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Food Stamp cuts pose hardships for home health care workers

New policies would cut off 3.1 million families nationwide from the food stamp program.

Having enough money at the end of the month is too often a worry for Elsilia Carrasco, a full-time home health care worker who lives with her three children and elderly mother in the Highbridge section of The Bronx.

Every month she tries to stretch her $23,760 annual net income to pay rent, utilities and to buy groceries. Although Carrasco’s income is not enough to cover her expenses, she no longer qualifies for food benefits.

This dilemma has led Carrasco in the past to making the impossible choice of either delaying rent payments or buying groceries.

And it’s about to get even harder.

Pending proposals from the U.S. Department of Agriculture threaten to reduce those eligible for Supplemental Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, to only families who qualify for welfare cash assistance. 

This new ruling would end the option that allows states to use their own criteria to provide food assistance to low-income families who are struggling with salaries slightly above the federal poverty level.

This federal action is expected to cut off 3.1 million families nationwide from the food stamp program.

If the Trump administration rules are implemented, Carrasco’s possibilities to enroll in the program would be even more restricted. Even the current eligibility criteria found her ineligible for food security assistance, because her income was too high for the guidelines of New York State.

Every year on October 1, the SNAP program in New York increases its eligibility guidelines to accommodate the rising cost of food in the area. If pre-Trump era standards were still in place, this year Carrasco would be set to receive about $768 per month in food assistance.

But to qualify now under the new federal guidelines, her salary plus her older son’s fast-food paycheck would have to be $3,118 a month for the family of five, or 130% of poverty. Under the previous regulations, the New York State eligibility cut off was 200% of the poverty rate.

This issue brought Carrasco to Bronx Housing Court in the past, when her landlord began the process to recoup the full rent she owed. She had delayed paying portions of the rent in order to buy groceries.

“I’m not going to let my children go hungry,” Carrasco said. Her housing court case was later settled with the landlord and she remains in her apartment in the present.

Carrasco’s situation is common among home health aide workers across the city and the nation. On May 2018, 192,000 home health aides were registered in New York, the greatest concentration among the states, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their mean annual wage is $26,240.

“It is very frustrating that the dedicated home care workers providing direct services are frequently on Medicaid and food stamps,” said William Dombi, President of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, an organization that oversees companies with approximately 250,000 workers around the country. Primary payers such as Medicaid, Veteran Affairs and Agencies on Aging set payment rates so low that it’s hard for workers to make a living and for the caregivers to increase in quality.

Paying $1,215 for her two-bedroom apartment every month is not easy for Elsilia Carrasco on her $1,980 monthly salary after taxes. She often has to make choices on the priority of her bills whenever she runs out of food.

“I have a 15-year-old daughter who still goes to school full time and I’m not getting help,” Carrasco said.

Other home health workers also struggle financially. One in six home care workers lives below the federal poverty line and more than half rely on some form of public assistance, according to a 2019 U.S. Home Care Workers Report from the non-profit Paraprofessional Health Institute. In 2017 the report found that 30% of home care aides received food and nutrition assistance.

The income eligibility for SNAP keeps increasing every year, but the number of families that enroll in the benefit in New York City has not kept up. On April 2019, there were around 1,5 million total recipients, according to the New York City Open Data. This number has been steadily decreasing since 2014. This year, at least 68,000 fewer people enrolled in the food stamp program than April 2018, and around 200,000 fewer people than five years ago.

“Many families are living on the edge financially and they really do need that benefit in order to make ends meet and to make sure that their family is fed,” said Sara Abiola, Professor of Health Policy & Management at Columbia University.

The current income guidelines still allow more families than only those in deep poverty to access the benefit, but that’s about to change. “People are concerned that this new cut would threaten a lot of households in the state have not being able to afford to meet their food needs,” said Abiola.

The Department of Agriculture reported that the new system would check income, assets and other circumstances to determine the participant’s eligibility. This may include families receiving at least $50 in cash assistance for at least six months. Not screening people with more rigorous rules “compromises program integrity and reduces public confidence that benefits are being provided to eligible households,” said the Department of Agriculture in the announcement of the proposed rule.

