Tag Archive | "Bronx"

Looking for answers from a psychic in The Bronx

Ave Castellanos owns the Deluxe Candle Products botanica in Highbridge

A simple Google search won’t do to find Ave Castellanos, a 47 year-old Bronx-based psychic. She doesn’t have a Yelp profile, or an Instagram or Facebook account, and yet it’s common to see a line of people waiting to hear her advice.

Seer, clairvoyant and master tarotist is how Castellanos described her job. She sees between 20 to 25 clients a day at her office inside Deluxe Candle Products, a three story botanica in Highbridge, one of at least seven stores in the neighborhood that offer esoteric services. Castellanos has a network of people who refer her work to their friends and family after they visit her for the first time, she said. And, according to her, people from different states, and as far away as Brazil and China, travel to New York to see her. But Castellanos won’t offer names of her clients, she said, because she assures them confidentiality. While impossible to confirm Castellanos’ self-proclaimed popularity, on this past Labor Day morning, one customer who was waiting his turn, said he was acting as a liaison for his brother, who was calling from Denver, Colorado.  

This is a very exclusive business, Castellanos said, “If you ask me if I know any psychic, I would tell you I don’t. Someone needs to refer you,” she said sitting in a high chair surrounded by candles, herbs and oils that are sold at her botanica. Even people associated to a religion visit her. Catholics, Jewish and Muslim people “everyone is curious,” Castellanos said.

Religious people who look for this kind of counseling could be seeking comfort, said Joseph Nuzzi, director of Evangelization at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi. People want control over the future or to know if they are on the right path. Religions like Judaism and Christianity offer advice on broader aspects, such as peace, justice and mercy, but there’s something missing, Nuzzi said. “Faith does not give people the gritty detail of ‘is this the right person for me?’ ‘Is this the right job for me?’”

Castellanos wouldn’t reveal how much she charges for her advice. “If you can pay, you pay whatever you want.” However, in other parts of the Bronx, tarot readers charge from $30 to $50 for a session.

“Since I was a child I knew there was something supernatural in me,” Castellanos said, which led her to have a lonely childhood while growing up at the Dominican Republic. When she moved to New York City 30 years ago, she started her tarot reading business in her apartment in Washington Heights. Castellanos later moved to The Bronx because she needed more space for her job. 

Almost three miles away from her shop, in a botanica in Fordham, Carlos, another psychic, who prefers to be called “Frodo,” said he had a similar experience while growing up in Puerto Rico. “I didn’t have any friends, they judge you and tell you you’re weird,” he said while pouring gold glitter in a candle meant to be lit for a saint. He doesn’t socialize with other psychics either, because there might be a conflict with their clients.

It’s about faith

Faith is crucial for an accurate reading, Castellanos said. That’s a common guideline related to the Barnum effect in psychology, in which psychics use people’s reactions to test different statements until finding what suits their client’s life. Clients often leave psychic meetings remembering only selected sections that match what they wish or are afraid to believe. This attracts “less analytical people,” who want to find shortcut answers through structures like religion or paranormality, said Svetlana Komissarouk, a social psychology professor at Columbia University.  

“All humans are struggling to find some illusion of control,” Komissarouk said. They want tools to change their destinies and find happiness. “They look for some kind of causality because otherwise, everything is just chaotic and scary.” 

Castellanos was reluctant to talk about her clients. But, when asked about what people tend to look for the most,  she didn’t hesitate. “Most of them want to know about love”.

Other botanicas in The Bronx include products related to Santería
Botanicas also offer sprays that promise better luck in love and money
Scented water for rituals are common in botanicas

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Putting Little Yemen on The Map

At a small intersection with an under-developed park called Green Streets, no longer than the length of three tightly parked cars, lies the center of Little Yemen in Morris Park. Door-to-door services crowd the street in front, including Al-Meraj, a halal meat market, and Gamal Business Services, where Arabic-language employees provide tax, translation, and notary services.

The Green Steets intersection that Yahay Obeid hopes to rename “Little Yemen” park.

For Yahay Obeid, this is also the center of his dream.

Obeid, a  control supervisor at JFK Airport, serves on Community Board 11 as the public committee safety chair and is the outreach liaison for his local mosque.  His current mission is to establish the enclave’s identity as Little Yemen on Google Maps.

Obeid wants the official designation because it will encourage residents to feel a sense of belonging and pride in the Bronx, he said,

His goal is to give residents “a place where they can say, ‘Yeah, I’m waiting for you at the Little Yemen triangle.’”

The heart of the neighborhood is on White Plains Road and Rhinelander Avenue, where the most popular Yemeni restaurant, Arth Aljanatain, is located. The restaurant’s windowed walls offer a view of Green Streets, where passersby can see local Yemeni customers sitting on one of their eight tables. It’s where the coach of the Yemen United Soccer Club takes his his sons for dishes such as salta, a meat broth-based soup, and rice and chicken dishes. The main mosque of the area – that holds two Friday prayer services to accommodate the worshippers – is here too. Hookah cafes, a Yemeni supermarket, and Yemeni delis and pharmacies surround that one intersection.

