NYC Pride March 2017

During the month of June communities across the United States celebrate LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Pride Month. As part of the month’s celebrations, many large cities host Pride Parades and Festivals. New York City certainly hosts those kinds of festivities, but instead of a parade there is an annual Pride March.

The timing of Pride each year, as well as NYC’s decision to hold a march rather than a parade, has important historical roots. American society in the 1960s was extremely homophobic, and LGBT persons often faced harassment and persecution by police and the larger society. Early in the morning on June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in the Manhattan neighborhood of Greenwich Village. The LGBT community in New York City, like those elsewhere at that time, were accustomed to being targeted by police, but this time the NYC community decided to push back. Over the next few days, many people participated in the Stonewall Riots or Stonewall Uprising. Today, the modern LGBT rights movement traces its roots back to those critical days in June 1969. We honor that history by celebrating and marching every June.

Last Sunday was this year’s Pride March in the city. Like the protests that form its historical foundation, this year’s march was as much about protest and communicating about important issues facing the LGBT community as it was about celebration. Don’t get me wrong, there was a fun spirit surrounding the march and much entertainment, but there were also many participants communicating serious messages.

Here are some photos illustrating the range of participants and messages of this year’s Pride March – I hope you enjoy!

A Second Line Parade in NYC

Recently, New York City hosted the annual Essentially Ellington Competition and Festival, a celebration of the top high school jazz bands in the United States. The event is hosted by Jazz at Lincoln Center, a world-renown center for jazz music. Wynton Marsalis, the famous jazz musician and composer, is the Managing and Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Now, you may be thinking that a high school music competition is not for you, but here’s where you are wrong. The Essentially Ellington Competition begins with a New Orleans-style Second Line Parade, led by Wynton Marsalis himself. If you are like me, you may not know what a Second Line Parade is. I did my research before I went, and here’s the description I found on a New Orleans tourism website:

Second line parades are the descendants of the [New Orleans’] famous jazz funerals and, apart from a casket, mourners and a cemetery visit, they carry many of the same traditions with them as they march down the streets. … They range in size, level of organization and traditions, but in all cases they will include a brass band, jubilant dancing in the street and members decked out in a wardrobe of brightly colored suits, sashes, hats and bonnets, parasols and banners, melding the pomp of a courtly function and the spontaneous energy of a block party, albeit one that moves a block at a time. The parades are not tied to any particular event, holiday or commemoration; rather, they are generally held for their own sake and to let the good times roll.

How fun to experience a New Orleans-style Second Line Parade in New York City! The parade began by the Christopher Columbus statue in Columbus Circle, located at the southwest corner of Central Park. It was only a short march to Jazz at Lincoln Center’s location, but it was a wonderful experience to listen and follow along. Bystanders traveled beside and behind the musicians, snapping photos along the way – I joined in the festivities. In addition to those playing musical instruments, there were students carrying posters promoting music education as well.

I invite you to follow along with the Second Line Parade through my photos below:

Can’t you just hear the jazz in the background?

East Harlem Jane’s Walk 2017 (Part II): Community Murals

A few weeks ago I was able to take two Jane’s Walks in the NYC neighborhood of East Harlem. (For a description of what a Jane’s Walk is, along with the description of the other Jane’s Walk I took, see my earlier post here.) Today, I want to focus on the second walk, titled Lost and Found Murals in East Harlem, which was led by Kathleen (“Kathy”) Benson Haskins. Kathy had actually tagged along on the first walk I took that day – she was the person who told us about the Manny Vega mosaic I talked about in my previous post – so by the time the second walk started we had already been introduced.

As regular readers of my blog know, I am a real fan of public art and street art, so Lost and Found Murals in East Harlem was the perfect walk for me. The main theme I took away from this Jane’s Walk was the importance of public art in creating and serving as the meeting point for community in this neighborhood. The area we explored in the second walk is the Latin-American part of East Harlem also known as El Barrio. The neighborhood is a treasure trove of community-focused murals.

A second important theme of this walk is the ephemeral nature of street murals. Without constant care and regular restoration, outdoor murals fade. They may be defaced, and, importantly, they and the building they are painted on may be torn down as a result of development and gentrification. There were murals we only heard about, as they no longer existed. Unlike unique buildings, which may be saved because of their architectural or historical importance, murals are not covered by federal or local landmark laws.

We learned about two artists with roots in the neighborhood and have multiple examples of their art on display. First, there is the artist James De La Vega, whose painted several portraits of Latino cultural leaders, including this one of Pedro Pietri, a Nuyorican (Puerto Rican-New Yorker) poet and playwright.

