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Rebel Diaz creates hip-hop space for South Bronx community

The Daily News profiled social activist rappers Rebel Diaz, yesterday. The rap group was created by Chilean brothers Rodrigo and Gonzalo Venegas and female Puerto Rican rapper  Teresita Ayala. The trio relocated from Chicago several years ago to become hip-hop community activists in the South Bronx.  The Venegas brothers received some notoriety in the summer of 2008 after a run-in with the NYPD, and a subsequent  write-up in the Village Voice. Their arrest  was caught on a camera phone and video uploaded to the Internet, which helped get their case thrown out of court.

In 2009 the crew started the Mott Haven community center Rebel Diaz Arts Collective with seed money from public and private grants, according to the Daily News article.  The name “Rebel Diaz” is a play on the Spanish word for rebellion, rebeldîa.

Founding member Ayala, who raps as Lah Tere, resigned from the group this week citing health reasons, according to a statement released Monday. Mama’s Hip Hop Kitchen, the AIDS/HIV, reproductive rights event she helped start four years ago returns to Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture tomorrow from 2p.m. to 5 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Posted in Culture, Newswire, Politics, Southern Bronx0 Comments

Bronx man dies after killing wife and attempting suicide by arson

Vincent Cordero died Wednesday night from smoke inhalation after setting fire to his Morris Avenue apartment, killing his wife and daughter. Reports are calling the incident, which took place around 7:30 a.m., a murder and attempted suicide. Authorities say Cordero, 34, stabbed Kety Sanchez, 30, three times in the chest and set flame to their bedroom killing one-year-old Keiry Cordero in her crib.

Cordero had a dispute with Sanchez and stabbed her, according to police. He may have used gasoline to start the blaze that killed his wife and child. A grandmother and two other children had left the apartment for school before the blaze started, reports  Cordero was puled from the flames by a neighbor and emergency medical personal were able to revive him at the scene. He was placed into custody and  charged with murder, arson, reckless endangerment and second-degree assault. He later died at Westchester Medical Center.

A fire accelerant, like gasoline, was used to start the blaze according to the fire department, but no more information was released. The Wall Street Journal, speaking to officials says, “Detectives recovered video surveillance allegedly showing Mr. Cordero buying a gas can and gasoline at a gas station about two blocks from the home.”

According to the Daily News, the Administration for Children’s Services had been called to the home in the past.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Newswire0 Comments

Garifuna teens to honor culture at Bronx pageant

Garifuna teens to honor culture at Bronx pageant

By Camilo Hannibal Smith

The auditorium at Bronx Elementary School 75 in Foxhurst throbbed to the sounds of  Garifuna segunda and primera drums last Sunday night. The conga drum-like instruments, one plays the lead melody and the other a rival rhythm,  provide the backbeat for most Garifuna events.  And Sunday’s— a prelude to a unique annual cultural pageant,—was not any different.  For a few hours, the elementary school’s auditorium became electrified by a vibrant showcase of Garifuna pride.

Contestants in the Miss Garifuna Cultural Pageant 2011 file into the auditorium of P.S. 75 located in Bronx. Photo: Camilo H. Smith

The Garifuna are indigenous to the Caribbean islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Over 200 years ago, the ethnic group was exiled to the islands off the coast of Central America. Today, nearly 100,000 of them are estimated to live in the Bronx.

On Sunday, as hopefuls lined up to initiate the competition for the community’s fifth Miss Garifuna Cultural Pageant, which will be held on April 10, snippets of the ancestoral Garifuna language, based on the Arawak language spoken by the Carib Indians, floated through the air, though the dominant language heard was Spanish.

“Even though we come from Latin America, we have our language, we have our culture, ” says Mirta Colon, a Honduran of Garifuna decent who emigrated to New York 40 years ago.

Colon, a social worker with the South Bronx Mental Clinic, is also the founder of Casa Yurumein, a non-profit organization based on Fulton Avenue dedicated to preserving the community’s culture and language, which many feel is in danger of disappearing.  Casa Yurumein serves as the community’s cultural hub, drawing different groups of Garifuna from all over the area.  It also houses Colon’s health-focused initiative Hondurans Against AIDS.

“We have in Honduras 53 Garifuna towns. In Belize we have 11; in Guatemala, we have two and in Nicaragua we have four,” Colon says.

Colon says the idea of starting a Garifuna cultural pageant was borrowed from a similar event put on by the Belizean community.  She thought it was a good way to teach children about their culture. On Sunday, she sat in the audience of over 50 people. Women in pastel-colored yellow and pink dresses and head scarves followed a group of a half-dozen drummers dressed in yellow down the center aisle of the auditorium. Behind them, a coterie of 11 nervous teen girls — all pageant hopefuls who range in age from 13 to 20 — followed the procession to the stage, singing and smiling for their proud parent’s cameras.

“If you know who you are, you know where you’re coming from and I think that’s very important for every individual,” says Colon, who also teaches Garifuna culture classes.

She’s the one who makes sure that everything is in place for the pageant, acting as director and producer of the show which features everything from poetry, to singing to dancing.

The girls, in flowing floral print dresses nervously filed on stage to present themselves to the local community. One at a time, they each took a turn at the microphone and called out their family’s home village to cheers and whistles.

“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, my name is Perla Colon,” said one contestant, not related to the event’s director. “My mother’s name is Sylvia Colon. I am 16 years old and I am here to represent the small but loving Garinagu village of Nuevo Armenia [Honduras]. Thank you.”

Most of the young ladies spoke in English, but a few used their native Garifuna language — and the audience clearly loved it. The community has marked March 11 to April 12 as Garifuna Heritage Month and a bill to make the month an official celebration was approved by the state Senate in December.

The community has been in New York since the 1930s, but came into the spotlight after the March 25, 1990 Happyland fire, which claimed 87 lives at a Garifuna nightclub party on Southern Boulevard.

Alex Colon teaches his nephew Tramell Cesimiro Cayetano how to keep the beat on Garifuna drums. Photo: Camilo H. Smith

During the taking of the 2010 Census, the Garifuna Coalition USA, a Bronx-based civic organization, pushed to have their numbers counted.  The government has yet to release official numbers, but Jose Avila, the group’s president estimates that as many as half of New York’s 200,000 Garifuna live in the Bronx, “which makes it,” he says, “the largest Garifuna community in the world.”

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has put the Garifuna language and culture on its list of safeguarded world cultures, which means it’s in danger of disappearing.

“It’s basically on the decline,” says Alex Colon, 40, who emigrated from Belize two decades ago, and also shares one of the most common Spanish last names with many in his community.  It’s a community with a shared passion for preserving its heritage from its base in the Bronx and amid the joyful pounding of the segunda drums last Sunday evening, any decline of Garifuna culture was hardly evident.

Posted in Culture, Front Page, Rituals, Southern Bronx1 Comment

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