New York State has been able  to provide food stamps to families using broad-based categories, which would be eliminated with the new federal proposals. “If you are able to determine that you are eligible based on one assessment, then you don’t have to go back and re-apply,” Abiola said, “or can determine your eligibility multiple times in multiple different ways.”

Comments against

The comment period on the proposed policy closed on September 23, with 75,000 comments addressed to the Department of Agriculture, according to the Government regulation website. At least 17 governors and the United States Conference of Mayors signed comments in opposition to the proposed rule, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The Paraprofessional Health Institute said one in four direct care workers require food stamps to fulfill their nutritional needs. “Direct care workers commit their professional lives to a rewarding yet poorly rewarded job and this proposed revision would further punish these workers for their important career choice, as well as their families,” said the Bronx-based organization in their comment against the proposed regulation.

The organization foresees that without the benefit, the well being of home care workers and long term care consumers would deteriorate, leaving the threat of a large-scale public health emergency.

The first week of October, the Department of Agriculture for the third time announced new cuts to the food stamp program, proposing to standardize across states the way heat and cooling utility expenses are calculated into the eligibility requirement.  The department calculated that $4.9 billion could be cut from its food stamp program over the next five years, if approved. 

The new regulation would hit the colder, northern states the hardest if approved. And, New York could be one of them.

On August 2019, New Yorkers paid 15% more than the national average for natural gas, and 45% more than the national average for electricity, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This would make it even harder for Carrasco to enroll in SNAP. She stopped to think about her lost path to get food stamps and said  

“I think the system is upside down,” Carrasco said. “It’s not fair. Instead of helping the ones who really need help.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Featured, Food, MoneyComments (0)

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.  

Botanicas also sell scented water for rituals

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. 

Other botanicas in The Bronx include products related to Santería

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

Botanicas in The Bronx offer sprays that promise better luck in love and money

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”.

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An uncertain future for Morrisania’s post office

Inside the two-story post office on 167th Street and Park Avenue, the door slammed every few minutes on a recent Monday morning as customers filtered in and out. Only two of the five customer windows were open, and the lines snaked all the way to the entrance. Nothing unusual there, according to customers in line.

“I’ve been coming here for 47 years,” said Hassan Forrest, who arrived early at the Morrisania post office to pick up his mail. The Metropolitan Transport Authority employee still lives in in the apartment he grew up in on nearby Webster Avenue and has never gotten  around to closing his family’s post office box.

But Forrest and other Morrisania residents may have to transfer their mail to another address if the U.S. Postal Service is allowed to close over 3,500 post offices throughout the nation. The White House proposed these drastic cut backs after the post office became insolvent the end of September. It had reached a borrowing ceiling of $15 billion, and used the last of its cash reserves.

The Morrisania post office, located in a building recognized as National Register of Historic Places in 1988, is one of 17 branches in the Bronx scheduled to close. Neither customers, nor Morrisania’s mail carriers seemed to be aware of the proposed cuts. A staff member who was rushing out of the post office building on her lunch break  cut short a reporter’s questions, saying the place wasn’t closing. The only changes she knew of were the maintenance work recently undertaken in one of the second floor rooms.

“For me it’s not a major issue, but some older people are coming here,” said Forrest, who was on his way to work in his MTA uniform. One retired nurse from the Bronx said she comes to the post office at least three times a week.

Pakala Dingle, 63, said she depends on the post office to pay her rent every month. Money orders cost only $1 compared to $3 or more at the bank.  Dingle wakes up at 6:30 every morning to exercise and walks to the post office to collect her mail for the small business of organic products she started a few years ago after she retired. She also picks up her Social Security checks at the post office.

Like many others, Dingle and Forrest believe the Internet has affected the postal system, along with competition from other private mailing services. On a two-block radius around the post office, at least six stores sold stamps and two shops offered cheap money orders.

President Obama’s plan, which was announced earlier last month, did not include its initial promise that mailing costs would stay the same. On  Oct. 18, the postal service announced that stamps would cost 45 cents, a one-cent increase, starting next January. The plan also suggested that post offices could offer non-postal products and cut out Saturday deliveries as a way to reduce debt.