A few streets over, I found this mural of a different style, also by De La Vega.

The second artist was Manny Vega, whose art we were already introduced to in the prior walk. Vega’s work comes in many forms in East Harlem, but it’s always delightful to discover. For example, there was this mosaic memorial to Julia de Burgos, a Puerto Rican poet and activist who lived the last part of her life in New York City. We learned the tragic story of Julia’s death at the age of 39. After collapsing on the street and not being identified, she died of pneumonia in a nearby hospital and buried in a pauper’s grave. After her identity was determined later, she was returned to Puerto Rico and reburied.

A short distance away I spied these hand-printed posters expressing concerns of members of the community. As Kathy explained, the murals and protest posters marked spots where people would gather to share their concerns and organize.

Manny Vega’s art comes in other forms as well, such as the mural Espiritu. Here are a few of the images that are part of that mural.

Vega’s art also decorates local businesses, this time painted instead of tile mosaics.

There were even these more temporary wheatpaste-style images by Vega on the side of another building.

Vega also has a connection to this amazing mural, titled the Spirit of East Harlem. The mural was painted by artist Hank Prussing beginning in 1973, and Vega helped Prussing to complete the mural during the next 5 years. Years later after the elements had caused the mural to deteriorate and vandals had damaged it, Vega came back and restored it. One of the things that makes this mural special is that it portrays actual people from the community.

I love the fact that this mural shows men from the neighborhood playing dominoes, as during our walk we stumbled upon a domino tournament at a local democratic club.

Vega also created this mural for the East Harlem Tutoring Center. Located in the building’s lobby, the delightful mural shows teachers and students gathered outside.

Hanging on the outside of the Tutoring Center building was a large banner, designed by the students with Vega’s guidance. The theme was a response to the new American president’s anti-immigrant policies, which have created much anxiety among many school children in New York City who come from immigrant and refugee backgrounds. The message of this art: #BuildLove, with a celebration of the city’s diversity.

As we continue our walk, we see many other examples of public art in various forms. There’s this colorful entrance to a small bodega.

There was this protest mural demanding the release of Oscar López Rivera from federal prison. López Rivera was associated with a Puerto Rican paramilitary organization seeking Puerto Rican independence. That organization was associated with more than a 100 bombings of U.S. targets, and López Rivera served 35 years in prison before being pardoned by President Barrack Obama during his last days in office. (There has always been some debate over López Rivera’s degree of involvement in the bombings, and much activism on his behalf. He’s still a very controversial figure.)

We can barely glimpse another mural behind a drummer at a street fair going on in the midst of our walking route.

And here are details from a large mural celebrating Latino pride and activism. The portraits are of Pedro Albizu Campos and Che Guevera.

Wait – through the fence we catch a glimpse of a garden and more art, owned by the community organization Hope Community, Inc. That organization has also providing support for many of the other mural projects in the neighborhood.

We learned about the “RIP” murals, sometimes painted to commemorate the lives of people who died in the community. Often, the subjects of such murals are really more like anti-heroes, possibly killed because of illegal activity. We came across this RIP mural, with candles and empty bottles clustered at its base.

Let’s end with this “postcard” style mural of the word “Harlem.” It’s a fun one, although as you can see below it’s difficult to capture in a single photograph. The vibrant mural incorporates the work of a number of prominent street artists.

But before we end, here is a picture of our very knowledgeable leader on this walk, Kathy. Kathy has significant knowledge of this area of East Harlem, and she worked until her retirement at the Museum of the City of New York. (Coincidentally, MCNY is one of my favorite museums in the city – I’ve written about it before here and here.) Kathy has offered Jane’s Walks in East Harlem for multiple years, so make sure you keep an eye out for her tours next year.

This is another great walk for Jo’s Monday Walks. Have you checked out Jo’s blog? I recommend it!

NYC’s Colorful Dance Parade

New York City has parades celebrating many things, and one of the most fun is the Dance Parade. Yesterday was the 11th annual Dance Parade and Festival, which according to the organizers is held “to inspire dance through the celebration of diversity.”

The parade was a riot of colors and sounds, and the diversity of the dancers was truly magnificent. My favorite part of the parade: the look of joy on so many of the dancers’ faces. I think these photos speak for themselves!

Don’t these photos make you want to dance? What was your favorite?

