Tag Archive | "kingsbridge"

Riverdale and Kingsbridge Gasoline Stations Sell Last Drop

As early as Wednesday morning, motorists in the West Bronx experienced shortages and limits on refueling their vehicles in many stations. Today, stations are  completely closed, The Riverdale Press reports.

A supply terminal in Brooklyn is awaiting a third-party pipeline and gasoline barges to replenish depleted stock after a buying frenzy in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

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Ex-detective on trial for running over Bronx grandma

A witness in the case of a former police detective accused in a off-duty drunk driving accident that killed a 67-year-old Bronx woman told court on Monday the accused slured his speech and smelled of alcohol, reports the New York Daily News.

Kevin Spellman struck and killed Drane Nikac, a Kingsbridge resident and grandmother of nine, as she crossed the street with a shopping cart in October 2009.

Sgt. Brian Lopez testified at the pre-trial hearing that the accused was unsteady on his feet and initially thought he had hit a man.

Pre-trial proceedings continue today.

 

 

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Hate crime suspected in city property in Kingsbridge

A New York City Police investigation is underway following a possible hate crime at the Bronx headquarters of the city’s Parks Department in Kingsbridge.

A photo posted on Amsterdam News shows an African American doll hanging from a metal chain shaped like a noose Tuesday morning.

The doll was found in the garage by an African American employee who had just returned to work after being out sick, according to WNYC.

Three years ago, the Parks Department settled a federal discrimination suit of $20 million brought by 11 current and former employees who charged that Henry Stern, the former Parks Commissioner, and current NYC Parks and Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe oversaw a racially hostile environment for Black and Latino employees.

 

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The ecstasy and the agony of Ethiopian marathoners

Kingsbridge resident, Lemma, poses outside Central Park as his friend, Alem Ashebir looks on. (Mohammed Ademo/THE BRONX INK)

Fikadu Lemma braved the early November frost in Van Cortlandt Park on Saturday morning, pumping his legs, stretching his triceps, in a final half-hour push before his run in the world-class New York Marathon on Sunday.

“I am not nervous,” said the soft-spoken Ethiopian runner who has lived nearby in a Kingsbridge apartment for more than three years. Indeed, Lemma along with his two Ethiopian roommates, quietly trained for months, out of the media spotlight.

More attention has been paid to Ethiopia’s defending running champion, Gebre Gebremariam, and two Kenyans, Emmanuel and Geoffrey Mutai, who share a common name.

The Kenyans, who have increasingly dominated long distance races, vowed to not only win, but also to beat the record time. On Sunday, they did just that when Geoffrey crossed the finish line at 2:05:05, a New York Marathon record. Emmanuel followed 01:23 later, setting his own course record. The defending champ, Gebremariam, came in fourth.

Ethiopia’s Firehiwot Dado, 27, won the women’s title in 02:23:15 finishing four seconds ahead of Buzunesh Deba, the local favorite from the Bronx. Mary Keitany of Kenya, who was leading for much of the race, came in third. Other Ethiopian athletes didn’t fare quite as well.

Lemma, 28, who came in 18th in New York Marathon last year, finished a disappointing 19th this year. He had hoped that additional training and praying would help push him closer to number one this year.  “At the tenth mile mark, I felt pain in my leg. I pushed myself, but it was not good,” said Lemma.

Half a dozen Ethiopians, wearing scarves decorated with their country’s flag, gathered outside Central Park on West 69th Street to greet and to hug the runners. Lemma’s mood was not celebratory. “It’s okay,” one man shouted as Lemma walked away from the cameras.

Two things set Lemma apart from his fellow Ethiopian long-distance runners. He is tall, and he hails from West Shawa, which is in the Oromia region of the country. The majority of Ethiopian athletes come from the south-central highlands of Arsi.

A pioneer athlete from his local village in Ambo zone, Lemma had worked as a runner for 16 years, a career tainted by injuries that has taken him to Japan and around the world. He ran for a Japanese club before coming to the U.S., and prefers the shorter, and fast-paced cross-country run. But he has taken part in almost all types of races including the demanding Steeplechase.

