Nuyorican Author Willie Perdomo’s Works Reflect his Spanish Harlem’s El Barrio Upbringing

willie-perdomoNuyorican prize-winning poet and children’s book author Willie Perdomo is Spanish Harlem’s El Barrio-born and a native to all things awe-inspiring. He has been published in New York Times Magazine and Bomb. The writer of Clementine!, Where a Nickel Costs a Dime, Postcards of El Barrio, The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon, and Smoking Lovely, he’s won a number of literary awards and notable mentions, and is recognized for his incredible creative contributions to the world of poetry.

Perdomo grew up just a few short blocks away from Langston Hughes’s home in East Harlem, which inspired his children’s book, Visiting Langston, which earned him the Coretta Scott King Honor. The book idea came to him when he was visiting his mother in Harlem, and witnessed what he perceived to be a father and daughter entering Langston’s brownstone. Greatly influenced by Hughes and Harlem, Perdomo credits both for helping to create his personal tone and writing style.

“Langston Hughes was such an influence on my writing,” said Perdomo, “that I knew eventually I would try writing for children as well. Our children need all the books they can get their hands on. The thought of a young boy or girl reading Visiting Langston and being inspired to write a poem really excites me.”

He attended schools in the Harlem area until he won a scholarship to a private Quaker school in lower Manhattan called Friends Seminary. It was there where he began to take himself seriously as a writer. And, by the time he entered high school, he’d already been published in The New York Public Library’s publication, New Youth Connections.

Beyond everything, Perdomo is praised for his candid observations and his understanding of life inside and outside of El Barrio. Also, his take on life as an Afro-Boricua or, as how he’s referred to himself, a “Nigg**-Rican.” In his poem “Nigg**-Rican Blues­­­­­­­­­,” he makes astute observations about color, race, identity and self-identification. The interesting poem roused by the ever-tedious question, “What are you?,” meets a colorful and powerful statement:

Sp*c! Sp*c! No different than a Nigg**! Neglected, rejected, oppressed and depressed From banana boats to tenements Street gangs to regiments. . .  Sp*c! Sp*c! I ain’t nooooo different than a Nigg**.

Perdomo was recently a Woolrich Fellow in Creative Writing at Columbia University, and he is co-founder/publisher of Cypher Books.­­­

La Casa Azul Bookstore: ‘El Barrio’s’ Literature Hub

Spanish Harlem, also known as “El Barrio” or East Harlem, is known for being the point of origin for a number of notable people: singer Marc Anthony, musician Frankie Cutlass, rapper Cam’ron, actor Al Pacino, rapper Tupac, poet Willie Perdomo, and bookstore owner Aurora Anaya-Cerda, who is the founder of La Casa Azul Bookstore.

The “crowdfunded” establishment was successfully supported by 500 funders after Anaya-Cerda ran the ‘40K in 40 days’ campaign. La Casa Azul Bookstore officially opened in El Barrio during the summer of 2012. (Photo : Latina book club)

The “crowdfunded” establishment was successfully supported by 500 funders after Anaya-Cerda ran the ‘40K in 40 days’ campaign. La Casa Azul Bookstore officially opened in El Barrio during the summer of 2012. (Photo : Latina book club)

La Casa Azul Bookstore opened in 2008 as an online resource that promoted literature by Latino writers, educational programming and children’s literature. The “crowdfunded” establishment was successfully supported by 500 funders after Anaya-Cerda ran the ’40K in 40 days’ campaign. La Casa Azul Bookstore officially opened in “El Barrio” during the summer of 2012.

The independently-owned vibrant literature hub offers its community a shared space for meetings, a bountiful retail selection, and a destination for events, book clubs, author signings, gallery shows, film screenings, workshops and writer conferences.  La Casa Azul Bookstore (143 E. 103rd Street) boasts culturally-based programs; they raise public awareness; and manifest an appreciation of art, all to celebrate Latino literature and culture.

Anaya-Cerda’s past includes her being a zealous supporter of cultural events in “El Barrio;” she’s is the founder of the East Harlem Children’s Book Festival; she was a middle teacher in East LA before moving to New York; she’s a White House recognized Champion of Change; she’s won a numerous awards; and she is on several committees that pertain to Latinos, women and entrepreneurs.

La Casa Azul Bookstore’s irresistible charm has earned it certain media attention, and the interest of NYC & Company, the tourism sect of the city, who’ve made it their mission to tie in East Harlem as a part of the “Neighborhood x Neighborhood” campaign, which aims to draw attention to communities that are less frequented in the five boroughs. The bookstore will be featured in the tour that will also take visitors to El Museo del Barrio and the Aromas Boutique Bakery & Café.

