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Chileans Ponder the Miner Story from Abroad

Several weeks have passed since the 33 Chilean miners were rescued from the underground mine where they were trapped in for 69 days in the Atacama Desert. The world watched for two days in October as they emerged one by one in steel cages from the bowels of the earth to a cheering crowd.

Chile was in the spotlight and its people were united by a catastrophe with a happy ending. Still, for some Chilean expatriates in New York City, this event made them feel further away from home than ever.

Fabiola Corominas. Photo: Courtesy of Fabiola Corominas

Fabiola Corominas. Photo: Courtesy of Fabiola Corominas

For Fabiola Corominas, 28, who grew up in Santiago, Chile, the ordeal ignited a dormant sense of patriotism.  “What I felt was a huge honor for the people, for the Chileans,” said Corominas, who now lives with her husband and their child in Morris Park.  “For some to be able to survive such an experience and for others to rescue them safely.”

Corominas is one of the over 6,700 Chileans living in New York City according to the latest U.S. Census.

Two years ago, Corominas decided to follow her boyfriend across the world and into the Bronx.  She studied for an associate degree in accessories design at the Fashion Institute of Technology for a while, but had to put her studies on hold when her daughter was born.

Corominas was immersed in her life as a mother when on August 5th the 33 miners were trapped. It was only after her mother-in-law called that she realized the magnitude of the accident. By the time of the rescue, she was hooked on the suspense, and stayed up all night to watch each miner emerge.

“I saw everything,” she said in Spanish. “The miners inside the mine, the rescue team, the president and all the people outside.”

The emotion of the event overshadowed the negligence of the mine’s owners,  and instead brought the Chilean people together with a wave of nationalism.

One clear benefactor of that patriotic fervor was Sebastian Piñera, who had a rough start as the newly elected president of Chile. Days before taking the helm, Chile was struck by a devastating earthquake that killed over 400 people and caused millions of dollars in damages across the country. Six months later, the miners were trapped and all eyes were on him again.

For Montserrat Nicolas, a Chilean political journalist and consultant in Washington D.C., the public perception of politicians in Chile is very low. “The fact that Piñera managed to get the miners out, is seen as a great achievement,” said Nicolas in Spanish. “It means that expectations are low.” Nicolas does not believe that President Piñera’s image will ever be better than the 65 percent of support he has now. 

Not everyone agrees.

For Chilean journalist Juan Carlos Bustamante, the rescue of the miners has strengthened the image of President Piñera and has pushed him toward a possible reelection four years from now.  “As Chileans, we understand that any democratic government would had done the same,” said Bustamante in Spanish, later adding that any government would have received the same support Piñera’s did during the catastrophe, regardless of their inclination.

Miner Edison Peña being rescued. Photo: by AP

Miner Edison Peña being rescued. Photo: by AP

According to Bustamante both catastrophes — the earthquake and the rescue of miners  —  prove the ability of Piñera to handle crises. Comparing the political impact of the miner rescue on Piñera to the World Trade Center attack on U.S. President George Bush, Bustamante said the outcomes might seem similar,  but they are not. “From the rescue of the miners all we have left is an act of happiness,” said Bustamante. “From 9/11, we are almost forgetting the victims because of how badly Bush’s administration handled the crisis.”

For Chilean journalist Jose Ignacio Stark, 26, the media coverage was more entertaining than journalistic. He chose to follow the story through Twitter and the official government television signal.

“The eve of the rescue was tainted with an inordinate feeling of overexposure,” said Stark in Spanish “I remember reading articles about what kind of underwear the miners’ wife were going to use when they were rescued.”

Others, like stay-at-home mom Fabiola Corominas could not get enough. “I didn’t want to stop watching until all the rescuers were out the mine,” she said. “But that part wasn’t shown and it made me feel as if the whole thing wasn’t over yet.” The new mom was most struck when Florencio Avalo’s son started crying after seeing his dad emerge from the mine. “That was when I started crying,” said Corominas before bursting into the typical Chilean cheer “CHI-CHI-CHI LE-LE-LE.”

