Tag Archive | "Yvonne Bang"

[VIDEO] A Different Take on Sandy Relief

Medical relief workers can be found throughout New York City in Sandy’s aftermath.  In Coney Island, two volunteers provide an alternative approach to relief work.  Colleen McKown reports.

Produced by Yvonne Bang.

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Ethnic America Goes to the Polls

Reporters from the New York Torch visited polling places in the New York City and Jersey City area to ask first-time voters from ethnic communities about their experiences, opinions and hopes for America.

Click on the pictures to know their stories.

Reporting by Mea Ashley, Yvonne Bang, Magdalene Castro, William Denselow, Shaukat Hamdani, Colleen McKown, Michael Orr, MaryAlice Parks, Nia Phillips, Griselda Ramirez, Rebecca Sanchez and Charlotte Stafford.
Edited by Jay Devineni, Lorelai Germain, Stephen Jiwanmall, Ntshepeng Motema and Christina Thorne.
Complied by Dhiya Kuriakose.

Posted in Election2012, Featured StoriesComments (0)

Confusion at Bronx Polling Site

Reported by Yvonne Bang and Magdalene Castro
Written by Stephen Jiwanmall 

Even with her two bad knees, Diana Brij Lal made it to a local polling place in her Bronx neighborhood of Parkchester.

She went to P.S. 119, where her son goes to school. It’s where she’s always voted, she said, but on Tuesday, polling officials surprised her.

“They told me to come here,” she said. “ Now they’re telling me to go somewhere else.”

Given her infirmity, she decided not to vote at all.

“Somebody had my vote today, but now I don’t know,” Lal said.

Celina Dark, a coordinator at the polling site, said that some registered voters in the area had to go to different polling sites this year due to the city’s recent redistricting.

Dark added that voters with physical disabilities like Lal shouldn’t have been turned away. All they needed to do was fill out an affidavit, explaining why they couldn’t go to their assigned polling station.

This wasn’t communicated to the official who talked to Lal but Dark didn’t explain why.

Lal was one of a handful of voters who voiced disappointment with how the polling site handled the voting process.

Another Parkchester resident, Arlene Hector, said: “I had to ask for directions on what to do, and there was lots of confusion.  It is important, she added, that people working at the polls have more information. “If we’re not voting for who we truly want in office, then we might as well not vote at all.”

Here’s how another voter reacted to the chaos inside the polling station:


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New Yorkers in Disbelief as Hurricane Sandy Approaches

by Yvonne Bang

At 6:45 on Sunday evening, just 15 minutes before the New York City subways were to be closed for the advancing Hurricane Sandy, travelers were still trickling in, adding money to their Metrocards  and requesting to be buzzed through the gate.  They were trying to catch one of the last few trains before the subways officially shut down for the night and maybe longer. Nobody knew.  Expecting high winds and surging water, officials of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority  decided the mass transit system—including buses—would have to be shut down.  On Sunday evening, there were those skeptical of MTA’s decision to shut down service.  People seemed more concerned with the weather than with getting to their destination.

The MTA worker on at the 137th Street station, Oscar Williams, was doubtful of the storm’s intensity but thought the decision to shut down was prudent.  “Honestly, I think it needs to be done.  Because if the storm is going to be as bad as they say, then it is warranted.”

The last rider to catch the last train at that stop, Randy Santana, was not worried about the weather.  Because of a problem with the No. 3 train, he was being forced to take a

southbound train to 96th Street in order to switch to an upward-bound No. 2 train.  It was already past 7 p.m.

“If they say that I can’t do that right now, then the possibility is that I’ll just go home walking,” Santana said with frustration.  His trek would be to the last stop, at 233rd Street.  “ I’m just worried about getting home.”

Another rider at the stop, who was also diverted to the southbound No. 1 because of the No. 3 train problem, was on her way to a friend’s house at 148th Street.  The woman, 21-year old Eika Davis, lives in Queens, but was out in Harlem because of her flight to Kona, Hawaii on Tuesday—the day when the weather was expected to be at its worst.

“I was actually planning to leave already, and then this hit.  I was like, ‘Oh my god!  My plane ticket is on Tuesday.  I hope I get out!’  But everything is booked.  We’ll see what happens,” Davis said.  “I’m only worried about not being able to get onto the flight.”

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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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