By Nicole Akoukou Thompson

Seeing stars! Actor and former City Council candidate hopes to make ‘El Barrio Walk of Fame’ in East Harlem

Businessman, actor, and former City Council Candidate Edwin Marcial wants to give back to the East Harlem community by creating a local version of the Walk of Fame. ‘I see so many artists in Harlem that deserve to be there,’ he tells The News.

Edwin Marcial wants to create an El Barrio Walk of Fame to honor local legends and stars on 106th St. between 3rd and Lexington Avenues.

Edwin Marcial wants to create an El Barrio Walk of Fame to honor local legends and stars on 106th St. between 3rd and Lexington Avenues.

Why should Hollywood have more fun than East Harlem?

A businessman, actor and former City Council candidate wants to create an “El Barrio Walk of Fame” on E. 106th St. between Third and Lexington Aves. to honor East Harlem stars and legends.

“I want to give it to the people who do something for El Barrio,” said Edwin

Businessman, actor, and former City Council Candidate Edwin Marcial wants to give back to the East Harlem community. ‘I see so many artists in Harlem that deserve to be there,’ he tells The News.

Marcial. “I see so many artists in Harlem that deserve to be there.”

He dreams of a block dotted with marble plaques that would bear the likenesses of luminaries from the theater, music, dance, art, film and government, along with a brief bio and the name of the sponsor.

Local officials say they can see what Marcial means.

“A Walk of Fame in El Barrio would be another way to celebrate the many cultural icons and community leaders that have hailed from our neighborhood,” City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-East Harlem) said in a statement. “I look forward to working with members of the community to make this a reality.”

“We don’t always know our neighborhood history or neighborhood heroes, and this would be a great place to highlight some of that,” Brewer said.

The project — which would cost an estimated $500,000 per side of the block — is being spearheaded by Teatro Moderno Puertorriqueno Inc., an East Harlem arts and culture organization that Marcial heads.

The project — which would cost an estimated $500,000 per side of the block — is being spearheaded by Teatro Moderno Puertorriqueno Inc., an East Harlem arts and culture organization that Marcial heads.

The project — which would cost an estimated $500,000 per side of the block — is being spearheaded by Teatro Moderno Puertorriqueno Inc., an East Harlem arts and culture organization that Marcial heads.

A committee would select nominees and choose one man and one woman each year.

Marcial plans to reach out to divorced couple Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony to be the keynote figures of the annual enshrinement, which he describes as a red-carpet event accompanied by street vendors.

“It’s a way to empower the artists in East Harlem and the community,” said Marcial, who expects a portion of the project to be completed by 2015, if all goes well.

But the ambitious community man has a long road ahead.

Marcial, 74, who launched three failed bids for the East Harlem City Council seat, still needs the approval of Community Board 11, of which he is a member. Members have asked that he provide more information after the holidays.

He also needs the green light from City Council and the city Department of Transportation.

Marcial said he would request money from the city, but he intends to raise much of the dough on his own.

It’s unclear, he says, how much it will cost to maintain the Walk of Fame, but he believes the attraction will attract tourists and their wallets to the neighborhood.

Already , Marcial says, a local politician could be one of the first on the far-from-approved Walk of Fame, but he remained coy, saying: “It’s going to be a surprise.”

jransom@nydailynews.com

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/uptown/hopes-el-barrio-walk-fame-harlem-article-1.1538580#ixzz2mkqUSScI

East Harlem “Tours” Doc Explores Development Impact On Neighborhood

For years, East Harlem has been undergoing changes as more luxury housing moves into the neighborhood, and now one lifelong resident is documenting how that transformation is changing the area's cultural identity. NY1's Jon Weinstein filed the following report.

For years, East Harlem has been undergoing changes as more luxury housing moves into the neighborhood, and now one lifelong resident is documenting how that transformation is changing the area’s cultural identity. NY1′s Jon Weinstein filed the following report.

Andrew Padilla says 96th Street used to be the classic dividing line between the haves and have nots on Manhattan’s East Side. But he says that’s changed as gentrification has taken hold of his lifelong home of East Harlem. The 23-year-old documented these changes in a movie titled “El Barrio Tours”.”

I began to see friends, family, small business owners that I had known for decades that were getting pushed out of the borough, out of the city, out of the country, and I wanted to know why that was happening,” Padilla said.

The film talks about the rise in property values and how that change is pushing longtime residents out of the area. Padilla offers walking tours of the neighborhood too, where he points out the changes first hand.

