Tag Archive | "Dominican Republic"

MS Ventura sits at table with cabinet

Running for president of the Dominican Republic–from the South Bronx

Ventura standing in front of the salsa club

Real estate broker turned Bishop turned presidential candidate of the Dominican Republic, Roberto Quevedo Ventura, stands outside a salsa club before his party's Saturday night meeting. (KIRAN ALVI/The Bronx Ink)

Every Saturday night, 27 local residents meet in an abandoned salsa club in East Tremont to discuss Dominican Republic politics. The various clergymen, business people, and housewives are intent on getting the Bishop in their midst elected as the island’s next president in May. These Dominican expatriates have little campaign money, and even less political clout. Still they feel so strongly about the the chaos and poor education choices back home, they have convinced themselves that Bishop Roberto Quevedo has the moral backbone and business experience to win. "I trust Quevedo because he cares about the country the most," Orgilia Palmo, one of the campaign volunteers, said minutes before the meeting began. "He's a strong man who can help the D.R. that's falling into pieces." Others believed his experience as a volunteer is enough to convince voters of his suitability for president.  “He sends boxes of food, supplies, HIV testing material, everything to the country all through donations here, sometimes his own money,” said Nestor Rodriguez, Ventura’s friend of more than 30 years. “He organizes all this stuff to help the community here and now look at him – helping by running for president.” Besides, Ventura said he has always dreamed of going back. “There’s so much corruption with all the revenue the D.R. has," said Ventura, 56, a real estate broker and Bishop of East Tremont. "I want to see the money spent on the children, not the government.” To run, however, a candidate needs a party endorsement. So, Ventura and his comrades established one called Partido Para El Pueblo Dominicano (PPPD) on August 13. Their key platform is to redirect funds into education and social services for the elderly. Since 30 others are running for the office, and since only two parties--Partido Revolucionario Dominicano and Partido de la Liberación Dominican--have led in the polls since the early 1960s, Ventura's bid is hardly a given. For one thing, he has lived in the U.S. for more than 40 years. Born in 1954 in the Dominican Republic to a father who was a grocer and a mother who worked in a textile factory, Ventura grew up around hard working people. He came to the U.S. in 1969 and spent his teenage years in an apartment on a tree-lined block on Manhattan Avenue in Harlem. He said even as the fifth child of nine, he wanted to take charge in the house. After immigrating to New York City with his grandmother, he got his real estate license in 1973 from North Country Community College in upstate New York. He still works as a broker in the South Bronx. Like his parents, he is self-employed. Ventura, a resident of Morris Avenue, owns two properties now. But it was one on 229 East Tremont that changed his life when a boiler exploded during installation in 1998. “My whole body was burned and a piece of the boiler went straight into my forehead,” Quevedo said. “The doctor said only a miracle could save me, and that’s what I believe it was.” The religious epiphany prompted Ventura to join a church and devote more of his time to God. By 1992, he became a pastor at the New Covenant Baptist Church in the Bronx and was ordained a bishop in 2008. Through the Baptist Church of all Denominations, a church he opened in 2008, Ventura runs community-wide drives to collect clothes and canned food to send back o the Dominican Republic. He ships the merchandise with his own money, so they only send boxes every couple of months, he said. “He’ll help anyone and he does it only because he wants to,” said Pastor Luis Coriano of the church Quevedo started. “Now his faith makes him want to help more. But I was surprised that he was running because religion and politics don’t mix.” The mix happened in 2006. Ventura took up an interest in politics after he attended a meeting in Manhattan with the General Council of the Dominican Republic that year. “There’s instability and a bad administration there, and the money isn’t being spent on the people, my people,” he said. Indeed, the World Bank loaned the government $300 million for social programs; Inter-American Development Bank loaned another $500 million  for the same purpose in 2010; and the government entered into an $8.6 billion trading partnership with the U.S. in 2009. These combined cash sources placed the Dominican Republic as the largest economy in the Caribbean and Central American region, according to a 2011 report from the Congressional Research Service. Still, more than 40 percent of its people live below the poverty line, according to the CIA World Factbook. Ventura did not call it “corruption” of funds but others did. Transparency International, a nongovernmental organization that publishes annual reports on international corruption, gave the Dominican Republic a score of 3 out 10; 0 being the most corrupt. The island was ranked 101 in a list of 178 countries, the highest ranking as the most corrupt. His campaign has a Facebook page with almost 200 friends and two YouTube videos with about 150 views combined. Ventura does not see the timid online presence as foreshadowing. “My biggest challenge will be the election," said Ventura, a tall man with graying hair and calm speech. If his Facebook following of 200 is any indication, the challenge is nearly insurmountable. “I want this from the bottom of my heart. If I don’t get it, I will persist and resist until the day I die.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Bronx Tales, Politics, Southern BronxComments (1)

