Tag Archive | "New York City"

Sub-liminal Messaging

By William Denselow, Palestinian Beat Reporter- A poster war is in full swing these days in New York City and it’s bubbling beneath the surface.

In late September, a controversial poster campaign went up across 10 New York subway stations. Within hours, many of the ads had been vandalized, some with stickers branding the posters as “racist.” There are now three different counter-ads in the subways.

The ads are scattered across Manhattan. Several stations in the Upper East Side have the posters up, as do stations at Times Square and West 23rd Street.

The original poster reads, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel, Defeat Jihad.”

“The posters infer that certain human beings are savages,” said Zead Ramadan, 46, president of the board for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in New York. “It’s demeaning and de-humanizing,” he added.

Ramadan, who was born in Palestine, also believes that the term jihad has been intentionally taken out of context.  Jihad, he added, means “struggle” in Arabic and has been used in these posters and elsewhere in order to spread hateful rhetoric against Muslims and Arabs.

Pamela Geller, executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, the group that bankrolled the original poster campaign, said that leftists and Islamic supremacists have misrepresented the ads message.

“The jihad against Israel is a jihad against innocent civilians, and the targeting of civilians is savage,” she said.

Ramadan said that he has no problem with a poster that advocates for Israel. What he contests, it is Geller’s attempt to take a good word and make it evil.

“If you want to put up a poster saying ‘Support Israel,’ that’s fine, it’s hunky dorey, but it’s unfortunate they defame a decent word.” Ramadan added, “They try and make anything Arab or Islamic evil.

Since the posters went up, various members of the Islamic community in New York have attempted to inform the public about Islam, especially when it comes to jihad.

After seeing the posters, Shehnaz Khan, 26, volunteered to join Why Islam, an educational organization that seeks to upend negative stereotypes about the faith. On the first Saturday after the ads were released, Khan and four other volunteers set up shop on Columbus Circle near Central Park to hand out flyers. Braving the wind under a flimsy yellow gazebo, Khan said that she was responding to Geller’s hateful ads.

“I just feel that Pamela Geller is a hateful bigot and an Islamophobe who doesn’t care to know the truth,” Khan said.

Geller dismisses charges that she is motivated by bigotry and turns the tables on her opponents.

“Why aren’t they standing with me and supporting this ad? Surely they don’t support the violent jihad against Israeli civilians. And if they’re so ’tolerant,’ why aren’t they tolerating this ad?”

The backlash against Geller’s posters has not solely come from the Islamic community. In fact, of the three counter-posters, two are from Christian organizations and the other is from a Jewish group.

The first counter-ads that went up were funded by the United Methodist Women, a group that claims to be the largest denominational faith organization for women. They argue to have around 800,000 members. Their posters went up in the same subway stations as Geller’s. A few were even placed next to each other.

Their pea-green poster reads, “Hate speech is not civilized. Support peace in word and deed.”

Harriett Olson, CEO of the United Methodist Women, said her organization felt compelled to speak out. “The original ads seemed to us to be so objectionable that it seemed important to respond in the same public space.”

While it may seem that the United Methodist Women are wading it a fight that isn’t their own, the Rev. Vicki Flippin, 29, of the United Methodist Church of the Village on West 13th Street, supports the move. “Our Muslim brothers and sisters are people of faith just like we are and that stereotyping them in any way is harmful to all of us,” she said.

Not everyone in the United Methodist community is happy with their message though. Mark Tooley, 47, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a watchdog on church denominations, questions why the United Methodist Women would react to a poster that denounces violent Jihad.

“They seem to dispute that there should be any legitimate concern about radical Islam,” Tooley said. “They seem to accept the critique that to express any concern about radical Islam was to slam all Muslims,” he added.

Olson said that her organization’s posters were not intended to address that issue.

“The point of the posters is not to take on the violence itself. It’s to take on the de-humanization of using the of language savages for other people,” Olson said.

She added that throughout history, de-humanization has been used as a tactic prior to violence.

A few days after the Methodist posters went up, two more poster campaigns hit the subway. Geller’s posters are now outnumbered three to one. One is backed by Rabbis for Human Rights and the other is supported by Sojourners, a group led by Christian author Jim Wallis. They both urge love for “Muslim neighbors.”