Little Yemen, which encompasses pockets from Van Nest and Bronx Park East, is a small pocket of the approximate 120,000 residents in the area, according to the NYU Furman Center.

Local Islamic-wear boutique, across the street from the Bronx Muslim Center.

And it’s even a smaller fraction of the approximate 6,900 Yemenis in New York State, estimated by the Arab American Institute Foundation. The number of Yemenis residing in the Bronx and specifically in District 11 is unclear to community officials. 

Obeid got the idea to reach out to Google earlier this summer, when he took part in the planning of the city’s first-ever Yemeni-American Day Parade. Anwar Alomaisi, the parade’s volunteer photographer, took a drone photo that captured the crowd at the triangle intersection. Once Obeid saw it , he was inspired to try to create “Little Yemen.”

Obeid submitted his request to Google using its My Business mobile application. Google verified the location and a few weeks later, Little Yemen was on the map. Sort of. It appears on Google Maps as a museum open 24/7. All Google Maps users can also manually add suggestions for businesses, hospitals, streets, and other places, where it will go through a verification process, but they cannot add neighborhoods.

Screenshot of Little Yemen on Google Maps as of September 5, 2019.

 “It might not be an official museum, but people will check it out,” Obeid said about the designation. 

Separately, Obeid has made a request to Community Board 11 to rename Green Streets Park to “Little Yemen.” He will reach out to Google to change the museum designation if the park is renamed with a sponsorship from the Department of Parks and Recreation. 

In the meanwhile, “it will be somewhat of an outdoor museum of the Yemeni community.”

Google retrieves neighborhood information from third-party providers and public sources that they describe as local government websites and transportation operators, according to a Google Spokesperson.

They define borders with a red outline to map boundaries. 

Establishing Little Yemen on the map would solidify the Arab presence in the area, said Jeremy Warneke, Community Board 11 District Manager.

“They’re very visible and present, and you can either embrace the future or do your best to deny it,” Warneke said.

Ethnic enclaves, or Littles, in New York City, are typically defined by “commercial, residential, and institutional concentration of a particular ethnic group,” said Tarry Hum, Professor and Chair of the Department of Urban Studies at Queens College, CUNY

She notes that neighborhoods develop out of  “reciprocity and ethnic solidarity, class relations (and conflict) [that are] tempered by shared culture, language, experience of racial discrimination.”

Many Littles in New York don’t appear on Google Maps. The New York Times mapped out several based on population concentrations. In the Bronx alone, there are at least six distinctive neighborhoods, including Little Ireland in Woodlawn Heights, Little Albania in Pelham Parkway, and Little Ghana in Concourse Village, which are just some of the 30 Littles the Bronx Ink identified throughout New York City.

Obeid considers his efforts “a gift to the Yemeni community.” 

“Now they see us out of the grocery stores.”

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Bronx Political Trailblazer and Civil Rights Leader Rev. Wendell Foster Remembered

Rev. Wendell Foster, a civil rights activist who marched in Selma with Dr. Martin Luther King and the first black city council representative from the Bronx, died on Tuesday, Sept. 3. He was 95 years old.

“He endured Jim Crow, marched for civil rights, fought to open doors of opportunity for his constituents in the Bronx, and blazed a trail for black lawmakers across our city,” Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted on Wednesday. “Our hearts are with the Foster family tonight.”

Pastor of Morrisania’s Christ Church for 52 years, Foster was known for his deep connections to the neighborhoods he served both spiritually and politically.

“Rev. Wendell Foster was a pioneer, and someone who helped to make the Bronx and our nation a better place,” said Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. in a statement. “As the first black elected representing the Bronx in the City Council, Rev. Foster was a historic figure in our borough and a dedicated public servant who inspired a whole generation of elected officials to serve their community.”

Foster told the New York Times in 2009 that he came to New York from Alabama when he was 13 years old after reading in a black newspaper about “what people were doing ‘up north.’” The bus station he left from was segregated.

He became an ordained minister and was then sent by a bishop to Bermuda, where he met his wife, Helen Foster. The two returned to New York, settling down on Woodycrest Avenue in the Bronx. Their 63rd anniversary would have been Monday, Sept. 9

Foster’s first run for city council in 1973 proved unsuccessful. One of his opponents, south Bronx political power-broker Ramon Velez, sent Foster one of his own sound trucks to advertise his campaign message throughout the neighborhood, according to Rev. Bruce Rivera, who took over for Foster as senior pastor at Christ Church last year.