Lemma has been running on and off in spite of a left leg injury. He usually runs 10K and half-marathon. As his injury steadily improved this year, Lemma started trying his luck with longer races. Since his return to the field four months ago, he’s won a number of smaller races including the Coney Island 5K race, the18th annual Pit Run 10K Race in Oneonta, New York, and the 11th annual Mayor’s Trophy 5K Run in New Jersey. Today, he clocked 02:20:41, five minutes and 29 seconds short of his personal best of 2:15:12 in the Marathon.

Many in Lemma’s rural village have barely heard of the Bronx. But the Bronx is home to 14 Ethiopian athletes, in total. Lemma shares a room in a West 195th Street apartment with two friends, Ketema Nigusse and Alem Ashebir, who also trained for Sunday’s race.

'Yes the Bronx' honors Ethiopian-born Kingsbridge resident with a billboard displayed at Willis Avenue Bridge post.(Mohammed Ademo/THE BRONX INK)

At Willis Avenue bridge post, activists from Yes the Bronx, a non-profit organization that seeks to challenge negative stereotypes about the borough, and Assemblyman, Marcos Crespo of District 85, shouted, “welcome to the Bronx,” standing under a billboard, “Energize Buzunesh Deba, Bronx’s Own”, as runners flew by.

New York offers many opportunities and challenges for the Bronx-based Ethiopian athletes. The city is a perfect gateway to races in the States as well as around the world. In Ethiopia, travel abroad can be daunting and disruptive to training schedules. From the Bronx, domestic travel is one short train ride to an airport in Manhattan with a possibility of a return flight home.

But the challenges are many. Lemma and most of his friends do not have a coach. He trains himself, often alone, when his friends are away competing in races around the country. He also has no health insurance, which could leave him financially strapped when he has a major injury. Lemma’s lower ankle injury, a likely culprit in today’s dismal performance, has gone untreated by a specialist as a result.

The professional athlete visa that grants them entry into the U.S does not allow them to hold regular jobs. So they have to make a living solely by running.

“This is our job and if you try hard, you can make a decent living out of it,” said Lemma, with a winning grin on a recent Thursday. He acknowledges that it can be tough when there are not enough races to go around. “Bills don’t give us a break when the sport does,” he said speaking in his native Oromo language.

In addition, his training grounds at Van Cortlandt Park and Central Park are not located at the high altitudes that are preferred by long distance runners.

To work around it, Lemma goes for longer distances at an increased pace. Some of his friends temporarily move to higher altitude locations in New Mexico, California, and Arizona. A handful visit and spend months in Ethiopia when training for highly selective races.

Sitting on the bench overlooking an empty Van Cortlandt football field three days before the Marathon, Nigusse and Lemma discussed the challenges of their chosen profession and a friendship that has survived their intense competition on the track.

Nigusse, for example, spent two months in Ethiopia training near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, this summer. That training paid off for the 30-year old father. Since returning from Ethiopia, he won Philadelphia’s 10-mile race, Brooklyn’s rock ‘n’ roll 10K, the Japan Day 4 Miler, and second place in the Pittsburg Marathon and the Straton Faxon Fairfield Half Marathon.

Nigusse, who along with his wife is a permanent resident of the United States, first came to participate in Nashville’s Marathon in 2008. He has gone back and forth to Ethiopia numerous times since both to visit his son, Fraol, and to train. His son lives in Addis Ababa with his grandparents. Nigusse is already thinking ahead. That’s why he opened a sports clothing store in Addis Ababa.

“A rat with two holes can’t be trapped,” said Nigusse repeating a recognizable Oromo proverb. He insists he is not ready to quit. “I am just getting started and I’ve big hopes in the future.” Nigusse who decided against running in this year’s marathon, only hours prior to the race, gave no reasons.

Despite today’s performance, Lemma’s passion for the sport lives on. At the conclusion of the race, Lemma, who was limping, managed a wry smile and said, “I’ll go back to Ethiopia and train better for next year.”

“Sometimes that’s all you can do, try your best.”

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Bengali immigrant savagely beaten

Police are searching for two suspects in the assault on Bimal Chanda in his Kingsbridge apartment. JASMEET SIDHU/The Bronx Ink)

The fatal beating of a Bengali man in his Kingsbridge building last week has shaken members of the north Bronx Bengali community, who now believe he was targeted because of his ethnicity.