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Nightmare commute between Manhattan and Brooklyn for thousands

By Shaukat Hamdani

Brooklynites are notoriously tough characters, but the post-Sandy traffic mess got to many of them. “Nightmarish transfer” and “I ain’t doing this tomorrow” were just a few comments passed by thousands of commuters at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn as they waited in line for a special shuttle bus to Manhattan on Thursday.

Hurricane Sandy had stuck New York City earlier in the week and had sent the public transport system into chaos. While limited service had resumed across the city by Thursday there was still no subway between Brooklyn and Manhattan. To add too that the New York state government, fearing a gridlock in the City, had announced that only cars with carpool would be allowed to cross from Brooklyn to Manhattan through the bridges.

This meant a lot of people would be using the free shuttle service from multiple locations in Brooklyn to Manhattan to get to work. The scene at the Barclays Center confirmed that notion. It took me around three and half hours to get from South Beach, Staten Island to Columbia University. The major point of delay was at the new Barclays Center where I had to wait for more than an hour to get onto the bus. The line extended a full circle around the stadium and three-quarters of the way back.

The huge line frustrated many commuters who were already getting late for work.  A man who identified himself only as Victor was commuting from Bay Ridge Brooklyn to 59th Street in Manhattan. “I am about to give up on the line, I am frustrated” Victor, 41, exclaimed. But he understood the situation that the MTA was facing. “What they gonna do, their trains are flooded,” Victor added. He arrived in his car but he was not allowed to cross the Manhattan Bridge because he was alone. The police were only allowing cars with three or more people to pass. Victor made sure he had pictures to show his boss. “When my boss asks me why are you so late, I can show them to him and say this is why,” Victor joked.

Another frustrated commuter was overheard regretting that he hadn’t thought of picking up  “ two random people” and driven over the bridge.

Most people in the line patiently, or impatiently, waited their turn, others tried to push ahead or cut the line. This lead to some explosive situations with a lot of colorful language being exchanged between the annoyed travelers. Eventually more police and MTA officials had to be deployed to ensure that people do not skip in front of the lines.

While the chaos and increased travel time was bothering many commuters, Dayshawne Sullivan said that he expected this to happen. “You can get mad but you know it was going to happen when the hurricane came,” said Sullivan, 22.  Sullivan was commuting from New Lots Avenue in Brooklyn to Grand Central station. He wasn’t happy about the wait, but he did express appreciation for the MTA’s decision to waive the fare for Thursday and Friday.

“It shows consideration for the city’s people and it’s their way of saying sorry,” Sullivan said. “ They are saying go through this and you can ride the bus for free.”



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The Last Italian Market on 18th Avenue

A typical afternoon at Frank and Sal’s in Bensonhurst

by Yvonne Bang, Italian Beat Reporter — 

“It’s not for this store!” Francesco “Frankie” Casamento repeated, a little more emphatically this time. Casamento, a 35-year-old co-owner of the Frank and Sal Gourmet Market in Bensonhurst, was standing in front of the dairy display case arguing with one of the vendors who serviced the store. The young, dark-haired vendor was trying his best to push another order of three-pack mini muffins. But he’d sold the store a bunch the week before, and many of them had come in expired.

Casamento later said of the product, “It’s a cheap, inexpensive item. This store—we have good quality.”

In Bensonhurst, where 99-Cent Stores have proliferated in recent years, a store that refuses to compromise on quality has become a rarity. Frank and Sal’s is one of the last remaining businesses in the area to stubbornly refuse to substitute quality for lower prices. Cathy Casale, who has lived in Bensonhurst for 49 years, grumbles that she can’t buy well-made items on 18th Avenue anymore.

“A lot of these [99-cent] stores put other stores out-of-business,” she said.

Eighteenth Avenue, the main thoroughfare of Bensonhurst, still has a butcher shop, a pastaria, a couple of fish markets, and plenty of fruit stands that cater to the area’s historic Italian population. Even ten years ago, there were still many Italian-owned businesses. But with that population shrinking, the number of places where you can buy authentic ingredients for traditional Italian dishes like the Sunday sauce—a meat marinara gravy—has shrunk down to one: the Frank and Sal Gourmet Market. Frank and Sal’s is the last Italian market on the street.