“Traditionally how it works is, you’ll have them like this, where you’ve got a public housing project and a luxury condo, they might be right next door to each other, but that does not mean that these two communities get together,” Padilla said.

He also cites Jorge Vargas’s Justo Botanica as an example of what’s been happening here. It was forced to move to a much smaller space from a far better location on 104th Street.

“We were there since 1954 to 2012,” said Vargas. “The landlords threw us out.

“Padilla paid to make the film out of his own pocket. Now, he’s trying to raise enough money to take his movie to other cities and make links between what’s happening here and other parts of the country.

“The hope is to raise $15,000, and get the film out to 15 different cities all across the country that are dealing with gentrification. And begin to explore why they’re going through it, and what are the national trends, because it’s not just East Harlem that is dealing with this,” Padilla said.

Padilla is planning to screen his movie Thursday evening at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and hold a fundraiser on Friday night. For more information, visit elbarriotours.tumblr.com. -

See more at: http://manhattan.ny1.com/content/top_stories/187502/east-harlem–tours–doc-explores-development-impact-on-neighborhood#sthash.4DuJDu01.dpuf

Retail vacancies plague Lexington Ave. stretch in E. Harlem

Nearly every storefront is vacant or going out of business between 100th and 101st Sts. Locals blame higher rents

An East Harlem block has become a ghost town called Gentrification.

Eight of the nine storefronts on Lexington Ave. between 100th and 101st Sts. are out of business or going that way.

Eight of the nine storefronts on Lexington Ave. between 100th and 101st Sts. are out of business or going that way.

Lexington Ave. between 100th and 101st Sts. has almost entirely lost its commercial sector as eight of the block’s nine retail spaces either vacant or about to bite the dust — all citing high rents.

Santa Anita Grocery is the latest tenant call it quits, planning to close Aug. 3, after its lease jumped from $4,000 to $7,000.

“For five years everything here was great,” said grocery manager Meliton Torres. “But now it’s a lot of money they want.”

Meliton Torres’ Santa Anita Grocery will be going out of business on Aug. 3 because of rent hikes.

Meliton Torres’ Santa Anita Grocery will be going out of business on Aug. 3 because of rent hikes.

Santa Anita is the newest, but by no means the last victim of one landlord’s bid to upscale the block.

The block was purchased a year ago by Brooklyn-based E & M Associates a year ago. The company initially focused on renovating the residential units on the block — but a month ago, began seeking “upscale” vendors for the vacant spaces. Continue reading

Mayor Bloomberg’s Legacy: Dismantling Our Communities’ Social Service Infrastructure

As the analysis of Mayor Bloomberg’s legacy continues in the coming months and years, low-income communities of color like mine will surely remember one thing about this final year in particular: the Mayor is presiding over a virtual fire sale of City-owned land which stands to deprive our communities of vital services and open space.

In El Barrio/East Harlem alone, we are seeing four parcels of NYCHA land being considered for luxury development (including one where a busy community center operates), the sale of a Human Resources Administration Multi-Service Center, the closure and unclear fate of the East Harlem District Public Health Office building, and the tearing down of a school serving over-age and under-credited youth to make way for more luxury housing. These are not just buildings and parcels of land; they represent direct services to the El Barrio/East Harlem community.

Mayor Bloomberg has made privatization a hallmark of his administration, which has been most salient in his administration’s rampant contracting out of municipal services. But in this final year, we are watching as this agenda goes into overdrive in an effort to have the next administration inherit as many of these projects as possible, when it might be too late to stop them. The net effect of these proposals is a dismantling of the local social service infrastructure that is so vital to low-income communities like mine.

If these development projects are carried out, not only will my community almost certainly see a reduction in social services and open space, but we will also see an acceleration in the displacement of local residents as El Barrio is increasingly marketed as an extension of the Upper East Side.

A most absurd example of these proposed development projects is one that would raze the School of Cooperative Technical Education, which only recently received millions of dollars in city-funded capital upgrades, so that a 40-story luxury tower could take its place. In itsRequest for Expressions of Interest, the city’s Educational Construction Fund reported that the area surrounding the school — just two blocks south of a housing development where NYCHA has proposed its infill development plan — has a median income of over $107,000.

And these types of deals are not only happening in my district. The Brooklyn Public Library had also proposed the sale of the historic Pacific branch for private development, which was recently averted (for the time being) in an agreement with the City Council.

In this final year of the Bloomberg administration, it’s hard not to feel like our communities’ public resources are under assault. If all of the aforementioned development projects in El Barrio/East Harlem are able to proceed unchecked and with no regard for needs of the communities, there will be serious consequences with regard to my district’s already fragile infrastructure.