Bimal Chanda, a 59-year-old former taxi driver, was robbed and severely beaten on the second-floor landing of his apartment building on 190th Street just off of Fordham Road on the morning of October 29. He died in the hospital four days later from severe head trauma, leaving behind a wife and a 16-year-old daughter.

Friends were shocked at the brutal assault of Chanda, who emigrated to Kingsbridge from Calcutta, India nearly 30 years ago.

“He was an innocent guy who was killed intentionally,” said Mohammed Ali, a member of Community Board 7, who had been friends with Chanda for more than 10 years. “The Bengali community is very afraid of this biased crime. It’s a hate crime.”

Ali said Chanda, an acute diabetic, was moving from his apartment on the third floor to a condominium in Parkchester, because of concerns about crime in the area. He and his wife were picking up the last of their possessions in the apartment when Chanda left to purchase tape from a nearby 99-cent store.

That’s when two men grabbed him from behind on the staircase and struck him on the head with a metal object. The commotion could be heard throughout the apartment building, which has no security cameras or working locks on the front entrance.

“I heard a big noise,” said first-floor resident Nidia Rodriguez, whose 16-year-old son attended elementary school with Chanda’s daughter. “Then I heard his wife screaming.”

Another resident on the first floor, Sara Inoa, rode in the ambulance with an unconscious Chanda and his wife Chaya, both of whom she had known for 17 years.

“She came banging on my door, asking for help,” said Inoa. “He was lying on the floor with his head bleeding. For me, he was dead right there.”

Ali said he doesn’t believe the incident was just a robbery, since Chanda still had his cell phone and more than $80 in his pocket when he was taken to the hospital.

“Robbers, they target us,” said Ali, referring to what he said has been a series of thefts and attacks on Bengalis in the neighborhood in the last couple of months. Ali helped organize a rally Thursday after Chanda’s funeral in Parkchester, where Chanda’s wife and daughter now live.

Police have placed notices inside the building where Chanda was killed, on 190th Street. (JASMEET SIDHU/The Bronx Ink)

Police have released a video of the two suspects, described as male and black, between the ages of 20 and 25, and approximately six-feet tall apiece. Notices of the attack have also gone up in the apartment building, including one written by residents demanding the landlord install cameras and fix the broken locks on the front door.

Chanda’s death is one of three homicides that occurred within one week in the 52nd precinct, which encompasses Kingsbridge, Bedford Park and Norwood.

A 35-year-old man was stabbed to death in the lobby of an apartment building on Grand Avenue near Fordham Road on Tuesday morning. Police have yet to identify the victim, or any suspects in the case.

On Saturday morning at around 4 a.m., a 21-year-old man was shot in front of an apartment building on 2843 Bainbridge Avenue, near 198th Street, a few blocks from where he lived on the Grand Concourse. Detectives on the scene said that the man had been in an argument with several other men when the shots were fired. The victim, Edwin Valdez, who was shot in the chest, was still able to walk to 198th Street where he was able to receive help. He later died at Saint Barnabas Hospital.

Bainbridge Avenue was cordoned off by police between 198th Street and 199th Street all morning, including a portion right in front of the Academy of Mount St. Ursula High School. Police have not identified any suspects.

The early morning killing convinced some longtime residents in the Bedford Park neighborhood that it was time to leave.

“I’m moving upstate,” said Linda Matos, a mother of four, who heard the gunshots that morning from her apartment two buildings down.

“The Bronx is disgusting. You’re so used to it. For my children, I say to God every day, please protect them.

Police have released video footage of the suspects sought in Chanda’s killing.

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[VIDEO] At the speed of snow

[VIDEO] At the speed of snow

The weather has slowed down all forms of transportation in Kingsbridge, except for one.

By Ethan Frogget and Manuel Rueda

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Increase 
in 
remittances 
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 Mexico
 slows 
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 as the recession continues

The increase in remittances to Mexico that started in April 2010 has slowed down

The increase in remittances to Mexico that started in April 2010 has slowed down. Photo by Irasema Romero

Adrian Dominguez has not yet met his newborn son, Diego. He moved to New York City from Guerrero, Mexico, six months ago with the goal of saving money for his new family.