The market has been in Bensonhurst for over 22 years, since Casamento’s father, Franco, opened the store with two butchers, Frank Gassoso and Salvatore Civiletti. Hanging from low-slung rafters are baskets and Italian flags, bags of pasta, and over the deli, strings of sweet, dry sausages and rounds of cheese. The store specializes in Italian products and produce, like fresh green olives the size of kumquats, ample bouquets of dried, imported Oregano, and Sicilian eggplants, which are bulbous and as large as cantaloupes. Products like salted, dried capers will be difficult to find in most markets, and containers of sundried tomatoes won’t come as cheaply elsewhere. Some shoppers say they have the best Mozzarella in the area—fresh, hand-stretched, and made from cow’s milk, the way it’s supposed to be. But for all its success so far, the future is uncertain, as Bensonhurst has been changing over the last 10 years.

A large demographic shift and a general unwillingness to spend have weakened the competitive capacity of specialty stores that once catered to a solely Italian population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there has been a 57 percent increase in the number of Asian-Americans in Bensonhurst. Chinese-Americans make up almost 32 percent of the neighborhood’s entire population. Nancy Sottile, who runs the Federation of Italian-American Organizations main office six blocks north of Frank and Sal’s, agrees that many Italian-owned small businesses have closed. But she believes it’s because other ethnic groups do not shop at Italian markets.

“Chinese-Americans do not go to [Italian] markets,” she said. “I guess we did the same thing when we first came to America.”

And people don’t spend like they once did. A store called Exclusive V.I.P. Fashion, has been on the avenue for 26 years. The business—selling and designing elaborate wedding dresses for brides and events—has been affected as much by a changing culture—more people nowadays rent dresses or prefer to purchase them online—as by a relocating clientele base. Seated behind a jewelry display case in her store, the owner, who identified herself as Sally, was surrounded only by dresses. She acknowledges that many of her clients, of mostly Italian descent have moved either to Staten Island or New Jersey.

“This in itself is a dying business,” she said. “It’s an item that people just don’t have the money for—a luxury, not a necessity.”

But stores on 18th Avenue have also closed for other reasons. Second generation Italian-Americans opt out of taking over the family business when their parents reach the retiring age. A longtime favorite, Trunzo Brothers Meat Market and Salumeria, which remained rooted on the street for over 30 years, shut its doors in 2009; a Grocery and 99 Cents store took over the location. In an online rumination, Brian Trunzo, the son who pursued law instead of a life behind the meat counter like his father wrote, “I never wanted to be a butcher in the first place; it’s just not my vibe.”

On a recent Tuesday, Frank and Sal’s was busy well before the traditional afternoon rush most grocers expect. Shoppers with carts greeted Casamento on their way in; some shook his hand and patted him on the back. He picked up a jar of Nutella for a customer in line who’d dropped it on the floor.

Despite the fate of other shops along the street, Frank and Sal’s does well these days. Casamento remarked, “We still do good. There has been a drop off. People have moved out of the area. There is competition in the neighborhood. But we have our own niche.”

Later that afternoon, up the street at the Avenue Fruit Market where the owner Tony sells only produce, a sharply-dressed elderly gentleman with bronze-tinted Hunter Thompson glasses and white hair sleekly combed back inspected and pinched red peppers displayed in boxes on the street. The products were displayed on a corner, where auto and foot traffic easily kicked up dust and where flies were free to roam and land. The man, who declined to state his name, described Frank and Sal’s products as first class. When asked why he was browsing at the Avenue Market instead, he replied, “Convenienza di prezzo”—the low price, and nothing more.

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Capoeira connects New Yorkers with Brazilian culture

by Nia Phillips, Brazilian Beat Reporter —

A group of people dance in a circle in a studio in Manhattan singing Portuguese songs as their teacher plays a traditional one-stringed Brazilian instrument with a gourd attached to it. Others play a drum and tambourine to help create the beat to the music.

In the middle, two students practice their moves, kicking, ducking, and swaying side to side.

After a little time, two more students entered the circle repeating the same movements. This scene continued recently in a weekly class in the Brazilian martial art of Capoeira.

While the sport purely Brazilian in every sense, most of the students in the classroom are American.

Capoeira Instructor Paula Verdino participates in Omulu Capoeira Guanabara’s Batizado ceremony.

Capoeira, Brazil’s national sport, is now practiced all around the world. In New York City, classes are offered to children as young as two across the city.

One popular Capoeira teacher is Tiba Vieira. He moved to the United States 15 years ago and has been teaching for New York Capoeira Luanda, held at the Alvin Ailey Extension School, since 2001. He began teaching children Capoeira when he came to the United States which is appropriate because he began his training at the age of 12.