Jimi Perez, a postal union delegate, criticized Obama’s proposals as ineffective. Even though Obama is willing to pay back the postal service $6.9 billion for having overpaid a federal retirement fund for years, Perez complained that the federal government owes the workers still more. “In its plan, Obama proposed to reimburse only $20 billion out of the $80 billion USPS has overpaid,” he said.

The closest post office to Morrisania is on Westchester and St. Ann’s Avenue, about 20 minutes away on the BX41 and BX55 buses. “If this post office closes, the old and disabled people that come here everyday will have to commute to a much further place,” said Perez, 59, who said anyone working for postal service  was threatened by the budget cut. “And how will they come to pick up their mail? In a taxi?”


View Is your Bronx post office threatened by the U.S. Postal Service budget cuts? in a larger map

 

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Tour de Bronx 2011

Some 6,000 cyclists biked the Bronx on Oct. 23. Bike enthusiasts young and old took over the streets from Bronx County Courthouse to the Sheridan Expressway and Pelham Bay Park.

 

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Superheroes from the Bronx

They do it for the love of comic art, to help change lives of the children in their community, and to rejuvenate comic art in the Bronx. Ed Mouzon and his partners are some of the key players in the independent comic art movement, started in the ’90s, that is responsible for reviving the deep-rooted comic art heritage in the Bronx.

The Bronx is his inspiration, Mouzon said. “I only need a pencil to doodle what I visualize in the streets of the Bronx.”

Mouzon’s draftsmanship is rich in details and colors, and his characterizations are filled with nuance. The 47-year-old said he has drawn 9,000 comic characters just by observing the streets. “The Bronx is a fertile soil for me,” he said.”These characters are us.”

In the early ’90s when the indie comic came into its own, a team of local comic artists, including Mouzon and his longtime friend Gary Camp, founded  Creative One Comics, an independent comic publishing group based in the Bronx. “We just sat at a round table, and said there will be no hierarchy among us, thus we shall call it ‘One’,” Mouzon said.

Their mission was to focus on intelligent storytelling and promote positive messages — and to stay “independent”.

They maintained a roving office with no permanent space for a studio. “Our studio is where ever we are,” Mouzon said. “We meet at our own areas. We connect with young artists at open door spaces. We do it at a dining table, or while watching a horror movie, I even do the planning during the train trips.”

Creative One Comics publishes many books about Bronx politics and society: The BlakelyverseAn Industrial Strength taste-testLa Mala NocheLittle Miss Strange, and Pozitron. But the remarkable breakthrough was Bronx Heroes — a three-part mini series and a political statement in the guise of a comic book.

Bronx Heroes was first issued in 2007. “It moved us the most, it brought us an audience,” said Mouzon. “It got us in conventions, but it was only a bridge to what’s next for us.”

The sweeping story-telling enthusiasm has brought Mouzon and his partners a ringside view of the United States and Bronx history. “History was the glue for all our Bronx heroes,” said Mouzon.

Camp, 42, said, “We take history events like the Great Depression, and the 70s when the Bronx was burning, and spin it in a way, on superheroes.”

Mouzon, a Bronxite by birth and upbringing, studied zoology in college in Massachusetts but is a self-taught artist. He attended St. Raymond High School for Boys at a time when budget cuts meant no art classes.

“I started drawing when I was 4,” he said. “I was a good visualizer.”

Comic art became for him an act of redemption and a sacred calling especially after he  had  tumor in his right eye when he was 14 that almost cost him his sight.

Mouzon eventually returned to St. Raymond to teach art.  “I teach visual art, filmmaking, and storytelling, but above all I give the kids the spirit on how to become successful,” he said.

“Mouzon is very attached to his students,” Camp said. “I appreciate him for keeping it to the kids.”

Mouzon said he wants his students to surpass him. One example is a former student he urged to study art at the University of Southern California. “This kid is an intern now at Disney,” Mouzon said.

Mouzon also works with community centers in the Bronx to promote art within the borough.

At the moment, he is working with The Bronx River Art Center and students from the Junior High School at Morrison Avenue on an environmental awareness comic book. “It’s called Bronx Go Green,” said Mouzon, who meets once a week with 15 kids to work on the environmentally themed heroes drawings. “It’s the kids’ initiative and effort,” Mouzon said. “I am only putting it together, playing the role of a publisher.”