Dominguez, a college graduate with a degree in information technology, now works 60 hours a week as busboy in a restaurant on the Upper East Side. As part of his weekly routine, he visits Western Union on West 231st Street in the Bronx to send money to his wife. His weekly contributions add up to $600 to $700 a month.

The amount of money Mexican immigrants like Dominguez send to Mexico increased by 9.32 percent in August 2010, compared to the previous year as reported by Banco de Mexico, the country’s central bank. But that upward trend in remittances has slowed.

According to BBVA Research, dollar remittances to Mexico decreased in September by 1.6 percent from the previous month. Remittances to Mexico exceeded $5.5 million, 4.6 percent less than the previous 2010 quarter, but with a three-point increase from the same quarter in 2009.

The report suggests that although remittances began to increase in April 2010, the recovery will be “slow and perhaps volatile” depending on the U.S. employment rate for Mexican immigrants.

“According to the data compiled by the comptroller’s office, the unemployment rate among Hispanics in the third quarter was 13.3 percent, the highest since the recession began,” said Juan Luis Ordaz Díaz, senior economist at BBVA Research.

Hispanics in the city experience higher unemployment compared to the national rates among this ethnic group, even when New York City has a lower unemployment rate than the U.S. average.

Ordaz Diaz said that although the U.S. economy may add jobs for the holiday season, BBVA doesn’t expect remittances to increase by more that two percent in the fourth quarter. In order to continue providing for their families in Mexico, workers in the U.S. are finding ways to keep their own living expenses low.

To save money for his family, Dominguez lives with his brother in the Bronx and eats at the restaurant where he works. With a daily two-hour commute to work, he says he does not have time to be a tourist.

“You don’t have time to do other things, so you’re not going around spending money,” Dominguez said of his experience saving money for his family.

For every $100 Dominguez sends in cash through Western Union, he pays a $5 fee. His wife has free access to the money the next morning when she picks it up at Elektra, a Mexican retail store that works with Western Union to conduct money transfers. Aside from Elektra, which boasts of over 1,000 stores throughout the country, Mexican families may receive money sent to them through Western Union at Mexican national banks like Banco Azteca and Banamex or grocery store chains like H-E-B and Comercial Mexicana.

Dominguez said that he plans returns to Mexico permanently in the next four to six months, but he hopes the money he is sending now will help with the medical expenses from the birth of his son.

“Unfortunately Mexico does not provide us with the opportunities we would like,” Dominguez said.  “If the jobs were well paid, we wouldn’t have to go through a lot of these things.”

Dominguez said the entry-level jobs available in his home state do not pay enough for his family to live comfortably.

Besides subsidizing the basic needs of families in Mexico, remittances are used to cover education costs, buy property or create businesses, according to Darryl McLeod, an economics professor at Fordham University who has studied the trends associated with remittances.

He said although there were major decreases in remittances during 2008 and 2009, Mexican families are now receiving more pesos to the dollar. Today, the peso is approximately $12.50 to the dollar, when in 2008 it was $10.59. BBVA Research predicts the process of disinflation that started in April 2010 will continue in the coming 2011 quarters, allowing for less than four percent in core inflation, compared to the 6.5 percent experienced in October 2008.

“Even if they sent six percent less remittances, it buys more pesos,” McLeod said. “They’ve had a little bit of inflation, but not that much. They were able to make the dollar go further.”

But that isn’t much of a comfort to Marisela Castillo, who has lived in New York City for 25 years, and continues to feel the need to send extra money to her widowed mother in Mexico City.

She and her siblings send around $500 to $800 a month to their mother because they all feel an obligation to make sure all of her monthly cost are covered, she said.

“It may be almost nothing, but we are always sending money,” Castillo says of her effort to send money to Mexico. “If you don’t help them, who will?”

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For immigrant Mexican mothers, obesity is a new threat to their children’s health

Seven-year-old Mileidy Merino waits for her mother, Araceli, to  finish dinner.