Bronx Dominicans gear up for 2012 elections

Four months ago, Bronx resident Maria Rosenda was robbed while visiting the Dominican Republic. The assailants followed her from the airport to her mother’s house in Bajos de Haina, jumping her as soon as she reached the front door. Rosenda, who moved to the U.S. in 1988, said the mugging was typical of today’s Dominican Republic, a place so dangerous that “you can’t even walk safely in the streets.” For Rosenda, the electoral coordinator for the Dominican Revolutionary Party in the Bronx, the way to change that is through politics. She is one of dozens of volunteers working to get Dominicans registered to vote in next year’s Dominican national elections. In the past few months, they have helped nearly 8,000 Bronx residents sign up. While Dominicans abroad have been able to vote for the Dominican president since 2000, this time they will also vote for legislators stationed overseas. The Bronx, home to New York’s largest Dominican population, will have a big say in who wins. About 150,000 Dominican-born residents, along with their children, live in the Bronx. Rosenda, who returns home several times a year to participate in local politics, is working to make sure each and every one is ready to vote next May. The special education teacher has been going nonstop for months. When school let out last June, she took just four days off from work and spent the rest of the summer working at the campaign office from 9 a.m. until past midnight seven days a week. Sitting in the campaign office in Mount Hope, Rosenda and other volunteers spend their evenings entering voter information into a database. The long hours bring them close together, said Elida Martinez, another volunteer. “It’s like a big family here,” Martinez said. The Bronx campaign office is unusual in that almost all of the volunteers are women. Martinez said they are all driven by concern for those back home. “We have family over there, you know,” the 46-year-old homemaker said. “Before, we would send $100 over and that did something. Now, $100 is nothing.” The overseas legislators will give Dominicans abroad a bigger voice back home. The legislators will represent three areas outside of Dominican borders: the northern United States and Canada, the southern United States down to the Caribbean and Europe. Twenty-three people are running for the three available U.S. and Canada spots. Seven of the 23 live in the Bronx. Arsenio Devares, a teacher of 20 years, is one them. Devares’s brothers and sisters have all moved to the U.S., but the Morris Heights resident still has one foot back home. “That’s one of the most important things for Dominican people,” said Devares, who teaches at PS 17X in Morrisania. “They always think about going back.” Devares said the typical Dominican ideal is to retire back in the Caribbean. “We work hard over here to buy houses back there.” Mount Eden resident Julian Melendez is one of Devares’ competitors. Melendez, a businessman and lawyer who has lived in New York for 14 years, worked at the Dominican consulate in New York for four years and saw the problems Dominicans face. “I went to jail many times to visit Dominicans awaiting deportation.” It will be several weeks before the party nominates its legislative candidates. In the meantime, everyone is still working to register voters, and there are many long nights ahead. “We drink a lot of coffee here,” Martinez said as another volunteer arrived with the evening’s supply.

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The pastelito lady

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Miguelina Moscoso's famous pastelito food stand is a fixture of West 234th St. in Kingsbridge. Photo by Irasema Romero

A regular workday for Miguelina Moscoso begins at 3:30 a.m. in her small two-bedroom apartment on Bailey Avenue in the Bronx. While her three children sleep, the 46-year-old Dominican mother quietly begins her routine, preparing and frying 140 Dominican pastelitos, cooking a batch of sweet arroz con leche, and squeezing lemons for lemonade.
Depending on the day, Moscoso’s pastelitos may be filled with ground beef, shredded seasoned chicken, or scrambled eggs with melted cheese. She wraps the crispy pastries in foil to keep them warm before placing them inside her styrofoam cooler. By 9:45 a.m., Moscoso pushes her shopping cart out the door. Her hair pulled into a low ponytail and covered with a black cap, she walks uphill to her vending location on West 234th Street. A small, collapsed table and the cooler are secured inside the cart, while bottles of lemonade and iced tea hang loosely from strings on the sides. When she reaches the light pole in front of the Unique Thrift Store, a handful of clients begin to shell out $1 apiece for egg and cheese pastelitos. “One of the things that motivates me the most is that people like what I do,” Moscoso said in Spanish. She makes a conscious effort to keep costs down in order to keep a loyal clientele who may patronize her restaurant one day. “My biggest hope is to have my own place, like Mexicans who have their own stores and sell their tacos; I would like that." Two years ago, Moscoso was not quite so optimistic about her economic future. A week before Thanksgiving 2008, she lost her job in Albasini, a Bronx chocolate factory that had been struggling financially. She was working as a temporary factory worker cleaning big chocolate mixers. She tried to make ends meet by working temporary jobs in various factories around the city.  After six months, she decided she wanted the flexibility of having her own mobile food stand. As a single mother with no relatives or close friends in New York City, Moscoso said she needed work that kept her near her children, Dioneli, 13, Michael, 16, and Carlos, 25, who also lives at home. Moscoso decided to renew the mobile food vendor license she obtained in 1999 from the New York City Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, an investment of $50 every two years. Her license renewal was approved in June 2009, and soon thereafter she started loading up her shopping cart with cooking from her kitchen.
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Moscoso sells her $1 pastelitos in a variety of flavors, straight from her cooler. Photo by Irasema Romero