This is a moment for everyone to come together — elected officials, community boards and local residents — to push back on this final frontier of Bloomberg-era privatization and to get commitments from all mayoral candidates that they will halt these efforts once in office and help protect our public assets.

NYC Council Member, 8th District

Source

Crossing 96th Street’s Great Divide

20130602ALBUMss-slide-7Q4V-articleLargeNinety-sixth Street was long the border between the Upper East Side and El Barrio, Spanish Harlem. To the north, the train tracks beneath Park Avenue leapt above ground, and Carnegie Hill’s regular grid and uniform prosperity gave way to a patchwork of public housing and poverty. Today, the old divide is less visible, and the blocks to its north are intriguingly animated by contrasts and surprises.

ALONG FIFTH AVENUE, elegantly fronted apartment buildings, medical complexes and museums run in a virtually continuous row up to 110th Street. There, 1 Museum Mile, a luxury condo designed with funky trapezoidal windows by Robert A. M. Stern Architects, will eventually house the Museum for African Art.

RAPHAEL MONTAÑEZ ORTIZ, an avant-garde artist, founded El Museo del Barrio in 1969 to introduce the neighborhood’s Puerto Rican culture into the city’s school curriculums. It moved from one public school to another until landing in its current home, on 104th Street, in the mid-1970s; its collection now includes more than 6,000 Latin American artworks. The building was once an orphanage, and its charming Heckscher Theater, decorated in the 1920s with fairy tale murals intended to delight young foundlings, dates from that time.

02stop-map-thumbWideOPPOSITE THE MUSEUM, fin de siècle gates open onto the Central Park Conservatory Garden. The Italian, French and English sections have their own horticultural moods. At the heart of the English garden is a fountain dedicated to the author Frances Hodgson Burnett; the bronze boy and girl could be straight out of her book, “The Secret Garden.” Plenty of real children come to enjoy the blooms. Abdoulaye Fall, from Senegal, brings his son Elijah, 9, after school. “He likes to run among the fountains,” he said.

THE CARVER HOUSES, a 1950s public housing project named for George Washington Carver — who, born a slave, became director of agricultural research at Tuskegee Institute — stretches across 14 acres along Madison Avenue, from 99th Street to 106th. On Park Avenue, a stone viaduct supporting elevated train lines further disrupts the usual street pattern. But Lexington’s streets are bustling, and community gardens fill formerly vacant lots.

COLORFUL MOSAIC FLOWERS welcome readers to La Casa Azul, a Latino book shop on 103rd Street, between Lexington and Park Avenues. This weekend, Aurora Anaya-Cerda will celebrate her store’s first anniversary with an exhibition of five artists’ interpretations of Frida Kahlo in the gallery space one floor below. Outside, there’s a back garden for other cultural programs.

THE NEIGHBORHOOD IS CHANGING rapidly. The P.S. 109 building, at 99th Street, is becoming an “Artspace” with affordable housing for artists and 10,000 square feet for community arts organizations and nonprofits. But change brings loss as well as opportunity. With this in mind, the East Harlem Cafe will host East Harlem Preservation’s annual fund-raiser on June 5.

‘Spirit of Community’ Highlights Period of El Barrio Art

HARLEM — In many ways, Manny Vega sees himself as among the last of a dying breed of visual artists to come out of East Harlem.

“I call it the East Harlem or El Barrio school,” said Vega, who is well known for his public murals and mosaics.

“From the late 1960s through the early 1970s there was this traffic of visual artists. I was young then, fresh out of high school, and developed my chops working with community based organizations.

“It’s very unlikely that that would occur again in this time period,” he said.

Also recognizing the significance of that period is Community Works, which has organized a show featuring Vega and several of his contemporaries — John Ahearn, Diógenes Ballester, Rodriguez Calero, Marcos Dimas, Lina Puerta, Fernando Salicrup and Nitza Tufiño — from that era.

Spirit of Community: Artists of El Barrio & Beyond focuses on the works of these artists and the role they played in making El Barrio the center of the formation of Puerto Rican identity while at the same time transcending those boundaries.

“It’s a remarkably eclectic mix of art that has grown out of this community,” said Barbara Horowitz, founder and president of Community Works. “Sometimes you are close to greatness in your own backyard and you don’t realize it.

“The community knows it but needs to be reminded of it,” she added.

They can be reminded of the works of many of the artists just by walking down the street. Many of those included in the show have made their marks through public art.

“These artists tell their stories in multiple ways and very public ways,” Horowitz said.