Seven-year-old Mileidy Merino waits for her mother, Araceli, to finish dinner. Photo by Irasema Romero

The small rural town of Tecamtalan is covered with natural colors. They are the colors of acres of harvested land, where food like tomatoes, watermelons, peanuts, beans and corn dot the central Mexican state of Puebla. These are the lands where only three years ago Sindy Cecilio, then 10 years old, climbed up and down wooden ladders picking plums from their trees. Agriculture was a family business. The Cecilio family sold fresh produce in a market 15 minutes north of their home.

The fresh air and open spaces are a contrast to the life she now leads as a seventh grader at M.S. 328 in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. Gone are the afternoons playing and running in open fields or the Saturday mornings helping her father in the harvest. Now instead of selling food in the market, she accompanies her mother Araceli Merino to buy fruits and vegetables twice a week from the small Green Cart that parks on West 231st Street and Kingsbridge Avenue.

Keeping her three children healthy is important to Merino, a stay-at-home mother, because she knows it is easier for them to gain weight now that their new lifestyle requires less physical work than what children are used to doing in Mexico. That’s true for her as well. In Mexico, she had to wash clothes by hand, one piece at a time. Today she just goes to the laundromat down the street.

For evidence of how their new lifestyle has influenced her children’s health, Merino has only to look at her. Last September, Mileidy’s doctor told Merino that the little girl needed to lose 12 pounds.

“In Mexico children eat but at least they go out and walk, run and play outside,” said Merino in the hallway of the family’s two-bedroom apartment.

Unlike her sister, Mileidy did not experience the active lifestyle helping in the field.  Merino said that other than weekends when the weather is warm and they go to Van Cortlandt Park, the children spend their free time at home. And because P.S. 207 is only a few buildings south from their Godwin Terrace ground-floor apartment, Mileidy’s physical activity is limited to a school dance class once a week.

Forty-six percent of Hispanic children across the New York City public school system are overweight or obese, according to a recent study released by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Mileidy has become part of this statistic after living in the Bronx for three years. This weight gain may be influenced by her family’s adjustment to a new lifestyle because in Puebla, physical activity and healthy eating were rooted in their livelihood.

Mileidy's family moved to the Bronx three years ago from Puebla, Mexico. Photo by Irasema Romero.

Mileidy's family moved to the Bronx three years ago from Puebla, Mexico. Photo by Irasema Romero

The U.S. Census estimates there are 282,965 Mexicans living in New York City, with nearly half originating from Puebla, a state known for its agricultural richness.

While the weight gain for recent immigrants may seem relatively small, public health experts worry that it’s an indicator of bigger problems to come.

As children become accustomed to the American culture, their body mass index levels increase. The National Council of La Raza released in November their latest installment of a 12-part series titled Profiles of Latino Health: A Closer Look at Latino Childhood Nutrition, which indicates that “first-generation immigrant children were significantly less likely (24.6%) than second-generation children (U.S.-born children of immigrant parents) (32.1%) and third-generation children (U.S.-born children of U.S.-born parents) (31.7%) to be overweight or obese.” In the Cecilio family, those statistics translate into the fact that one of the four children is experiencing weight issues.

Merino attributes her daughter’s weight gain to her diet both at home and at school, which serves pizza for lunch every Friday. Since September, she has tried to make the meals at home healthier. She stopped making spaghetti, which they ate at least once or twice a week. She returned to caldo de pollo (chicken soup), cemitas (a sandwich specialty from Puebla) and the traditional mole poblano.

“They used to eat a lot before,” said adding that she has now restricted Mileidy from eating her favorite evening snack: Mexican white cheese with sour cream.  After 6 p.m., the family is now only eating healthy snacks like oranges and Mileidy’s favorite fruit, the mango. Before that, they were having a full meal right after school and again at around 8 p.m.

The second grader has since lost three pounds and her mother keeps working for more.  Merino said she will continue buying fresh fruit from the Green Cart and going to a live poultry shop called a vivero on 231st Street and Broadway. She said she does not buy prepackaged poultry or meat from the supermarket because she is used to growing chicken in her home in Puebla.

“I think it’s because they spend more time in the supermarket, and in the viveros you can buy them the way you like them,” said of her interest in keeping her Mexican customs and not buying frozen food.

According to Andrew Rundle, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, her desire to buy fresh fruit from farmer’s markets and poultry from viveros is consistent with what his team found in recent studies of health-conscious New York immigrants.