“I think Capoeira is a little bit of everything,” says Vieira, who has studied the sport for more than 18 years. “It’s a sport, it’s an art, it’s a martial art. I see Capoeira as a blend of dance, music, and martial art and acrobatic movement. This is an art form.”

Vieira’s class is one of many throughout New York City. Once a year, classes hold a ceremony called a Batizado where students test their skills against their instructors. On a recent Saturday, a group called Omulu Capoeira Guanabara held its annual ceremony in the gymnasium of the Beacon School on the Upper West Side.

About 25 students of varying ages and levels gathered for the event. While Omulu Capoeira Guanabara teaches children as young as four, this event was for its adult students in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

One of the school’s founders is Jorge Luis de Lima, better known as Mestre DiMola, helped lead the Batizado. The Master instructor described the sport saying, “For me, Capoeira is beyond my life, it’s much more than that.”

As a Master, it makes sense that Luis de Lima said this. It takes about 30 years to become a full Capoeira Master; the number of years he has practiced the game. He sees Capoeira as more than just an activity, but a way to connect with the sport’s rich cultural history. He said candidly in Portuguese after the Batizado, “Many Masters already left us. They aren’t alive anymore, but through this they’re still present.”

Connecting with the past is a fundamental part of Capoeira. The sport started in 16th century Brazil with the introduction of African slaves to the country to work in sugar cane fields. Capoeira emerged as a means for slaves to preserve the fighting techniques they brought from their home countries. Disguised as a dance through adding music to the movements, the sport was born as both a means of self-defense and cultural preservation. Even though the Brazilian government abolished slavery in 1888, Capoeira remained banned in the country until the 1930s.

Today, Brazilian attitudes towards Capoeira are very different. Not only is it very popular in the nation, but also those who learned the sport at home have now brought it with them to other countries. Brazil experienced mass emigration in the 1990s following an economic crisis. Many Brazilians moved to the United States, bringing Capoeira with them.

While Capoeira is Brazilian in every sense, the people filling the classrooms in New York City are not. “It’s very rare to have Brazilians doing Capoeira,” said Vieira, “In my class you’ll have 3 or 4 at the most.”

Regardless, Americans too are making Capoeira an important part of their lives. Anna Prouty is a Barnard student and member of Columbia University’s Capoeira Club. She says she is one of 15 students who regularly attend classes led by a Brazilian instructor. Prouty started Capoeira two years ago. She says she discovered the sport, as suggested by a friend. Even though she is not Brazilian, she too feels a connection to the sport. “It’s an expression in something kind of different,” says Prouty, “Like we’re all tying into this history and this tradition.”

Even though she has not been practicing the sport since childhood, Prouty has a similar enthusiasm about Capoeira seen by Brazilian instructors throughout the city. Her words were not too different from Capoeira Instructor Paula Verdino. One of a few women teaching at a high level, the Bahia, Brazil native is the winner of prestigious awards in the sport such as “Best Female Overall” at the World Capoeira games. When speaking about her love for the sport she said, “I think that it’s amazing. It’s self confidence, strength, direction, it’s entertaining, it’s good for mind, body, and it’s great exercise.”

This is what helps make Capoeira more than just a mysterious Brazilian game. It’s a combination of sport, art, music, dance, tradition, and discipline. It helps keep Brazilian traditions alive, and is becoming part of the fabric of Capoeristas around the world. Through Capoeira students in New York City can connect to the culture of the African slaves who arrived to Brazil 400 years ago.

As Verdino said, in Capoeira, “You really feel what you do. You really have the love inside for it.”

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Soccer at Dyckman Park is about culture for Mexicans

Soccer at Dyckman Park is about culture for Mexicans

by Griselda Denise Ramirez, Mexican Beat Reporter — 

Nearly 36 years ago, when Julio Sierra was washing dishes in a lower Manhattan restaurant, he longed to play soccer just as he had when he was a young man in Puebla, Mexico. But he found that there were no established Mexican soccer leagues in New York City.

Sierra and his friends, “paisanos,” he calls them, would gather informally in Central Park to play a “cascarita,” or scrimmage game as a distraction from the day’s work. They met to play on Sundays, usually their days off. During one of those scrimmages in 1976, Sierra and the others decided to inaugurate a league of their own. The first tournament was held on the Sunday of the week of September 16 – Mexican Independence Day. That four-team tournament was played in Inwood Hill Park.