“Could you imagine any opponent sending assistance to help?” said Rivera, who was 16 years old at the time.  “We didn’t know anything about how politics operated in the Bronx. We didn’t know anything about petitions.”

Rivera was introduced to Foster the same year he helped out on Foster’s first campaign. “If it wasn’t for him, I probably would have been another lost kid in the South Bronx,” Rivera said. “His influence deeply changed my life.”

Foster finally won the 16th council district seat on his third try in 1977. The district encompasses the Morrisania, Highbridge and Crotona neighborhoods. According to Rivera, many of Foster’s policies were developed by asking neighbors and community members what their needs were.

Foster was the primary sponsor of 74 city council resolutions, according to New York City data, targeting everything from police reform and better access to libraries and parks, to increased public housing and always for equity in black and Hispanic Bronx residents.

Foster served on the council until 2002 He was succeeded by his daughter, Helen Foster. She was the first black woman elected official in the Bronx, where she represented the 16th district for 11 years, stepping down in 2013.

 “He was a committed and dedicated public servant who gave his all to making a difference during a challenging time in the Bronx,” said Vanessa Gibson, current councilperson representing the 16th district. “His work paved the way for African American elected officials in the Bronx and I proudly stand upon his shoulders thankful for his service through the years.”

After his years on the council, Foster continued to serve his community through his church and as a community advocate.

 “The liberation movement has never ceased: It’s always been,” said Foster in his 2009 New York Times interview. “You’ll always find a few nuts like myself out there, trying to better things.”

Foster is survived by his wife, Helen, his two daughters, Helen and Rebekah, and two grandchildren.

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Father arraigned for concealing his baby son’s corpse

James Currie, 37, was arraigned Thursday, on charges of concealing his infant son’s corpse. But so far, no charges have been laid in connection with the death of the baby, Mason Saldana.

The investigation is ongoing, according to the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

Currie allegedly disposed of the baby’s body in August, throwing it into the East River, and then took “three flights to three different parts of the world,” according to court documents.

Julie Saldana, the baby’s mother, received texts from Currie shortly after he landed in Bangkok, three days after the infant’s body was found in the river, according to police.

“The good news is we will never see each other again,” Currie wrote. Asked where he was, Currie replied, “i (sic) am not in the usa (sic).” In answer to where their son was, Currie wrote: “You will never see Mason again.” 

Currie had taken custody of their child for the weekend in early August. Surveillance footage showed Currie entered his apartment, in the Bronx that day, holding a live baby. Just over 24 hours later, Currie left his apartment wearing a child’s harness with a motionless bundle the size of baby, covered by a blanket, according to police.

Currie, an employee with the Metropolitan Transit Authority, then used his employer issued card to board a bus in the Bronx, before entering the subway at 23rd Street. Later that day, around the time Mason’s body was found, Currie re-entered the subway at Chambers Street in Manhattan, without the harness, bundle or blanket that was covering it, according to police.

Family and friends gathered in the Bronx, two weeks after Mason’s Saldana’s body was found, to say a final goodbye. Julie Saldana sat by the casket that held her son’s body, stroking his face, as police offered their condolences.

Currie’s next court hearing is Nov. 1st, according to prosecutors. He is being held at the Brooklyn Detention Complex without bail.

 

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Protesters Denounce Majora Carter’s Wealth Protection Plan for Hunts Point Homeowners

Protesters outside Majora Carter’s homeowners’ meeting next door to her Boogie Down Grind Cafe.

“Majora Carter, we won’t let you sell us out! If you try to gentrify, we will come and chase you out!” cried jocular protesters on the evening of September 6 near her coffee shop, the Boogie Down Grind Cafe on Hunts Point Avenue. The group of about 25 Bronx residents and activists had converged outside Carter’s meeting for the Hunts Point/Longwood Homeowner Land Trust Working Group to protest its emphasis on private ownership.

Take Back the Bronx, an organization that advocates community control of the borough, marched down Hunts Point Avenue around 6:30 p.m. Thursday night to confront a meeting that Carter, a controversial urban revitalization strategist in Hunts Point, was hosting for local homeowners to talk with developers about wealth creation and protection.

The clash erupted over Carter’s Hunts Point/Longwood Homeowner Land Trust Working Group, which bills itself as “an avenue for local homeowners and aspiring homeowners within the community to strengthen their ability and resources to reinvest and support local wealth creation.” Invited speakers included non-profit lenders, who shared opportunities with attendees for low-interest loans to purchase a home.

“Not a majority, but a pivotal minority are in a position to purchase a home,” said James Chase, the Vice President of marketing for the Majora Carter Group and Carter’s husband. “To me, it’s a tragedy that so little has been done to maintain home ownership, especially among minority homeowners.” According to the Department of City Planning, only 6.8 percent of Hunts Point residents own their homes. The rest are renters.