East Harlem Jane’s Walk 2017 (Part I)

This past weekend marked an extraordinary event in New York City and more than 200 other cities around the world: Jane’s Walk. Jane’s Walk is named after Jane Jacobs, a journalist and urban activist who pushed city governments to include local residents in decisions regarding neighborhood development. As part of her efforts, she is often credited with leading opposition to the proposed construction of an expressway through Greenwich Village in Manhattan in the late 1960s, preserving that neighborhood’s character to this day. Now, every year, local volunteers take people on free tours of their neighborhoods. In New York City, those tours are coordinated by the Municipal Art Society, which also offers other tours throughout the year.

This year, there were 68 pages worth of Jane’s Walks to choose from in New York City. I decided to explore the neighborhood of East Harlem in Manhattan, also sometimes known as El Barrio. I actually took 2 walks on Saturday, both in that same neighborhood but focusing on different themes and traveling on different streets. My feet hurt by the end of it, but both walks offered rich treasures.

The first walk, which I will focus on in this post, was named “The Heritage of Italian East Harlem.” It was led by LuLu LoLo, an artist, playwright, and actor who traces her family history in East Harlem back more than 100 years. Here’s a photo of our fabulous guide for the walk.

I knew that this was going to be a fun walk, as it was like we were all great friends from the start. (Well, some people actually did know each other already – this tour attracted a number of walkers whose families had lived in the neighborhood.) Although we had plenty to see on this walk, what made it special was LuLo’s stories about growing up in the neighborhood, and her explanation of how the neighborhood has evolved over time. Much has changed in recent decades, but LuLo brought old family photos to provide a bridge between the present and her childhood memories of East Harlem.

From our starting point, LuLu drew our attention to a faded advertisement for Bloomingdales Department Store located on the side of a nearby brick building. Although the sign has faded beyond legibility, it has been there since LuLu’s earliest memories. (And LuLu admitted, upon one walker’s nosy question, that she is in her early 70s.) See if you can make out the weathered sign in the photo below.

LuLu spent some time describing the early makeup of the neighborhood, where immigrants had settled next to others from their old communities. On this street, on this block, lived the Italians from the province of Basilicata. Another street was home to Germans, another Irish, another Russian. Over here were Puerto Ricans, and shops owned by Jewish immigrants, with living quarters behind the storefronts, were there. Further down were African-American residents. I quickly came to appreciate the diversity, the complexity of East Harlem.

Along with the diverse population came complex politics. This corner, and a neighboring one before it, were known as “Lucky Corner,” the place where a stage was set up during campaign season for candidates to speak to the crowds. Want to gain the votes of the people in the neighborhood? Then you knew you had to come to Lucky Corner.

We learned about Congressman Vito Marcantonio, who earned a reputation as the protector of the working class, regardless of race or ethnicity. LuLu shared precious childhood memories of the congressman, who died of a heart attack at a young age, as well as Leonard Covello, an educator who became principal of a local high school and persuaded immigrant families to let their children go to school. As we walked along 116th Street, LuLu pointed out where these and other Italian Americans of note lived, as well as the music store that has been in the neighborhood for more than 60 years, the building formerly home to the Cosmo Theater, a row of tenement buildings where immigrant families have live generation after generation.

Soon we pass a community art project. Along one side of the art project, there is a suggestion box. Members of the community are invited to make suggestions about what the next version of the art walls will look like. The current theme: environmental concerns.

As we walk further, LuLu tells us more about her parents, Rose and Peter Pascale, who were long-time community activists. For many years, Peter ran Haarlem House, a settlement house that served the immigrant community of East Harlem. In recognition of his years of service, part of the street has been renamed Pete Pascale Place.

Here, our group stands in front of La Guardia Memorial House, built on the site of the old Haarlem House after the city determined that it needed replaced. The new community building is named after Fiorello La Guardia, onetime mayor of New York City. A senior center located on site is named after former Commissioner of Immigration Edward Corsi, another of East Harlem’s past residents.

On the side of this building we found this beautiful mosaic mural commemorating Dr. Antonia Pantoja, who spent her professional life taking care of the community of East Harlem. The mosaic is the work of local artist Manny Vega.

LuLu pointed out the former Benjamin Franklin High School building, where Leonard Covello was once principal. The building is now home to a specialized public high school known as the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics.