Posted in Bronx Blog1 Comment

Hot Meals and Hospitality

Hot Meals & Hospitality from Connie Preti on Vimeo.

The Bronx Ink reports on a soup kitchen in the Northwest Bronx that’s working to meet increased needs and demand among residents.

Posted in Bronx Life, Food, Multimedia0 Comments

Dancing in Defiance

Dressed in a “BAAD” sweatshirt and black track pants, the fiery 47-year-old director of the Barretto Street Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance welcomed the audience to the October 16 dance performance with a strip show.

Arthur Aviles whipped off his sweatshirt to reveal a spaghetti-strapped tank top. Then he peeled off his pants and bent over, so the audience could read “BAAD Ass Woman” on his ladies-style tight red underwear. All items were for sale, later, after the show.

To anyone who hadn’t read about the recent anti-gay assault in the Bronx, this wild display would seem normal for the academy, which caters to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

“We’re scared and we don’t want to be in fear,” said Aviles later, who is openly gay. “So we turn fear into defiance.”

James Atkinson, Khiara Bridges and Edgar Peterson performing at BAAD! Photo: Connie Preti

Artists performing at the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance. Photo: Connie Preti

Over a week ago in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx, police said 11 members of the Latin King Goonies, a local gang, carried out what officials have called the most gruesome hate crime in recent memory. Using a baseball bat and a plunger, the alleged attackers sodomized two 17-year-old boys and a 30-year-old man they suspected of being gay, beating them for hours and later robbing and beating the older man’s brother in his home.

Despite the notoriety of this attack and a wave of other anti-gay traumatic events, including the beating of a man in the historic Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village and the suicide of a gay Rutgers student, the performances on Saturday night seemed, if anything, emboldened.

The first dance was set to a song by the flamboyant pop star Adam Lambert, and many of the subsequent male performers were dressed in brightly colored, transparent tights and underwear.

Shizu Homma, who performed a solo act, modified her planned performance after the attack by starting out in drag, instead of her usual t-shirt and pants, eventually stripping down to rags and writhing on the floor. Her jarring movements reflected the pain of the victims, but also screamed resilience and perseverance.

“Our community is fierce,” said Aviles. “It knows how to stand up to craziness like that, to the macho attitudes of the world.”

As other gay advocacy groups are organizing rallies and political officials are condemning the attack, the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance is taking a more active approach.

On November 7, BAAD will host a self-defense class in conjunction with the Center for Anti-Violence Education. If there is a high turnout, the class will be held on a regular basis, said Carlo Quispe, 32, the dance academy’s program manager.

Carlo Quispe is the program manager at Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance. Photo: Connie Preti

Carlo Quispe is the program manager at Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance. Photo: Connie Preti

“It’s really the only thing we can do,” said Quispe. “People can continue to grandstand and get on their soapbox. What we want to provide is something more concrete, powerful, tangible. Something people can teach their friends.”

Aviles wishes there were a way to teach tolerance to the people who prey on them.

“I want to see these guys learn something that can change their view about how they see humanity,” Aviles said, referring to the suspects. “Jail is certainly not it.”

Other members of the gay community weren’t quite as sympathetic.

“They should be in solitary confinement, away from society,” said Ruben Thomas, 44, a gay videographer who volunteers at BAAD.

Yet Aviles believes that jail will only punish them, rather than help them to unlearn the intolerance that led them to commit their horrific crime.

“Call me Ann Frank, but I really believe that all people are good at heart,” he said. “And in this case, I really do feel that these guys can learn something. But I don’t think our legal system will allow us to come together in that way.”

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime3 Comments

Nicaraguan diplomat dead in Fordham

Fordham residents and media gathered in front of 2070 Grand Concourse. Photo: Amara Grautski

Fordham residents and media gathered in front of 2070 Grand Concourse. Photo: Amara Grautski

Residents of 2070 Grand Concourse arrived home Thursday afternoon to a scrum of police requesting identification, and a stream of anxious parents negotiating their way under the yellow police tape to pick up their children from day care inside.