By contrast, Take Back the Bronx advocates for Community Land Trusts. “CLTs for the people!” chanted protesters outside Carter’s meeting. Community Land Trusts act as publicly owned land. “CLTs give the people a say in how public resources are used and how their neighborhoods are developed,” according to the New York City Community Land Initiative.

“As far as I can tell, they do not allow for personal wealth creation,” said Chase of Community Land Trusts.

South Bronx Unite, an organization allied with Take Back the Bronx, wrote a statement of support prior to the protest.  The group argued that decisions about who owns land and housing should include everyone in the community, particularly the poor, the homeless, or the soon-to-be homeless. “They are not served by the private market or for profit developers,” the statement said.

Carter often employs the term “self-gentrification” when speaking about development in the Bronx, meaning that residents should want to improve their own neighborhoods. “Majora stresses talent retention as a way to economically diversify,” said Chase.

“Our community should feel proud that a woman like her has taken it to the next level and the next step,” said José Gálvez, social impact strategist and consultant with the Majora Carter Group and PhD candidate in Public and Urban Policy at the New School. “And that she’s not selfish enough that she wants to keep it for herself but that she wants to help her community do the same.”  

Protesters hold signs accusing Carter of displacement.

Critics believe that Hunts Point needs housing more than it needs a coffee shop. “I’m a business owner, and I’m happy that she is one. But don’t ever say I wanna bring a business before you bring a building,” says Larissma Jacobs, owner of Larissma Jacobs Daycare in Hunts Point. Hunts Point residents have named affordable housing as their most pressing concern for the last three years, according to the Department of City Planning.

Carter has also argued that residents against development are stuck in a mindset of poverty. “People with ill hearts are putting in the hearts of young kids, a really bad mindset so they cannot escape from the cycle of poverty mindset,” said Gálvez. Some residents have taken offense to the statement, which echoes former longtime New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s infamous argument about a stultifying culture of poverty within black families and communities. “Actually, Bronx culture is about fighting poverty,” said Shellyne Rodriguez, an organizer of the protest.

Once a hero of the South Bronx, many residents feel that Carter has abandoned her beliefs. Carter started Sustainable South Bronx in 2001, an environmental non-profit that undertook many successful initiatives like the opening of Riverside Park and the co-founding of the Bronx River Alliance. She won a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship in 2005 for her efforts. In 2008, she left Sustainable South Bronx and opened the Majora Carter Group, a consulting firm located in Hunts Point.

In 2012, FreshDirect hired Carter to aid their move to the Bronx. Their facilities opened in Port Morris in July of 2018 with the support of Bronx borough president Rubén Díaz, Jr. despite community backlash. Those who fought FreshDirect’s move argue that their trucks pollute neighborhoods already suffering from exorbitantly high asthma rates.

Carter’s Boogie Down Grind Cafe was littered with flyers that protesters handed out depicting her as a carnival-like figure with snakes on her head. The flyers read “Majora Carter the Sellout of Hunts Point.”

Outside the Hunts Point Landowners meeting on Thursday night, protesters held a banner that read, “Majora Carter $ell$ the Bronx Out! One coffee at a time!” Carter’s staff donned shirts that read “if Majora Carter is a sell out then so am I.” They yelled back at protesters, “nothing but love.”

Protesters pressed signs against the large glass windows where the landowner’s meeting was taking place. Carter largely ignored the protest, but at one point turned around and blew kisses to the demonstrators outside the window, while mouthing “this is my ‘hood” and shrugging.

According to Chase, he and Carter make a habit of inviting those who protest against her to sit down and talk. “We say, hey it looks like there might be some confusion and we want to listen to you and we want to tell you what we’re doing so there cannot be this animosity,” said Chase. “We all live in the South Bronx so it’s not hard to get together, we even built a cafe. Coffee’s on us. Or we’ll meet in a neutral space.”

Chase admits, however, “we may be a little tone deaf in that a lot of people probably are experiencing pressure, they’re fearful they feel it’s unjust, all of those things are valid.”

“We want her to know that if she’s not for us, she’s against us,” said Monica Flores, a photojournalist and activist.

This article was written with additional reporting by Lucas Manfield.

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From Street Vendor to Shop Owner

A green photo album rests on her open hands. Inside, there’s a collection of carefully photographed flower arrangements.

“I love plants, sometimes I feel like they’re talking to me,” said Carolina Bernal, 54, a Mexican immigrant who has been running her own flower shop in the southeast Bronx for two years. Surrounding herself with flowers has become a safe haven for her, having left everything she ever cherished behind.

Bernal is one of millions of Mexican immigrants who have risked their lives by crossing the border to the United States, trading their homes and families for an uncertain but promising future. Despite paying taxes and contributing to the U.S. economy, this group of undocumented immigrants lives in fear of deportation in an era of Donald Trump.