One year later, Moscoso is still waiting to obtain a “unit” permit that would allow her to prepare pastelitos on a mobile food cart on the street. The waiting list is so long for so few licenses that it could take two to three years. The chosen few food vendors are then given six months to purchase the cart and get it inspected. In 2008 Moscoso won this lottery, but her $5,000 small business loan to buy the cart was approved with only a few days to spare, and she missed the inspection deadline. The first time Moscoso pushed her shopping cart down West 234th St., a group of Thrift Store employees invited her to stop by everyday to sell them pastelitos during their work breaks. “To this day, I say that thanks to them I’m selling here,” Moscoso said. From then on, customers arbitrarily take turns using the folding chair Moscoso brings for herself. The big hot sauce bottle is conveniently placed on the table next to them, and before taking the first bite they pour its spicy contents over their favorite pastelito. For Jonathan Cartagena, who has worked at the store for eight months, it’s all about the egg and bacon pastelitos. “She doesn’t make them daily, but when we ask her about it a lot, she brings them,” Cartagena said of his favorite pastelito, which Moscoso offers only a couple of days a week. “Eggs are a bit expensive and the bacon is especially expensive, so it’s hard for her.” Although Moscoso makes the rare exception of offering pastelitos filled with costly ingredients like shrimp and bacon, she also chooses longer trips to a store that provides more affordable prices. The goal is to keep the pastelitos to one dollar apiece to continue attracting new customers. Around 3:30 p.m., Moscoso pushes her cart home,  and then climbs back out to the No. 1 train heading to Manhattan’s Mi País Supermarket on 181st and St. Nicholas. Instead of buying the 10-piece package of frozen empanada dough for $1.99 in the Bronx, she gets the same product for $1.29 at this Latin American grocery store. Other ingredients are also sold at a lower price in Mi País, and Moscoso does not mind making the trip if it means cutting costs. On an average week, Moscoso brings in approximately $650, of which half is profit, after subtracting the cost of ingredients, plastic ware, ice for drinks and transportation. With an average net income of $1,300 a month, she covers her $348 rent, which is subsidized by the New York City Housing Authority, and household expenses for the family. Moscoso said, with hesitation, that she also has dreams of owning a house one day. “I know maybe what I make is too little, but there is a saying, ‘no wait is too long for happiness,” she said. This saying is what keeps her going even after almost 20 years of leaving Dominican Republic with her then first husband. Her daughter Dioneli said her mom often mentions returning to her native country, but she does not want to think about it today. When she talks about her family in Santo Domingo, her eyes water. She recently lost an uncle in the Dominican Republic but was not able to go back home for his funeral. She misses her father, she said. Moscoso hopes her children will have an easier life than she. She is frustrated that she can not offer them more. “If they would help me, I would make more,” she said, because her pastelitos sell out by 2 p.m. most days. “At times we argue because I am alone for everything. I tell them to help me squeeze the lemons. I could make more.” On holidays, Moscoso adjusts her routine to make double the batch of pastelitos. For Norma Ahmed, who lives near the Grand Concourse, Moscoso’s reputation precedes her. A friend told her to go to the store early to experience the pastelitos as part of her trip out. “I was surprised when I come that day and saw her there,” Ahmed said of the first time she stopped at Moscoso’s food stand. Ahmed was instantly curious about the pastelitos, and Moscoso humbly talked about her routine as she served other customers. “As a woman, I hope she goes on to put her little own restaurant or maybe a store front,” Ahmed said. “Who knows where we’ll see Miguelina 5, 10 years from today.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Food, Food and Beyond, Northwest Bronx, Special ReportsComments (4)