Today, the league they started, Liga Mexicana de Futbol en Nueva York, is thriving with 42 soccer teams — some representing towns in Mexico. Sierra said about 85 percent of the players are Mexican, mostly from the state of Puebla. There are a total of 924 athletes who gather to play soccer every Sunday during the six-month season that begins in March.

“It’s much easier to organize a soccer league than it is to organize a political party or religious event,” said Sierra.

Sierra’s league is one of eight Mexican soccer organizations in New York, according to a list provided by the Mexican Consulate. Games are held at three soccer fields – two at Ferry Point Park in the Bronx and one at Dyckman Park in Manhattan. Each player pays $40 to play Sundays during the season.

“There are more players than fields,” said Sierra. “When leagues are given access to fields they have to take good care of them.”

Growing up in the small town of Piaxtla, Sierra recalls playing soccer on dirt fields.  He said the children would create a soccer ball out of rags. Sierra said they would use two rocks as goal posts.

“When you watch children play soccer in small towns in Mexico, you can see how soccer runs in their blood,” said Sierra.

Sierra left his college education in Puebla for New York City. He said many people in his town left home in search of better-paid jobs. Sierra arrived to the City at the age of 20 in 1971, initially working in restaurants as a dishwasher. He retired this year at the end of August as a maintenance manager at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx.

Sierra said he never imagined the league he helped start 36 years ago is still standing.

“Soccer unites families and after so many years we continue to kick a soccer ball,” said Sierra.

On Sunday Sept. 9 the Liga Mexicana held its first round of semi-final matches at a soccer field along the Hudson River at Dyckman Park. The league comes to a halt at the end of September. Dyckman Park has been the league’s home since 1978 when New York City Department of Parks & Recreation gave them access to the soccer field.

Dyckman Park’s soccer field transforms into little Mexico. Sierra said the games are social gatherings for soccer players and their families. On Sunday, a band of three soccer fans clasped the cymbals, played an accordion and struck the drums to create “norteño” music, traditional music from the northern states in Mexico.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people gathered around the field, some cheered for either “Vista Hermosa” or “Guadalupano” – two teams vying to reach the championship. After 90 minutes, the teams tied 1-1. Both teams faced each other for a second round of semi-final matches the weekend of Sept. 16 when “Vista Hermosa” defeated “Guadalupano” 4-2. The following weekend, “Vista Hermosa” became the champion of the Premier Azteca Division after beating “Matamoros.”

Last year’s league champion, the Chinantla, lost against Matamoros in the second-round of semi-finals this year.

Bertin Cruz, a sugar plant machine operator, is the team’s coach for 18 years. Cruz played on the Chinantla when he first arrived to New York in 1988. The team is named after the province he is from in southern Puebla.

“Our team’s colors (burgundy and purple) symbolize the colors of clothing used by our patron in Chinantla,” said Cruz. “We affectionately call him Father Jesus — like our ancestors used to call him.”

A few families station their food carts at both ends of the soccer field to grill tacos and quesadillas for people who get hungry watching games. Juana Vaquero and her family are from Quaxaca, Mexico. They have been firing up the grill of their food cart at the soccer field for 14 years.

“We like to be here among the people and we also like watching the game,” said Vaquero. “We go for the Matamoros and Chinantla teams.”

Sierra and Cruz, like most of the older “paisanos,” share a life-long passion for soccer, tracing back to the days they played in their towns in Mexico.

Cruz sat on a bucket next to a taco cart as he ate a couple of tacos of “adobada,” or seasoned pork meat. He recalled leaving his job as a science teacher in Puebla because his wife got sick and was in need of a kidney transplant, which she has been living with for 16 years. He left his profession back home, but not his love for soccer.

“As a boy (in Chinantla) during the 60’s and 70’s, I saw the young guys play,” said Cruz. “That’s where I started to play and it continues to be my favorite sport.”

Children of Mexican-origin born in New York are seen wearing Mexican soccer jerseys of popular teams such as the “Chivas,” “Pumas” and “Santos,” Sierra said. For the most part they are not seen wearing a Red Bulls or U.S. national team jersey, he said.

“Mexican roots are that strong,” Sierra said. “Through the game of soccer parents teach their children the importance of maintaining their culture.”