Flowers in the fridge

 

Life in the barrio

Bernal’s story as a hard worker starts when her life as a student came to an abrupt and unexpected end almost 40 years ago. Born and raised in Santa Cruz Meyehualco — a poor neighborhood in eastern Mexico City — she was the second daughter in a family of nine children.

Her mother kept pigs, geese, turkeys, and chickens to feed the family. Her stepfather provided for everything else.

When Bernal turned 17, her stepfather died, taking her childhood with him. He died of a liver disease. “He passed away from getting so terribly mad,” she said, holding her hands together, shifting her gaze to the floor.

As one of the oldest children, Bernal had to help her stay-at-home mother; she started looking for a job as an accountant’s assistant. The first man she interviewed with tried to sexually abuse her, so instead she took a low-paying shift in a plastic factory situated in the industrial belt that surrounds Mexico City.

Her life as a working high school student did not last; Bernal had to drop out of school to work both night and day shifts. She promised herself she’d only quit school for one year while things got back on track. But she ended up working for the company, Plásticos y Reparaciones de Monterrey, for the next 15 years.

Bernal began as a floor employee in a plastic injection plant. She had to work three shifts a day to buy one pair of shoes. It was 1982, she was barely 19, and Mexico was experiencing one of its most notorious economic crises.

As time went by, between one shift and the other, injecting plastic day in and day out, she slowly began to exercise leadership among the employees.

Ten years later, Bernal had worked her way up to quality control manager. She was in charge of making sure their main client, the rum manufacturer Bacardi, was happy with the product.

“At that time, I was negotiating millions of pesos. My signature carried weight,” said Bernal, as she sat on a plastic chair in the corner of her shop filled with flowers. “You know, engineers and businessmen would look at me and say ‘now, this woman is a motherfucker’ because I knew my business and delivered impeccable results”.

By this time, Bernal was 30 years old, and a single mother to a 5-year-old son. That’s when she married, had a daughter, and her life took a dark turn.

“A smart woman can go as far as she wants, until she falls in love,” said Bernal holding her now 23-year-old daughter’s hand behind the shop counter.

Her husband, she said, was jealous and possessive. She had a miscarriage and quit her job. Just like that, 15 years of her life came to another abrupt end.

Her daughter Gaby was born when she was still battling postpartum depression from her previous pregnancy. Soon after, she got a divorce. Bernal went back to work for Bacardi, but her responsibilities as a single mother of two children were overwhelming.

When she discovered the public school her children attended in Mexico City was illegally charging her a fee and putting her children to work mopping and scrubbing floors, she placed her kids in a private Catholic school.

In order to pay for the exorbitant tuition, Bernal moved in with her mother, went back to school, and started a business making school uniforms.

Five years later, her business collapsed when she lost her car in a crash and could no longer deliver the uniforms. With piling debts and no better options, she decided to cross the border into the U.S., making her way to 116th Street in Harlem. After sleeping in a church for a few nights, she moved to the Bronx.

That’s how, nine years ago, a 43-year-old Carolina Bernal crossed the Mexico-U.S. border through the dessert under a blazing sun. She was the oldest immigrant and only woman in the group of young men she was traveling with. Exhausted, one day she decided she couldn’t keep going, and asked to be left behind while lying on a hot black rock.Mexican flags

The boys wouldn’t have it. “Vámonos Doña Carolina”, said Bernal quoting her travel companions when they lifted her up from the rock. “That’s when people started calling me Doña”, she explained in Spanish, making it clear that her nickname was a sign of respect, due to her age.

Doña Carolina then became one of the 11.3 millions of immigrants without proper paperwork in the U.S. as of 2015, according to the PEW Research Center. Even if Mexican immigration has been decreasing since 2007, 49% of all undocumented immigrants are still Mexican; the majority of them work in service sector jobs, like flower design.

 

An unassuming entrepreneur

At age 43, and still without a high school degree, Doña Carolina found herself working as a nanny, a private cook, and a kitchen aid in several Mexican restaurants.

It was in 2007 after one of her long night shifts at the Pancho Villa restaurant that she took a cab home because she was too tired to navigate the subway. A drunk driver hit the taxi, and Doña Carolina was badly injured. She sued and was given a small settlement of $5,000, which she used to open Carolina Flower Shop.

Unable to work long shifts in the kitchen because of her new disabling column lesion, she looked for something that didn’t require as much physical work. Selling flowers was her solution.

Before owning her store, Doña Carolina sold flowers out of a bucket on the sidewalk. She stationed her mobile business in front of a small shop on Westchester Ave., in the shadow of the No. 6 line. But her life as a hawker only lasted a couple of months. Just when the flowers started freezing in the winter cold, the tenant of the shop moved out. Doña Carolina took the opportunity and used her savings as a down payment for the rent.