Ed Mouzon and Gary Camp showing some comic sketches (MAHMOUD SABBAGH/The Bronx Ink)

Mouzon and his partners think of themselves as community activists.

“We are not making money,” said Camp. “We don’t work for DC Comics or Marvel. I appreciate Spiderman, but if we work there, we won’t be able to be as active in the Bronx community.”

“Here we can help the kids, do conventions, write for the kids, and be able to immerse ourselves in the community to personify street characters from the Bronx,” said Mouzon.

He added: “We keep our day jobs to pay the bills, then we do it for the love.”

The group’s future plans includes re-launching the Creative One Comics website, and creating a studio to branch out into visual art, urban street art, video games art, to get a wider appeal and to expand the niche, as they continue publishing.

They also plan to publish a new series called Old City — a series of multicultural heroes who build collective power to fight crime, injustice, racism and social prejudice during the the Great Depression. Taking some of the characters from their old series,  Bronx Heroes, the new series aims to focus on the Bronx’s multicultural mix.

Many of the greatest comic artists of the past century — Stan Lee, Will Eisner, John Collins, Bob Kane — lived in the Bronx.

“It’s a legacy that we have give to the next generation, or it will die,” said Mouzon.

He added: “We just want to make books in a collective effort. That’s our model.”

For now, Mouzon and his partners enjoy their vision of success. They make no secret of their credo. It’s on the cover page of the last issue of Bronx Heroes: they “will not yield to evil.”

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Despite controversy, nun still calls Hunts Point home

On a warm and sunny morning a few Sundays ago, Sister Thomas found herself resting on a chair while overseeing the weekly rummage sale at the garage next to the red brick St. Athanasius Catholic Church in Hunts Point. The cramped structure serves as a storage facility for donated items that her group sells every Sunday. At 78, Sister Thomas is still as involved as she was 49 years ago, when she first arrived at the South Bronx neighborhood.

Only now, she’s no longer welcomed by church’s new pastor.

On July 1, 2010, the Rev. Jose Rivas of the neighboring St. John Chrysostom took over following the death of Rev. Bill Smith. Immediately after taking office, the Colombian-born priest dismissed long-time staff and informed Sister Thomas that her services were no longer needed.

At the same time, Rivas emptied the church rectory of the food and clothes that Sister Thomas collected for the weekly flea market. The nun has been raising money for needy families from Hunts Pont and Longwood. Rivas’s decision sparked a protest among long-time parishioners, who signed a petition to oust him.

Many residents said they were dismayed by the way the Sister Thomas was treated. Hunts Point native and former church worker Gladys Weinberg said it was the nun who stuck it out with the community during the difficult years, when much of South Bronx was burned down.

Bronx Ink requested an interview with Rivas, but he declined saying, “No comment, no comment, no comment.” The New York Archdiocese had no comment on the issue.

Noella Asencio, another parishioner, said she welcomes Rivas ‘ style of leadership. She said that within the last year, she has already seen a number of physical improvements in the church, including the repair of the altar.

“It’s nothing personal,” Asencio said, while pointing out that Rivas did not know Sister Thomas when he moved to the new parish.

Still, Weinberg insisted that because of her long service to Hunts Point, the nun deserves respect from Rivas. She said the priest should have been more diplomatic in dealing with the aging nun.

Weinberg remembers Sister Thomas’s legacy with fondness. During one of the community’s annual Halloween parades, for instance, Weinberg recalled that the nun wanted to be a flower pot. So her friends turned her into one — complete with a daisy headdress and an outfit covered with artificial leaves. Another year, she was dressed as an angel wearing flashing sunglasses.

But no matter what her disguise, everyone recognized her as the nun who marched along Southern Boulevard followed by children in costumes.

To many in this still struggling community, Sister Thomas is more than the lovable figure with snowy white hair who likes to joke around and hug neighborhood youngsters. To them, she is the activist nun who fought along Father Louis Gigante in the 1960s and 70s when many politicians had written off the area due to continuing fires and gun violence.