In the 1970s, Vega helped Hank Prussin paint the giant “Spirit of East Harlem” mural located at East 104th Street and Lexington Avenue. He was called in decades later to help restore it after it was defaced by graffiti.

Vega’s mosaics can also be spotted around East Harlem, including one of Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos. Sculptor John Ahearn’s lifecasts can be seen throughout the neighborhood and Tufiño and Puerta are also no strangers to public art.

But the great things about the artists in the exhibit is that they can’t be constrained to small categories and have refused to be “compartmentalized as Latino artists or community artists,” Vega said.

Dimas, Tufiño and Salicrup often used their art as a form of political protest. Many of the artists, including  Ballester, have been exhibited in Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia, Horowitz said.

The exhibit explores all of their work in multiple contexts.

“As I’m getting older I’m feeling more global. The more I travel the closer I come to home,” Vega said. “And that’s what I want to share with young people, that it’s important to go out into the world to get a perspective of community so you can come back and build on it.”

An opening reception for Spirit of Community: Artists of El Barrio & Beyond will be held Thursday, April 18 from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at The Interchurch Center, 475 Riverside Dr. RSVP to (212) 459-1854 or e-mail qc@communityworksnyc.org. The exhibit will remain open through May 5.
Read more: http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20130418/east-harlem/spirit-of-community-highlights-period-of-el-barrio-art#ixzz2R1yJJLQy

Old, New in East Harlem

Mark Abramson for The Wall Street Journal Pedestrians cross Lexington Avenue in East Harlem.

Mark Abramson for The Wall Street Journal
Pedestrians cross Lexington Avenue in East Harlem.

‘When Manhattan Neighborhood Network, a public-access center for cable TV, expanded to the East Side last year by taking over a decommissioned firehouse at 175 E. 104th St., it sent a signal that East Harlem was ready for prime time.

2½-year restoration of the firehouse kept the historic shell but completely retrofitted the interior with production equipment and high-definition studios for use by area residents. But more importantly, it gave the neighborhood access to technology that has long eluded it.

La Casa Azul bookstore on East 103rd Street

La Casa Azul bookstore on East 103rd Street

“This studio is squarely aimed at breaking the digital divide,” said Daniel Coughlin, MNN’s executive director.

The restoration, however, is also a metaphor for much of what’s happening in the neighborhood these days, as East Harlem becomes increasingly gussied up while its residents struggle to avoid the pitfalls of gentrification.

As development creeps north of 96th Street—the historic dividing line between Spanish Harlem and Yorkville—residents and business owners worry the cultural heritage that so keenly defines the neighborhood will erode. Many locals say they don’t want to see a replication of the gentrification on the Lower East Side.

Manhattan Neighborhood Network's El Barrio Firehouse Center on East 104th Street.

Manhattan Neighborhood Network’s El Barrio Firehouse Center on East 104th Street.

“We need places that are owned and operated by people who know what the community wants and who are answering the call for things that reflect their culture and history,” said Marina Ortiz, executive director of East Harlem Preservation, a advocacy group that promotes the neighborhood’s heritage.

Aurora Anaya-Cerda, a West Coast transplant, opened La Casa Azul bookstore in East Harlem in a two-level brownstone at 143 E. 103rd St. 10 months ago. She was initially inspired to open her store by what she couldn’t find—anything dedicated to Latino literature—and as she developed programming around her customers’ requests, she realized a greater need.

Firehouse Engine 53, on 175 E. 104th Street. Published Credit: FDNY

Firehouse Engine 53, on 175 E. 104th Street. Published Credit: FDNY

“There’s nothing that supported the literary arts in the way I was hoping to find,” she said. “We have locals who come in and say ‘we’ve been here for generations and haven’t had a space like this.’ It is a mission to be part of the community, but a major component of that is to be receptive to the community.”

The store has grown into a cultural gathering spot that has hosted 200 events such as children’s workshops, cooking classes, readings and film screenings.

The balance between new development and such organic, community-based growth is but one issue here as multigenerational shops are replaced by polished retail spaces.

Continue reading

East Harlem Wants a Business Improvement District Despite Past Failures

HARLEM — After several failed attempts, East Harlem officials say they want to set up a business improvement district on one of the historic neighborhood’s main commercial corridors.

xxA portion of 116th Street, Third Avenue or Lexington Avenue are being considered as Community Board 11 begins the process of identifying a group to sell the idea to local property owners and merchants.

“We are one of the only districts in Upper Manhattan that does not have a business improvement district, we do not have a local development corporation or a thriving merchant association,” said Diane Collier, chair of CB 11′s Culture, Tourism and Economic Development committee. Continue reading