Doña Carolina had managed to secure a commercial space and open her own small business, but she didn’t know the first thing about actually arranging flowers. She taught herself quickly, using YouTube videos and practicing with fresh stems. Her customer service experience in Mexico prepared her for serving the clients.

Today, Carolina Flower Shop, a couple of blocks north of the St Lawrence Ave. subway station, brims with bamboo bunches in different-sized pots and multicolored alstroemerias resting in buckets of water inside the fridge. She has good-luck pink mini cactuses sitting sturdily next to elegant orchids.

The green plants with leaves reaching up next to the wall are believed to bring prosperity to new businesses. Inside the fridge, carnations look like pompons shoved against each other and gerberas explode in a rainbow of colors. In the corner, white lily buds are about to bloom.

Flower trade

Illustration by Alejandra Ibarra

Back in early 2014, when Doña Carolina’s enterprise was on the pavement, she used to get her flowers from warehouses like Select Roses in Hunts Point. Those big depots have container-sized refrigerators where the flowers are stacked in boxes. The warehouse owners import a bunch of 25 roses for $2.

Nowadays, Doña Carolina gets her flowers from a Korean deliveryman who goes directly to the airport customs office and delivers boxes of flowers twice a week to the doorstep of Carolina Flower Shop. The Korean middleman sells the same 25-rose bouquet for $17 to the florists.

Doña Carolina buys each rose at 60 cents more than its original value. She compensates for the cost of shipment and delivery by producing creative merchandise like flower arrangements and bouquets.

Each bouquet has about 12 roses, adorned with cheaper flowers used as filling, and various green leaves of different shades and shapes. She sells the bouquets — perkily poised in their cellophane wrapping — starting at $70.

Creating value is not the only challenge faced by Mexican shop owners like Doña Carolina. She’s also had to learn how to revive a flower that has been kept in refrigeration for months.

Withered flowers are easily identified; their twigs don’t snap when broken, their leaves are pale and opaque, and their buds are often stuck in the opening phase, like a teenager in arrested development. In order to bring them back to life, Carolina slices their stems diagonally, making it easier for the plant to absorb water.

According to the Department of Labor, there were 2,980 floral designers in New York in 2015, the second most in any state after California. Florists like Bernal earn an average hourly wage of $14.49 and an approximately $30,140 a year. Floral designers in New York are not among the best paid in the industry. In nearby Connecticut, florists make more than $36,000 a year, on average.

Soon after her business opened, Doña Carolina’s daughter joined the family in the Bronx. With a college degree and her mother’s earnings, Gaby came to New York City, and now helps her mom run the flower shop. Gaby is in charge of finances, social media accounts, English speaking costumers and theme party paraphernalia. Doña Carolina manages everything else.

“In spite of all the problems she had, my mom is an independent woman who never needed a man to succeed,” said her daughter, Gaby.

When her daughter finally made it to the U.S., she hadn’t seen her mother in seven years. “When she saw me here, she found a grown woman instead of the little her she had left behind.” The two make a good team, they say. Sometimes they fight, sometimes they laugh, but they always support each other.

“I have to rinse her tears and tell her that she’s wrong, just as she does with me,” Gaby said.

With no previous experience in the flower business, Doña Carolina’s biggest asset is customer service. She figures out ways to accommodate her clients, like when the employees of a deli off Grand Concourse needed a bouquet delivered on Sept. 29. Doña Carolina charged $15 for delivery and then paid for her daughter to take a cab to the deli, tucked behind Bronx Criminal Court. The flowers were for a woman who was forced to retire after nine years because of health problems. Holding the bouquet with her arthritic fingers, the woman said she loved the red and white arrangement.

In late September, Feliciana Danielle popped into Carolina Flower Shop with her husband. They were looking for a centerpiece for a black and gold themed party. Doña Carolina quickly sprayed a couple of green branches with gold and black spray paint and gave Danielle time to think.

After the $90 order was placed, Danielle said she was a returning customer. “I had been here years ago, when I bought the flower arrangements for my wedding.” She came back, knowing Bernal would know how to put together an arrangement that met all her needs.

Doña Carolina opens her shop every day at 8 a.m. After all her ordeals, she won’t stop working until she achieves her final dreams. Her next challenges are obtaining legal residency, getting a car to expand her business, and buying a small house in which she can spend her last days.

“I’ve been run over once and again,” Doña Carolina said. “But no matter what comes my way, I keep getting up.”

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Unofficial American: A Mexican Immigrant in the Bronx

“How can I help you?” asked Israel Sanchez, 20, at Ritchie Torres’ City Council office in the Bronx. He had a calm presence and professional tone, wore a button-down checkered shirt, and spoke with no accent. He was caught at the reception desk with no reference files in front of him but was still able to explain in detail the status of Latino immigrants in the neighborhood. He gave all reference contacts, including email addresses, accurately from memory.