Our final stop was the Pontifical Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, one of only four Roman Catholic Churches designated as Pontifical Shrines in the Western Hemisphere. LuLu explained that Italian workmen labored to build the church in their off hours, but in the church’s early history the Italians were relegated to the basement for religious services and not allowed to worship in the main sanctuary. Unfortunately, the church’s exterior is concealed by construction scaffolding as the building undergoes repairs, so the only photo I could get outside was of this intriguing bulb-lit sign. (The shrine’s website has a photo of the building without the scaffolding, if you are interested.)

The interior was beautiful though, and here are some photos of the sanctuary and adjoining space.

At this point, the walk disbanded, and each of us went our own way. Despite my tired feet (walking on concrete has that effect!), I trekked to my next Jane’s Walk – also located in East Harlem – which was due to start soon. I’ll tell you more about that in my next blog post.

As I think about it, a Jane’s Walk is a perfect fit for Jo’s Monday Walks. Have you checked out Jo’s blog? I recommend it!

NYC’s Easter Bonnet Parade 2017

I know I recently wrote about a parade (the Tartan Day Parade, which you can find here), but a few weeks ago New York City was host to one of my favorite parades: the Easter Bonnet Parade! I’m a little behind getting the blog post up about it (blame the hectic last few weeks of the semester at the law school!), but I couldn’t resist sharing my photos from this year’s parade.

New York City’s Easter Bonnet Parade is a long-standing tradition, tracing its roots back to the 1870s. There are several historic churches along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, including St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the wealthier residents of the city would dress in their best Easter finery, including elaborate hats, to go to church that morning. After church, people would parade up and down Fifth Avenue showing off their beautiful clothing as poorer residents gathered to observe. For many years, the parade was a major highlight of the spring, something that attracted huge crowds – in fact, by the mid-20th century, as many as 1 million people attended the event! Irving Berlin even wrote a song about the parade, which eventually became the title song for the 1948 movie Easter Parade, starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland.

Today, the crowds are much smaller, but it is still a great event for everyone involved. One of the reasons why the Easter Bonnet Parade is so much fun is that it is interactive. Rather than watching from the sidelines, those coming to watch the parade wander up and down the streets with the parade participants. There are no barricades (aside from those stopping automobile traffic), and really no rules. People wander up and down the street however they want, stopping to pose for and take photos of each other.

Some people stay true to the original approach, either wearing vintage-style clothing and hats or what you would normally expect to see people wear if dressing up for church. Others make their own headwear (often with corresponding costumes), ranging from the tacky to festive to high fashion. Sometimes a group of friends or family members create outfits that follow a common theme; other times you will see a person and their dog attired similarly. Everywhere you look you will see something different. The one thing that’s guaranteed: you will have fun!

Now that I’ve written at length about the parade, how about some photos? I hope you enjoy!

These first two women carried out the vintage theme in style.

These two were beautiful – although only the older one was wearing a hat.

This next one catches the spirit of the event – the woman in the middle wanted a photo with the two dressed-up men!

Here’s a family that took do-it-yourself to a new level – aren’t they great?

This man brought his own frame to the parade – and he would pose with you in it if you wanted to.

The woman on the right coordinated her outfit with her well-trained dog, and they were in high demand for photos. The stylish couple on the left were excited to have their photos taken with them.

Then there’s the wacky – but oh so much fun!

It was a very warm day, and I have to believe the guy in the bunny sweater suit was hot. But he still was enjoying himself though! The man on the right had fashioned his own hat out of an old-school Easter basket, turned upside down to become the base for a homemade birdcage.

This one is just sweet.

As you can tell from the photo below, the next one was in high demand from photographers – it almost looks like she is being chased by the paparazzi!

Yes, the man on the left has St. Patrick’s Cathedral on his head.

I’m not sure what you would call the next one, but he was sure accessorized!

The next couple was dancing in the street – one time it’s ok to stop traffic!

This guy had the right idea. The sun was bright, and a parasol would be handy.

This man was one of many people running around with large flower arrangements on their heads. He must have worked hard to make sure it matched his bright pink suit.

All I’ll say about the next one – some people really threw themselves into the spirit of things.

I’ll leave you with one last photo, this one of a young girl dressed in the more traditional Easter Parade attire.

Enjoy this so much that you want to see some pictures from last year’s parade? I wrote about it here.

NYC’s Tartan Day Parade

New York City’s Tartan Day Parade doesn’t have the long history of many of the city’s parades, but it has interesting origins. According to the New York City Tartan Week organizers,

In 1998 the U.S. Senate declared April 6 to be National Tartan Day to recognize the contributions made by Scottish-Americans to the United States. In 1999, two pipe bands and a small but enthusiastic group of Scottish Americans marched from the British Consulate to the UN—our first Parade! Since then, we have grown to include hundreds of pipers, thousands of marchers and many more thousands cheering from the sidelines.

