Books, Urban Lit, Political/Historical and Self-help. What you find here are books that just do not appear in Barnes & Nobles or any other large store that caters to the latest commercial successes.   

Along with space for authors to sell their books, The Harlem Book Fair also has indoor panel discussion on many topics. Many of the non-fiction panels were covered by CSPAN2 - BOOKTV , this year covering 7 hours of panel discussions on such topics as Economics, African-American Identity and Race and Politics. There are also panels on literature. This year The Amazing Ms D. (Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa) participated on a panel entitled Literature and Diaspora along with the authors Ifeona Fulani (Ten Days in Jamaica); Gillian Royes (The Rhythm of the August Rain); and Tiphanie Yanique (Land of Love and Drowning). It is too bad that CSPAN only covers non-fiction, because this was a fascinating discussion on the issue of writing about the African diaspora from a Caribbean point of view.

Gillian Royes, Ifeona Fulani, Cheryl Sterling, Dahlma Lanos-Figueroa, Tiphanie Yanique

In addition to celebrating the writing of African Americans, The Harlem Book Fair also gives space to musicians and craft people. I heard wonderful love jazz performed by Atiba Wilson & The Befo' Quotet.

 An example of the crafts was booth run by DIOUM BASKET who import goods from Senegal.

If you are interested in finding out about what is happening in the world of books that are not covered on the NY Times best seller list then make time next July to come to the Harlem Book Fair.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Real NYC Part 13 - Arthur Ave - NYC's REAL Little Italy

Part of the selection at Mike's Deli
Tourists will go down to lower Manhattan looking for Little Italy, but those in the know will head to the Bronx. Just west of The Bronx Zoo is the Belmont neighborhood, and the heart of Belmont is Arthur Ave (see map). This is the neighborhood that has given us Dion and the Belmonts, Chaz Palmenteri and Joe Pesci. For me it has always been the home to some of the best Italian food in NYC.

Arthur Ave. Market
In 1940 NYC opened the Arthur Ave. Retail Market. And indoor space for 117 vendors to move their carts off of the street. Today that space is taken by about a dozen stores. Among these is Peter's Meat Market - voted NYC's best butcher in 2012 by the NY Daily News.

Piles of sausage

Half a lamb
If you are visiting at lunch time i would suggest stopping at Mike's Deli/Grecco's in the Market. The sandwiches are huge and the prices are reasonable.

Mike's special combo

Mike's also has a wide selection of deli meat and cheese available to take home with you.

If you are coming for a larger meal there are two restaurants that I strongly suggest, one is Dominick's where tables are communal and meals are family style.

If seafood is more your style try Randazzo's, just down the block.

There are many great bakeries on the block. Far too many to choose from. Finally,if you are looking for some canned goods to take back stop at Teitel's, selling goods for 100 years, still using the sidewalk to draw you in.

Walk around the neighborhood and you can see that things have not really changed in the past 75 years. The apartment buildings are still the same, except for some new dorms for nearby Fordham University.

The tall buildings have elevators, the short ones not

Mt. Carmel Parrish church today services mostly Latinos
So if you want to see NYC's real Little Italy forget about lower Manhattan, come up to the Bronx. Go to the Zoo then come to eat your fill.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Real NYC Part 12 - The Daily Forward

Recently I was in Chinatown to meet some friends for lunch. After eating a wonderful dim sum meal and catching up, I walked up East Broadway towards the subway. I quickly encountered the sight above. This is not a directional sign, at least not for drivers. This building was, for many decades, the home of The Daily Forward.

The Daily Forward was a daily newspaper printed in both English and Yiddish for the NYC Jewish community. It was founded by people who left the Socialist Labor Party to join with the Social Democratic Party of the U.S.A. The Forward had a left-leaning editorial point of view from its formation in 1897 through to today. At its height The Forward had a circulation of over 250,000 in English and the same in Yiddish. Today it is published in a weekly English and bi-weekly in Yiddish.

In 1912 The Forward built a 10 story office and publishing building at 175 East Broadway. Today that building has been converted into very expensive condos, owned probably by people who have no idea of the real history of the place where they live. But this building holds one of my earliest memories. My step-grandfather worked as a typesetter for the Daily Forward, and I remember going to visit him at work one day. I could not have been more than three or four years old, and the machines that were used for setting type were impressive.

Linotype operators at the Chicago Defender 1941 - wikipedia commons
 My grandfather sat in a room similar to the one above. The Linotype machine consisted of a huge hopper above filled with small pieces of metal (usually type from the preveous day). As the typesetter typed copy on a keyboard, the metal would be melted and formed into new pieces of type that the machine inserted into the proper row and position.
Formed linotype - www.flikr.com - Tony Dickins     

 I remember the room being dark, hot and noisy. And I was fascinated by what my grandfather was doing. This might be the reason why I am still fascinated both by the printing industry and large machines.

Today the building has been restored. Even though it houses the rich and famous, it still carries the signs of its origin, including friezes of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.

 More and more of the old city is being torn down and built anew. But walking around in the older sections there are still ties to the history of NYC. Sometimes, when you are really lucky those building have ties to your life as well.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Real NY Part 11 - Hudson River Museum

Just north of The Bronx in the city of Yonkers is a really nice little museum that I like to visit. The Hudson River Museum sits on a beautiful piece of land overlooking the Hudson River.

The Hudson River Museum opened in 1922 as the Yonkers Museum of Arts and Science in the Glenview Mansion. The museum housed a collection of artwork that mostly represented the history of the Hudson Valley, along with exhibits on natural science that included an elephant.

The Glenview Mansion was built in 1876 for the family of John Bond Trevor and financier. His family moved here from the Union Square area.

Union Square NY by William Hahn 1878

The Trevor family lived in Glenview mansion until Mrs Trevor died in 1922. At that time the city of Yonkers bought the mansion and its surrounding grounds and created the Yonkers Museum of Arts and Science.

For 65 years the mansion was the entirety of the museum.

Glenview Mansion
In 1969 the Hudson River Museum opened its expanded quarters, built around the mansion. The new space includes the art collection, space for special exhibits, a planetarium and a wonderful exhibit on the geology and biology of the Hudson River.

Around 10 years ago the Hudson River Museum began an extensive renovation of the mansion. This included repainting the walls and ceilings in their original patterns, and restoring the house to its grand style.

Grand Staircase

Hallway fireplace

Room Screen - Dining Room

Stereographic viewer

Chrysanthemum details
  The Hudson River Museum is currently hosting a special exhibit called Envy - one sin, seven stories. This is part of an exhibit on the seven deadly sins that is spread out among six other museums on the Hudson Valley. Information on the total exhibit is here.

If you are looking for something to do away from the crowds of NYC and you enjoy visiting small museums in beautiful locations come up to Yonkers.