It’s a topic Sanchez knows well. His family is not only part of the immigrant community in Fordham but among the most vulnerable.

“My parents and I live off the book. We pay taxes but the country doesn’t recognize us as legal residents,” he said. “On one hand, you love this country, but on the other, your life is really difficult.”

Meanwhile, a Latino family of ten crowded into the city council office, taking over the reception area that only tightly fits five chairs. Three adults and a flock of children, whose ages varied from toddler to early teen, all spoke Spanish to each other. The woman with the youngest on her lap shook her head with an awkward smile when she was asked if she spoke English. They needed Sanchez to help them communicate.

“People think things in elections won’t affect your lives. But it’s because of what Obama did, I was able to be here and do what I do,” he said, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – a presidential executive action that President Trump would rescind and President Clinton would defend. The Sanchez family, who cannot vote in the elections, hope the voters will make the right choice for them.

Protection against Deportation

Sanchez was brought to the United States from Mexico when he was two years old. His parents took him to climb over thorny fences at the Mexico-California border, and flew to New York. He qualifies for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the executive action initiated by President Obama in June 2012. The action has temporarily protected more than 700,000 immigrants from deportation, 66.6 percent of whom are Mexicans. These immigrants, who are eligible for the executive action and are called the Dreamers, were brought to the United States as children and have made the country their home. Although the executive action does not offer a legal path to citizenship, the Dreamers approved are given temporary work permits.

Immediately after the policy announcement by President Obama, Sanchez applied for the executive action, eager to be able to work legally. He researched the application process, gathered all the legal documents, and submitted the application himself.

Sanchez is temporarily relieved that there is finally a policy that protects immigrants without legal permission like him. “I guess I would be more concerned to meet you if I’m not protected by DACA,” Sanchez said. “The concern is always at the back of our heads.”

His concern does not come from nowhere. The Obama administration has deported more immigrants than any previous president, and the number has been steadily increasing year by year. Although New York City is not among the cities with the top number of deportations, Sanchez and his family are still at risk every day. He deliberately avoids any unlawful activity – things that would be destructive but less devastating for American citizens to be caught doing, such as possession marijuana or working at an illegal business. His uncle’s experience taught the family a lesson.

Hoping to work and earn his living, Sanchez’s uncle landed a job at a company that manufactured counterfeit Nike shoes, where many of the workers were undocumented. Later, the company was reported to the police and had to shut down. Sanchez’s uncle was arrested, and his status was exposed, along with the other immigrant workers who did not have work permit. As a result, he was deported and sent back to Mexico in 2012, after living 20 years in the United States.

 

The Identity

Although Sanchez’s parents have always told him to be extra careful, he was on TV once with Julissa Arce, an author and advocate for Mexican immigrants. In facing the topic, Sanchez never backs down, and his spine is always straight. After Sanchez received protection against deportation, he has become more active in speaking for immigrants like him. Margaret Calmer, Sanchez’s girlfriend since high school, recalled that their high school friends who used to joke about him being Mexican respected him more after knowing the hardships he has faced.

Without a second of hesitation, Sanchez identifies himself as an American. He enjoys Mexican food and music, but since his first memory, he has never stepped out of the country. He’s had an American education and upholds American values like independence and protection for human rights. He wants a career in government to make better policies for immigrants like him.

In order to achieve his goal, Sanchez interned at the city council office while he was a full-time college student and working at Staples for tuitions and expense. “He always works extra hard to prove that he deserves to be here,” Calmer said.

But he becomes frustrated when his identity clashes with how other people see him. “I think I’m an American, but it’s difficult to claim, since I’m not a citizen,” said Sanchez. He finds many people address him first in Spanish. He was once stopped on his way to Boston because his truck had a headlight out, but the police officers asked if he spoke English and searched his truck for drugs for half an hour. After private middle school, he was accepted to a private boarding high school in Virginia, but this dream school revoked the admission decision after the family visited the campus. The school told him that the revocation was a result of his legal status, but he speculated the real reason being that other students’ parents did not like his Mexican origin.

“I was the only Mexican kid. It was very difficult for people like me to go to a school with bunch of rich kids. You kinda feel you are out of the place” Sanchez said. “You kinda expected things like this to happen, but you didn’t think it would actually happen.”

The school admission office, on the other hand, stated that the school would verify the legal status of any applicant. The director of admission did not recall any incident of revocation of admission offer since 2006.

Sanchez’s road to the American Dream demands more efforts than his American peers. He says his Mexican parents hardly know how American society works, and, along with his two younger brothers, rely heavily on him to navigate their lives. Sanchez in many ways has become the third parent of the family. From credit cards to car insurance to college applications and internships, Sanchez has learned it all by himself.

“I have to explain little things like internships to my parents. Sometimes it’s frustrating,” he said.