Last Sept. 3, the Brooklyn native marked her 60 years in the Sisters of Charity congregation. A special mass was held in her honor and it was attended by Gigante and U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano. But her abrupt dismissal by the new pastor dampened the celebratory mood.

“It was a very difficult year,” Sister Thomas said, the lines in her forehead tightening, her blue eyes looking troubled.

Angela Centeno, 72, has been a parishioner of St. Athanasius for 51 years. She is no longer attending mass there since Rivas took over because she thinks  the new priest does not respect Sister Thomas.

“I feel so bad,” Centeno said. She said that Rivas told parishioners that if they do not like his management, “don’t come to this church.”

True to her reputation as a reformist nun who once faced down city officials including then-Mayor Edward Koch, Sister Thomas insisted she is not going away.

Despite her disagreement with Fr. Jose Rivas, the new pastor of St. Athanasius, Sister Thomas said she decided to stay at Hunts Point "because my heart is here and it will always be here." (TED REGENCIA/The Bronx Ink)

“Even in my older age now, I may not be able to run as fast as I do, but my heart is open to everyone,” Sister Thomas said. Despite being kicked out of the rectory, she is staying with the parish. For the last three years, she has been staying alone at an apartment across the street from St. Athanasius.  The 105-unit building where she lives is owned by the non-profit housing agency SEBCO.

Sister Thomas said she would be “distraught” if told to go to another mission, “because my heart is here and it will always be here.”

Sister Thomas first came to Hunts Point in 1962 “out of obedience” to her congregation the Sisters of Charity to teach at St. Athanasius School. The Bronx was “starting to go bad” at that point, said Gigante, who remembered Sister Thomas for wearing a habit, which he described as “a funny bonnet in her head.”

Due to Sister Thomas’ heart condition, her movement these days is mostly restricted to the garage, which serves as her de facto office, or at her building, which was built in 2008 and was named after her. When she can, she also attends the daily mass, even the ones officiated by Rivas.

In the past couple of years, Sister Thomas underwent two heart bypass surgeries, consequently affecting her blood circulation and causing acute swelling of her legs hidden under her long fuchsia skirt. After reforms were instituted in the Catholic church in 1965, she switched to regular clothing in place of the typical nun’s habit.

Sister Thomas credits her upbringing for shaping her outlook in life. She was born on Aug. 3, 1933 in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn to Thomas Collins and Gertrude DeGenaro-Collins. Her parents named her Trude Collins. She had one younger brother. They came from a mix of Irish and Italian families, although she would also refer to herself as an adopted Puerto Rican because of her affinity to Hunts Point’s Latino community.

Growing up, Sister Thomas knew she wanted to be a nun. At age seven, she  recalled dressing up as a nun. She said she was influenced by her parents’ community involvement and service to the parish. Her father was in the military while his mother was a housewife.

As a teenager, Sister Thomas confessed earning the ire of her father once when she missed her curfew after accompanying a childhood friend to a dance.

After attending St. Mary’s, Mother of Jesus School and Bishop McDonell Memorial High School in Brooklyn, she joined the religious order Sisters of Charity and studied at College of Mount Saint Vincent in the Bronx. She also took the name Sister Thomas.

Since then she has dedicated her life to serving Hunts Point. Living with the people she serves is her expression of faith in God, she said.

As for her detractors, Sister Thomas said she has “forgiven them,” including Rivas.

“Every day is a celebration for me because I love what I am doing,” she said smiling.

Due to Sister Thomas' heart condition, which is affecting the blood circulation to her legs, she now uses a walker to move around. Here, she greets parishioners during a special mass held in her honor. (TED REGENCIA/The Bronx Ink)

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Yemenis in South Bronx can’t forget the turmoil they left behind

“Papa, take me with you,” Abu Hamad recalled his five-year-old son pleading with him on the phone from Sana’a last Oct. 10. The Hunts Point shopkeeper’s half smile could not hide the worry in his dark round eyes. His three young children and wife are still living in the capital of Yemen, he said. And not even his American citizenship could help them out of the mountain city that is reeling from an increasingly violent civil uprising.