Inside, until late into the evening, lay the body of a Nicaraguan diplomat near the front door of his sixth floor apartment, his throat sliced open and stab wounds in the abdomen, with a knife by his side.

According to published reports, Cesar Mercado, 34, who had lived in the building for four years, was discovered by his driver around 10:30 a.m. near his front door, covered in blood. Mercado, who had been working as a consul for the Nicaraguan embassy in New York for eight years, was expected to attend the United Nations General Assembly meeting yesterday.

Neighbors described Mercado as a quiet man, who kept to himself.

“He’s very kind,” said Veronica Castro, who has lived on the same floor as Mercado for a year. “Yesterday, he came up with us on the stairs, I mean on the elevator, after school.”

One woman, who asked not to be identified, said that most neighbors kept to themselves in the building, so his behavior was not unusual.

“Here, almost no one talks,” she said in Spanish. “No one knows each other, no one knows anything. I don’t talk to my neighbors. Everyone rides the elevator in silence.”

Councilman Fernando Cabrera, who had been in the area on other business, pulled up to the scene at 5:30 p.m. to speak with police and community members in front of First Union Baptist Church nearby.

Councilman Fernando Cabrera talking to community members in front of the First Union Baptist Church. Photo: Amara Grautski

Councilman Fernando Cabrera talking to community members in front of the First Union Baptist Church. Photo: Amara Grautski

“When we heard the news, we were very saddened,” said Cabrera, who didn’t have any information relating to the investigation. “I just came just to make sure that the investigation is moving, it’s flowing, and that once they get accurate information, they’re able to bring it right back out.”

According to La Prensa, a Nicaraguan newspaper, the country’s foreign minister, Samuel Santos Lopez, was still in the process of contacting Mercado’s family.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, Northwest Bronx, Politics0 Comments

Helping Love Gospel Assembly

By Amara Grautski and Connie Preti

Elected officials and more than 150 community members gathered at Lehman College Saturday afternoon to rally for Operation Restoration, a fundraiser to help rebuild the Love Gospel Assembly and restore the services it provided.

On July 25, the Grand Concourse church was gutted by a four-alarm fire, leaving thousands of the hungry people who were fed every month through its Love Kitchen to seek food elsewhere.  “It’s so important that we get back up and running, because there’s a whole community of people that depend on us,” said Love Gospel Assembly Bishop Ronald Bailey. “We’re feeding 300 to 400 people every day, somewhere between 8,000 to 10,000 people a month. Those people need these services that we provide, so we’re trying to move quickly.”

During the two-hour event, the college’s Center for the Performing Arts was filled with song, prayer and testimonials about the church’s importance in the Fordham community.

Brian Draper, 53, told audience members that he has been a born-again Christian for about 15 years since finding the church. “When I first was going, I was only going for the physical food,” Draper said. “It was a way of physically staying fed because of my addiction. But God has such a sense of humor, you know, I’m thinking I’m just physically getting fed, but every time you get fed physically, there always always a word said, a prayer said or someone encouraging you. So then eventually, it was like a seed being watered…and eventually that seed grew into what I am today.”

The largest contribution came from State Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada  Jr. and Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson, who presented a check of $100,000 from the state senate to a roaring crowd.  “An institution such as this provides so much to our communities, but more so plays a vital role in the economic crisis we are experiencing here,” Sampson said. “And the only way we are going to rise from that is through our faith, through institutions, churches like this, who extend beyond the four corners of those institutions.”

“We all know government and the faith have to work together,” Espada added. “God is everywhere.”

Bronx Borough President Rueben Diaz Jr. also spoke and contributed $1,000 to the cause.

Bailey said he believes the turnout from elected officials is evidence that the community cares about the work of the church.  “It’s good to get recognition, because it’s not about us, it’s about the work that we’re doing,” Bailey said. “So we thank them, we take the pat on the back and keep going.”

Love Gospel Assembly Deacon Tasha Andrews said the fire resulted in $150,000 worth of equipment damage alone. The church will continue to accept donations through its website:

Andrews said the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, North Central Bronx1 Comment

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