In his interviews with 350 Hispanic immigrant women about what makes food healthy, the majority suggested they want to know where the food comes from and they like to be able to choose the meat or poultry they want. These women did not use terms like gluten-free or organic, which in local supermarkets can mean a higher cost in food, to describe their nutritional choices.

The idea of healthy food originated in the lifestyle of their native Latin American countries, but also echo the slow food movement that started in Italy, Rundle said.

The slow food movement was established in 1986 as an alternative to fast food, suggesting a need for fresh and organic food that is not altered for faster growth.

“This is an idea that is seen as very elitist, yet these women who are immigrants and live in poor areas have these ideas and attitudes that are very familiar to slow foods,” said Rundle, adding that the women in the study perceived the dirt on the vegetables they buy at farmers’ markets as an indicator of freshness.

This principle of freshness is valued among other Poblano immigrants in the Bronx who are used to eating organic produce their family harvested. At the age of 22, Ines Juarez moved to the Bronx from a small town in the mountains of the Mexican state of Puebla, where her family planted corn, oranges, and bananas in the fields adjacent to their home.

“[In Mexico] things are more natural,” Juarez said speaking of the fruits and vegetables she now tries to buy for her family. “Here they regularly have to have chemicals to help them grow faster for production.”

Her two boys, who are also students at P.S. 207, did not get to experience that rustic lifestyle in her native Mexico, where she woke up to the sound of roosters and chickens. In contrast, Jonathan, 9, and six-year-old Bryant’s childhood experiences are limited to the busy city streets surrounding their Bailey Street apartment, where the #1 train rushes through in the background and honking cars crowd the nearby Major Deegan Expressway.

Juarez tries to continue the customs she learned in Puebla, where the women in the family would spend time making food from scratch, including rolling and pounding on dough to make corn and flour tortillas. Food was not purchased in cans or packaged to last for weeks. If they wanted something sweet to drink, they would pick oranges from the ground near the fruit trees around their home and have freshly squeezed orange juice.

They rarely watched television because they were busy harvesting the field and tending to the chickens and turkeys the family grew.

When the children were not going to school or helping the family, they had lots of room to run and play, Juarez added. Because other family members lived nearby, it was easier for children to go out with relatives without worrying about where they were.

Although she still makes tortillas from scratch and stays away from canned food because her family doesn’t like the taste, Juarez believes Jonathan is about five to 10 pounds over his healthy weight.

But as a first-generation Mexican immigrant, the factors influencing Jonathan’s weight may be defined by his mother’s struggle to maintain hints of a Poblano lifestyle while not limiting her children’s American experience.

“Their friends bring snacks to school and they want some,” said Juarez. Often, Jonathan and Bryant are asking for cookies and chips. “I tell them ‘no’ because it’s not as healthy and they don’t need it…But it’s difficult to limit so many things.”

Arminda Muñoz took her three children to Fitness Fun Day at M.S. 45 to help her 11-year-old son Jeffrey stay active. Photo by Irasema Romero

Arminda Muñoz took her three children to Fitness Fun Day at M.S. 45 to help her 11-year-old son Jeffrey stay active. Photo by Irasema Romero

Juarez’ children are easily tempted by snacks from the bodegas surrounding their school. According to “Disparities in the Food Environments of New York City Public Schools,” another study completed by Dr. Rundle and his team, there are on average 10 bodegas within a 400-meter radius of New York City public schools.

Even though Juarez, who is a stay-at-home mother, tries to maintain a healthy diet, other Mexican immigrants may not be as aware of the low nutritional value of processed food.

In the 2009 study “Moving to the Land of Milk and Cookies: Obesity among the children of immigrants,” Dr. Jennifer Van Hook, a professor of sociology and demography at Penn State, and her team followed approximately 20,000 children from kindergarten through 8th grade and found that 40 percent of first-generation Hispanic children are overweight or obese by the time they get to eighth grade. About two-thirds of Hispanic children in the study were of Mexican descent.

She said that immigrant parents may not understand the significance of childhood obesity because it may not have been a major problem in their native countries. Even in the U.S., it has only become an issue in the last 10 to 20 years.

Van Hook said that children in the study whose parents come from the poorest countries had the highest obesity rates.