On Sept. 24, Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s president for the past 33 years, returned to his homeland after a brief medical exile in neighboring Saudi Arabia. He was forced out of the country after an assassination attempt. The departure raised hopes for reform in the Arabian Peninsula nation of 24 million people. But his abrupt return has sparked fresh violence, which has already claimed close to 2,500 causalities since February. On Oct. 16, 18 more people were killed and 30 others were wounded in clashes between Saleh’s troops and his rivals, according to news reports from the region.

It was mid-afternoon Monday in South Bronx. Save for the periodic chugging overhead of the No. 2 train and the occasional ringing of the cash register, it was quiet inside the 37-year-old cellphone dealer’s shop. But Abu Hamad’s restrained outrage was bubbling up time and time again. Two hours earlier, he was on the phone with his family and he learned that the neighborhood where they live is only getting an hour of electricity every day. It was especially upsetting because they live less than five minutes away from Saleh’s presidential palace, Abu Hamad said.

“What kind of life is that?” said Abu Hamad. “It’s a shame. We need to change the President.”

For now, Abu Hamad remains helpless. It has been four years since his last visit to Sana’a. Months ago, he had to meet secretly with his family in Egypt. But with their immigration documents pending and the U.S. embassy in Yemen shuttered, he could not fly them back to America.

Abdul Karim, former president of the Yemeni Immigrant Association in New York, warned that the situation in Yemen could get worse. The 52-year-old South Bronx businessman said Saleh cannot be trusted despite his pledge to resign before the next presidential election in 2013.

“President Saleh has been known to be a big liar,” said Karim, a Columbia University graduate and member of a lobby group asking for the U.S. government to pressure Saleh to resign. “That’s his tactics for the past 33 years. He’s been governing on such a premise. That’s basically his foundation for ruling the country.”

Karim, who has an international affairs degree from Columbia, said Saleh’s cooperation in hunting down top Al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki and other suspected terrorists within Yemen, has complicated the U.S. government’s effort to force him out of office. The U.S.-born Awlaki and another American, Samir Khan, were killed on Sept. 30, just six days after Saleh’s return to Yemen. Awlaki’s son Abdulrahman was also killed Oct. 14.

“The U.S. has been kind of looking the other way as long as it serves the American interest in eliminating radical elements,” said Karim, noting that many innocent civilians have also been killed. The former legislative candidate in Yemen’s highland city of Ta’izz said the U.S. has “no leverage” in its diplomatic run-in with Saleh.

Still, Karim said even if Saleh stays in power, his government is already “totally crippled.” “He can’t rule. It might turn to be ugly,” he said.

At this Yemeni-owned Hunts Point deli shop, talk of President Saleh's ouster is framed on the condition that it is done in an election. (TED REGENCIA/The Bronx Ink)

Aqel Allahabi, 22, manager and part owner of the Hunts Point Deli,  said he shares the sentiments of Karim and Abu Hamad. But he is not in favor of an armed rebellion against Saleh.

“If the people don’t like him, why did they vote for him?” Allahabi said, referring to the 2006 presidential election, when Saleh received more than three quarters of the vote. He said any change of leadership should be done in a “democratic way.”

Standing outside the door of Clinton Deli along East Tremont Avenue one weekday afternoon, Antar Al-Suhaidi said he could not be bothered by the political and armed conflict in his country of birth, which he left when he was only 14.

“It’s a deadlock,” said Al-Suhaidi. “We know nothing will change, so we stick to the main reason for our immigration, doing business here.”

The 20-year-old deli cashier said he works 12 to 13 hours a day, mostly seven days a week. “I work hard now, to enjoy a better life later in my home town,” said Al-Suhaidi, a native of Ibb in southwest Yemen. At the end of the day, he was too overworked to even think about politics, he said.

Abdul Karim said it is not that New York City’s Yemeni community, many of them in the grocery and deli business, are apathetic to their home country’s situation. But many are just caught up trying to survive and deal with their lives as new American immigrants.

“Life is very consuming here in America,” Karim said. “But are they aware of what’s going on in Yemen? Yes, they are aware of what’s going on.”