 

Unseen Future

Because Sanchez’s temporary status comes from a presidential executive action, the next president, either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, could revoke the policy. People like Sanchez would no longer be able to work legally and would not be protected from deportations. It’s his worst nightmare.

He is afraid that the new president will drop the policy, and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service will report him to law enforcement units for deportations. “They know me now. They know I’m here,” he said.

Sanchez is graduating from Baruch College in two years. He has two scholarships that cover all his tuition, putting no financial burden on his family. But his political commitment to make immigrants’ lives better would be more promising if he were born in the country and had a U.S. passport.

“He’s just normal, like the rest of us. He jokes around and he enjoys his life. But until something changes, there’s always going to be legal status hanging over his mind preventing him from living an entirely normal life,” Calmer said. “All he wants is a normal life.”

“I can never be the President. That’s one thing,” half-joked Sanchez. But whoever does become president can determine whether he can become officially American.

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Another Chance for Bronx Misdemeanor Ticket Holders

A small crowd trickled into the Mount Hope Community Center on Saturday, Sept. 17, hoping for help. Some clutched wrinkled pink police tickets, many held white invitation letters, folded three times, at their chest. At the front door, the new Bronx District Attorney, Darcel Clark, spoke to the press.

“So many times the Bronx is left out of things,” Clark said. “But I’m just going to make sure we always get what we deserve.”

The event, called Another Chance, was the first low-level summons warrant forgiveness program in the Bronx. There have been two in Manhattan and four in Brooklyn.

The Bronx has not been left out when it comes to the number of quality-of-life violation tickets issued. According to the Department of Investigation, the police department has issued more low-level misdemeanor tickets in the Bronx than anywhere else in the city. Residents who attended the event frequently described the tickets they received as “unnecessary” and “ridiculous.”

The Office of Court Administration sent 2,500 summons letters to Bronx residents who have outstanding low-level crime tickets. The letters invited the holders to come to the event and clean up their records. Ticket holders without letters from the other four boroughs were also welcomed. About 500 people attended.

The District Attorney’s Office tried to make the event light-hearted and relaxed. A DJ stationed near the front door of the community center played a song with the lyrics “tonight is going to be a good night”. Ticket holders got free lunch boxes with soda, chips, and sandwiches after meeting the judges. There were tables with information about community resources, including health insurance.

The Legal Aid Society helped organized the event. Attorneys at the front door pre-checked the eligibility of ticket holders who came to the event, making sure people with criminal summonses would not meet the judges and inadvertently get arrested.

A DJ played songs at the event. Sept. 17, 2016

While several Legal Aid Society staff snapped cheerful group photos, the Bronx District Attorney Deputy Counsel Julian Bond O’Conner spoke about the event as a way to foster a “positive interaction with the legal system of the community.”

Bronx residents said they were relieved to clear their records. Romel Solano said he was having a bad day when he visited the 40th Precinct earlier this year. When a police officer ordered him to wait behind a line, Solano responded with a profanity and got a ticket.

“It was pretty unnecessary,” Solano said, about the summons.

Kevin Cuffee said he was with two other friends in a park after it closed, and he was issued a ticket for littering.

“I wasn’t even littering,” he said. “[The police officer] told me he’s just giving me a ticket because I was in the park after dark. It was a tiny park between the buildings. People sit there all the time.”

A man who said his name is Gustavo, but refused to give his last name, said he got a ticket for having an open container in public. He said he opened a beer after a day working at a store, when two police officers walked in.

“Haha we got lucky today,” Gustavo imitated the police as saying, before giving him a ticket.

By the end of the day, more than 500 people were given advice, 350 cases were resolved. No residents were arrested. But compared to similar events in Brooklyn, the number of warrants cleared in the Bronx was much lower. The Brooklyn events average more than 600 cases resolved each time.

“We would of course like to have many more people, and were prepared for that, but the turnout was good for a first event,” said Patrice O’Shaughnessey, from the district attorney’s office. “Since some of the warrants were years old, the people we sent the letter to may have moved away.”

The high rate of summons tickets in the Bronx is a byproduct of the “broken windows” policing strategy, initiated by former police Commissioner Bill Bratton. The effectiveness of the policy, which aims to lower the overall felony crime rate by excessively focusing on the issuing of low-level crime tickets, is controversial. According the Bronx District Attorney’s office, there are more than a million open low-level crime summonses in the city.

“The Bronx is over policed,” said Legal Aid Society Attorney Mary Peppito. “The NYPD seem to mainly focus on some areas.”

The Police Department has not responded to questions about the number of tickets issued in the Bronx.

An open summons or warrant could impede immigration, housing, or job applications. The Bronx District Attorney Office says it plans to hold the event again, hoping to have more residents come and clear their records and their worries.

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Community Resources, Crime, Featured, PoliticsComments (0)

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