“The idea of dieting, the idea of exercising… is probably foreign to a lot of these people coming from pretty rural areas of Mexico and agricultural backgrounds, especially if parents grew up in situations where they did not have enough,” Van Hook said.

Although Puebla has a prominent agricultural economy, it is still one of the poorest states in Mexico. CONEVAL, Mexico’s council for the evaluation of economic development reported in August 2010 that over 61 percent of youth in Puebla live in conditions of poverty. In all, over half of Puebla’s five million residents live in poverty.

Children in Mexico who live in rural areas are thinner than those who live in urban areas of Mexico, said Van Hook, which suggests that a higher income does not translate to a healthier lifestyle.

“There’s more opportunities to go out to dinner and to eat more, and to eat more sort of non-traditional preprocessed foods when you live in an urban area,” she said adding that immigrant families who have gained a level of financial stability in the United States are also still at risk of gaining weight.

Although family economics may be better than when they arrived to the Bronx almost 10 years ago, Juarez rarely eats out, and instead takes her children to Van Cortlandt Park on the weekends She said she tries to keep the children as physically active as possible even if it’s inside the house.

Sixty minutes of daily physical activity are recommended for children, but, according to the New York City Department of Education, only 40 percent of the city’s six- to 12-year-olds achieves it. The department’s 2009 Child Health Survey suggests that one in every 10 children did not get even one hour of physical activity outside of school the week before the survey was administered.

Romero_article 4_children

Jeffrey Muñoz plays games at Fitness Fun Day in October. Photo by Irasema Romero

With the goal of providing fun alternatives to exercise, Manhattan-based USA Fitness Corps partnered with Thomas C. Giordano Middle School in the Bronx to offer Fun Fitness Day this past October.

Jaci Van Heest, a professor of kinesiology and child psychology at the University of Connecticut, designed the workout for the event using traditional activities and modifying them with fun new elements. For example, the simple act of kicking a soccer ball incorporates body movements to increase physical activity as children participate in a circle.

“If you use the word exercise, it conjures up images and feelings that are typically negative – work, sweat, sore, not fun,” Van Heest said. “If adults think that, why would children think or say anything different?”

Seventh grader and Puebla native Jeffrey Munoz enjoyed playing Van Heest’s modified soccer version as he gathered with other children in the southeast corner of the M.S. 45 Doc Serpone playground on East 189th Street and Lorillard Place.

The session was led by a group of retired veterans of the U.S. armed forces. Jeffrey watched the ball closely to kick it during his turn. When it went out of bounds, he took a breather, bending down and restings his left elbow on his knee.

The 11-year-old said that sometimes he does not get a chance to play soccer, his favorite sport, with his friends because they don’t want to go out a play.

“My dad told me that I needed to lose weight because I’m getting a little fat,” Jeffrey added.  “It makes me feel like he wants me to exercise.”

Jeffrey, who moved to the U.S. with his family five years ago, is now 10 pounds over his healthy weight, said his mother Arminda Muñoz.  “He likes to exercise but he also eats a lot,” Munoz said of her son, who also watches at least two hours of television each day. “I want him to get healthy because he’s at risk of having diabetes and other health problems.”

A doctor advised Jeffrey to lose weight earlier in the semester and Muñoz now wants her two younger children to learn the value of being healthy and staying active.  That’s why she brought her children to the fitness session at Jeffrey’s Mott Haven middle school.

Principal Annamaria Giordano said the school decided to become the first to offer Fitness Fun Day in the Bronx as a way to provide school families resources to fight childhood obesity.

“The small steps are perfect because they lead to the big steps,” she said of that Saturday’s two-hour activity series. “We are trying to ensure that our children are healthy and fit. Our small part can help a child or two or more.

Van Heest said Fun Fitness Days strives to change the perception of exercise for the over 100 schoolchildren who participated. The next time they have the opportunity to be active, she hopes they will bring back the memory of “the last time I had fun.”

Similarly, parents like Merino, Juarez, and Muñoz rely on memories of the Puebla they left behind to continue influencing their children’s diet and exercise habits. Their children may grow up as Americans but they each strive to preserve the best of what their families experienced in Mexico – if only for the sake of their children’s health.

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