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Soccer: More than just a game for Liberians

The winner’s trophy on display

by Shaukat Hamdani, Liberian Beat Reporter —

Staten Island’s Liberian community is abuzz over the upcoming rematch of its soccer league’s championship match. But the game represents far more than a typical finale, several Liberians said. The league is the glue that unites this community scarred by an ethnic civil war.

The Staten Island Liberian County League has come a long way since it was founded in 1997. While eight teams are from Staten Island, the league now also has one team from Newark, New Jersey and one from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Sulaiman Tunis, the founder of the Staten Island Liberian County League, said he began the league after kids from the community came to him in the summer of 1997 and said that they were getting bored and needed a soccer league.

However this league is not just about keeping teenagers and young adults out of boredom in the summers, but it also plays two very important social roles according to several members of the Liberian community. It keeps kids off the streets, which also reduces the crime rate, and it also unites the Liberian community.

“Kids are always in the streets selling drugs, but at this particular time they will suspend whatever they are doing and concentrate on the soccer league,” Tunis said.

He also mentions that gun violence has been an issue in the community, with kids shooting one another.

“But while we (are) doing this, they will stop all of that and concentrate on the game. Then a period of time will pass, without no crime report to the police force,” Tunis added.

Spectators enjoying the game

Many of the members of the Liberian community left their homeland because of two ethnic civil wars back home. Several members of the Liberian community agree that soccer is doing a good job in uniting the Liberian community and defusing tension between people.

Teah Jackson, who graduated from college in 2008 with a college degree in accounting and is a member of the Staten Island Liberian Community Association, plays in the league, and he emphasized the importance of soccer in the community.

“Soccer is a big help to our community, to our people, our country,” said Jackson. “Soccer eases your problem, because when you come on the field, you put all that stress on the soccer ball, instead of putting it on somebody. So we use soccer to create peace, we use soccer to create family.”But soccer serving a role as a unifying source is not something exclusive to the Liberian community of Staten Island.“Even when the civil war went on in Liberia, this is one of the sources that were used to bring them together, to unite them,” said Tunis, speaking of the importance of soccer.

Tunis also added that the soccer field is a place where friendships between members of the Staten Island Liberian community begin and continue.

A festive atmosphere surrounded the original championship match on September 3rd. Music blared from the sidelines at the Stapleton playground as a crowd of over 200 Liberians from different ethnic backgrounds gathered to watch the match, a sign that soccer transcends the conflicts at home. The game pitted Staten Island’s Grand Gedeh against Lofa, of Newark. The crowd exuded passion, shouting at the refs and giving informal play-by-play commentary.

Melvin Saah, goalkeeper for Grand Gedeh, makes a crucial save

Still, the soccer game was fiercely contested. It ended in a controversial 1-1 draw after  Grand Gedeh equalized in injury time. Lofa players complained that the game should have been over before the equalizing goal, but the result stood, forcing a rematch scheduled for Sunday.

This time the captain of Grand Gedeh, Charles Dukley, is confident of victory. “The team from Jersey had really good players, but my team wasn’t totally ready, because couple of my players were injured,” Dukley said. “But this coming game I have confidence in my team that we are going to win.”

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Fans delighted as Mali gets the ball rolling

by Ntshepeng Motema, Malian Beat Reporter —

Cheers for Mali’s initial victory in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers could be heard in New York over the weekend. As the Mali squad trashed Botswana in Mali’s Capital, Bamako, local Malians stomped, applauded and high fived each other at the Afrika Sounds music shop on 116th and Frederick Douglas Boulevard in Central Harlem. Fans watched the game on a fuzzy television screen hanging from the music shop wall. “Our national soccer team is playing a  qualifying game for the Africa cup of nations cup that is going to be played in South Africa.” Dame Sy, one of the men who filled up the tiny shop said.  Not even the poor quality will dampen the spirits of the team’s supporters. “The transmission is bad, this television is not clear,” he added. “But it is ok with us, as long we can see something it is ok.”  Sy is slim built, dark in complexion and has a warm smile. A bunch of keys hang from the front pocket of his paint-stained jeans. “ I work in construction, I run a business here in Harlem and do plumbing and renovations in restaurants.”  Sy, 45, old has been living in New York for more than two decades.