The National Tartan Day New York Committee was formed … in 2002 to organize the Parade and co-ordinate all the associated activities which surround the Parade. There are now so many it has become Tartan Week, with a definition of “week” as anything, so far, from 7-21 days.

Now that we know why they’re marching, let’s watch the parade! As you’ll see, there are plenty of tartans, bagpipes, and drums – although not everyone is wearing plaid. One of the fun things about this parade is that some pipe and drum corps will allow unaffiliated bagpipers to march with them, as long as they can play the 4 songs required for the parade: Scotland the Brave, Rowan tree, Blue Bells of Scotland, and Bonnie Prince Charlie. The sun was shining brightly, so please forgive the lighting in some of these shots.

Now for one of my favorite parts of the parade: the Scottie and Westie dogs!

As we were leaving, I spied this creature peeking out above the crowd – could it possibly be Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster?

A Carnival of Flowers at Macy’s

One of the sure signs of Spring in New York City is the Macy’s Flower Show. The show, which has a different theme each year, first began in 1946. This year’s theme was “Carnival.”

There are two major parts to the Flower Show. First, even before you enter the department store, there are the elaborately decorated windows. (Forgive the reflections on the windows – it’s hard to take good photos in the light!)

Having admired the windows outside, let’s go through the main entrance to see what we find inside. There’s plenty more to see, although we’ll have to navigate the crowds if we want to take any photos. As we come upon the carousel, you can hear the organ playing a tune and the animals rise up and down.

Isn’t this fun? Make sure to look up as well. There are flowers and scenes scattered high and low throughout the first floor, so much that your senses are overloaded.

Want to join in the fun? Put your head in the holes and pose for a photo! Look! We caught someone doing that very thing!

Or maybe posing before a fun house mirror is more your thing.

Unfortunately, the show is already over – so if you want to see it for yourself, you will have to visit next year! In New York City, the Flower Show is at the Macy’s Herald Square location (touted as the largest department store in the world), but it’s held at the Chicago and San Francisco stores as well. Want to see what last year’s show looked like? I wrote about it here.

New Yorkers Rallying in Solidarity with Their Neighbors

Our new president’s policies towards immigrants has been troubling for many New Yorkers. After all, the United States is a nation of immigrants – and nowhere is that more evident than New York City. In the past month, there have been numerous rallies and marches in the city in protest against those policies. Last weekend, there was a solidarity rally in support of our Muslim neighbors, coworkers, and friends. Called I Am a Muslim Too, the rally brought together people of every race, religion, and background.

There was such a positive spirit at the rally, which took place in the streets near Times Square. I took these photos at the event, and I think they capture some of its rich diversity.

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May I just say that this rally, like the other rallies and marches I’ve attended in New York City, was such a positive, inspiring experience. New York City values its citizens’ First Amendment free speech rights, and officials regularly give out permits for rallies and other forms of protest. The mayor and several city council members actually spoke at the I Am a Muslim Too rally, emphasizing the message that this is a city that welcomes all.

Celebrating the Lunar New Year in Flushing, Queens

New York City has the largest Asian-American population in the United States (at latest count approximately 12% of the city’s 8 million residents), so it’s unsurprising that the city is host to numerous Lunar New Year events. Most tourists attend Lunar New Year events in Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood, but other boroughs also hold Lunar New Year parades and other celebrations. This year, I decided to watch the Lunar New Year parade in Flushing, Queens. Over half of the Asian-American population lives in the borough of Queens, and Flushing is home to a second Chinatown.

The parade may not be quite so grand as the one in Manhattan, but it was a wonderful celebration of the community. My favorite things in the parade were the brightly colored dragons – they always drew cheers from the crowds as well.

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There were also some child-sized dragons. See what I saw inside the dragon’s head?

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Here are some of the marchers in the parade, dressed in various traditional costumes.

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On a serious note, there was also this brightly decorated car, accompanied by people carrying signs about domestic violence. They were marching with a community organization that provides support for victims of domestic violence.

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Finally, there were plenty of people in various stuffed costumes, from a character from a cartoon to buddhas – and let’s not forget the roosters, as this year is the year of the rooster!

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Want to explore Flushing’s Chinatown for yourself? Take the 7 train all the way to the end of the line, to the Flushing-Main Street station. When you come above ground, you will be in the midst of Chinatown.