Back at the cell phone shop, Abu Hamad said his primary concern is the safety of his family. Abu Hamad, who came to the United States at 17, said he wants his children to enjoy what he went through when he first arrived in New York.

“I love it here,” Abu Hamad said. “When I am here, I’m in heaven. So if there’s a way, I would like them to have a good life, have a good education and to eat healthy.”

As he talked about reuniting with his family, Abu Hamad cocked a worried smile showing his perfectly aligned teeth, his tall and lanky frame sagging as if he was carrying the weight of the world. “God knows when that’s going to happen.”

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Family and neighbors remember life of slain Eastchester teen

Graboski Wine Bottle Kino

During a candlelight vigil on Oct. 1, Nico Browne, 19, poured a bottle of wine in the basketball court where his brother played basketball. Kino Browne, 17, died after an early morning stabbing just one day before in Eastchester, according to police. (STEVEN GRABOSKI/The Bronx Ink)

When newspapers report on homicides, some readers merely see a name and the cause of death. They move on to the next story, continue with their lives and forget the death in minutes.

The family of a recent homicide victim could not do the same.

Cops said that at 3:30 a.m. on Sept. 30, they responded to a 911 call reporting a stabbing near Bivona Street. Outside the Boston Secor public housing complex, they found Kino Browne, 17, with one wound to his torso. Browne was declared dead on arrival at Montefiore Hospital, police said.

During the ongoing investigation of the homicide, police said they arrested Wakefield resident Pedro Suazo, 22. They charged him with murder and criminal possession of a weapon. Despite efforts, Suazo’s family and lawyer could not be reached for comment.

It was in many ways a routine arrest — except to the people who knew and loved Kino Browne. “People need to know that this was not gang related,” said Eric Simmons Jr. of Mount Veron, Browne’s 31-year-old uncle. “He stayed to books, stayed to family, and anyone who knew him would tell you the same thing.”

Neighbors said that his death resulted from a feud outside of a party in Browne’s building. The victim and his alleged assailant fought each other until Browne’s attacker grabbed a knife and struck a fatal blow, they said.

Afterwards, people who knew Browne  created a memorial outside of his building’s entrance. They placed candles, nearly empty bottles and stuffed animals by photos of the teenager taped to a glass window and a marble wall. The paper some participants set up for messages to Browne filled up quickly. By the afternoon of Oct. 1, the day after the crime, mourners wrote “R.I.P” with markers not just on the leaflets but across the walls of the lobby, the glass windows of the entrance and their steel frames.

Laticia Browne, the victim’s mother, stood with family members by the memorial on the Saturday afternoon after the stabbing. She said that her son made the varsity football team at Herbert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx this year and played for their junior varsity basketball and swim teams in the past. She added that he had an artistic side—he enjoyed drawing, and planned to go to Fordham University to study architecture and fashion design.

Some mourners remembered Kino Browne as a jokester who regularly poked fun at people’s appearances. “If he saw me, he would call me, ‘hey big head, where are you going?’” said Tamara Bell, a 19-year-old neighbor.

“If your outfit wasn’t looking too good, he’d flame you,” said Boston Secor resident Michael Sanchez, 18. According to Sanchez, he and Browne met in middle school and used to shoot hoops in the basketball court behind their building. “He was like the best left-handed basketball player in the Bronx,” he said.

Minutes after 7 p.m. on Saturday, more than a hundred mourners gathered outside of the entrance to Browne’s building. Some passed candles to each other to begin a vigil. Soon after, with his mother leading the group, they silently walked around the courtyard with their lit candles. They traveled to the sidewalk and then finally to the basketball court behind the building. The family stayed in the center to give messages of thanks and to caution young people against violence.

Simmons Jr. led the surrounding crowd in a prayer. “In Jesus name may we all pray that we get to see something beyond,” he said to the crowd. “Because this man was denied the greatest facets of life. Amen.” Those gathered replied with an amen and sobs.

Nico Browne, the 19-year-old brother of the victim, took a bottle of wine and poured it in the center of the court. He and Simmons Jr. struggled to place a lit candle inside the emptied container. It fell in and extinguished soon after. The family and the mourners left, leaving the bottle in the court where Kino Browne once played.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, North Central BronxComments (0)

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