Malians in New York do not care about the Yankees or the Knicks. For them, soccer is king. Sy barely misses a game, especially if it’s his home team. “Soccer is very important, you have a lot of people who play the game in Africa, and every country plays the game,.” Sy added. The transmission quality of the broadcast from Mali gets worse as the game heats up. Forty minutes into the match Mali was leading Botswana by 2 goals. David Ba, Malian who has been living in New York for 18 years, can barely contain his excitement. “When we have free time we have to get together and have some fun that can remind us of what we used to do back home, as you can see our team is going to win, no doubt,.” Ba said.

But the soccer match is just one activity in the small shop filled with cd’s and dvd’s. It is one of the many social places where West Africans of all generations  in Central Harlem meet. A group of elderly men are sitting on the one side of the room listening to traditional Malian music. In another corner, younger men are standing and listening to hip hop. All these sounds melt together, barely audible to an outsider, crystal clear to them. Ba adds that this is a typical scene that could be found in Bamako. “This is how it is in Mali, you go to watch a match at the market or a local pub and everyone is doing their own thing, everyone goes about their daily business but still take a glance at the match.”

In the last 10 minutes of the game, however, the cheers abruptly stopped. The connection to Mali was broken and the screen went from fuzzy to blank. “I do not know what is going to be the end because the connection is so bad, we cannot see anymore,” said one of the fans, a man named Fofana Toure.  “There’s still 10 minutes of the game left. Probably we have to listen to the radio or go to the internet to find out what is going on and who wins the game.” The Malian fans will be glad to know that eventually when the outcome of the game was published by the final whistle Mali had added another goal making it 3-0 over Botswana. It is a score that will make the men continue coming back to the cramped music shop, their little piece of home despite the bad transmission.

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Slideshow: Mexico Independence Day Attracts Thousands to Festival

by Griselda Denise Ramirez, Mexican Beat Reporter —

Mexico declared its independence from Spain on September 16, 1810, a day known to Mexicans as “El Grito de la Independencia,” or the Cry of Independence The declaration marked the beginning of the Mexican War, which lasted until Spain recognized Mexicans as a free people about a decade later.

Every year Mexicans celebrate their Independence Day by attending an “El Grito” event on Sept. 15, the kickoff to Mexican Independence Day, which is celebrated the following day on Sept. 16. Festivities usually include parades and festivals, either in Mexico or elsewhere in the world. In New York City this year, people celebrated on Saturday and Sunday.

This year, the Mexican Consulate in New York and Instituto Cultural de Mexico hosted the El Grito party at La Boom in Queens on Saturday. The celebration continued Sunday with parades, such as the one that marched down Madison Avenue. After the parades, many flocked to a part of El Barrio neighborhood on East 116th Street between 2nd and Lexington avenues for the 17th annual Mexican Independence Day Festival.

One El Barrio resident, Javier Mendoza, 25 and originally from  Guerrero, Mexico,  wore a white bandana with the words “Mexico” across it and a white shirt  with the Mexican flag on it. Mendoza held his cellphone to his ear with one hand and a plate filled with tacos de “azada,” or steak, in the other hand.

“I’ve lived in New York for seven years and I haven’t missed a single festival,” said Mendoza, who works in a Japanese restaurant. “Coming to this festival and eating the food reminds me of living in Mexico.”

The patriotic colors green, white and red were everywhere – on bandanas, clothes, flags, necklaces, bracelets, sunglasses. Some people wore large sombreros as well as Mexican wrestling masks known as mascaras de lucha libre. Two main stages on each end of the enclosed festival featured live bands that played traditional Mexican folk and dance music.

Participants enjoyed Mexican cuisine, such as tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, chicharrones, (pork skins) and elotes,  (corn on the cob covered in mayonnaise, cheese and chili powder).

About 50,000 people attended the event throughout the day between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., said Sandra Perez, the event’s organizer. Perez is the executive director of the Mexican Community Center.

Jorge Velasquez of Puebla, Mexico, dressed as Chapulin Colorado, a well-known character of the Mexican television sitcom “El Chavo del Ocho.” His 13-year-old daughter Sabrina, born in the Bronx, dressed as Chilindrina, an adult actress who plays a barrio girl in the same comedy sitcom. Velasquez said he brings his family – three daughters and wife — to the festival because he wants to teach them about his Mexican culture.

“I’m so proud to be Mexican,” said Velasquez. He has attended the event with his wife for the past 14 years.

“Even if my daughters were born here in New York, I want them to maintain their Mexican heritage.

Here is a photo slide show covering the day’s event.


Posted in Featured Stories, Photo SlideshowsComments (6)

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