For our twentieth episode, we discussed our most recent event at Verde Flowers where we launched our Spring merchandise, titled "Q1."
I have a tendency to be a creature of habit, especially when it comes to things I love, like travel, food, Netflix/Hulu binges. With food, it’s one of those things that has the risk of being boring very quickly: the same flavors over and over again, the same textures, ingredients. Very few cuisines rock my fancy much. In practice, I like to adhere to what I call my “Triple M” rule: Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Mexican. I can eat these meals forever and never grow weary of them. I’m not an active cook (please don’t ask me to meal prep!), but as of late, with the demands of my job intensifying with every passing work week, I have to admit, I’ve found myself okay with being that bachelorette forking over all of her money to the god of Seamless…and Grubhub…and UberEats...basically anyone who will bring food to my apartment door and accept me as I am in my frog house slippers and Syracuse sweatshirt sans makeup.
I’ve lived in Parkchester for almost three years. I wouldn’t call my section of White Plains Road a food desert, but I’m not sure how many Mexican and Chinese restaurants one really needs a block from each other (note: this is not a complaint!). In fact, for the longest, I sort of avoided most spots near my house, scouring and scavenging for good eats closer to Little Italy or even going as far as Riverdale as these areas were often perpetrated as prominent “food hubs” in the Bronx. I’ve gotten better at exploring neighborhoods in the East Bronx: Van Nest, Morris Park, Westchester, and some of Throggs Neck and Castle Hill. I have every intent of exploring them all to the fullest extent, but with all these nor’easter storms trick or treating the east coast all winter long, I have risked going hungry to avoid braving the elements, even to go around the corner.
On one cold afternoon, my hunger got the best of me and Seamless had the nerve to threaten me with a 45-60 min delivery wait. I was reluctant to travel far. My makeout session with Netflix was getting hot and heavy (going on hour four), but I figured I’d give the outside world closest to my front door a chance. Nearing the corner of White Plains and Guerlain, I quickly flipped through a directory in my head of some local spots near me: North bound, “Oasis”, “F&J Pine,”“La Masa,” South bound, “Taqueria Tlaxcalli,” “Al-Aqsa Restaurant,” “Step-In.” As often as I frequent these spots, I really wasn’t in the mood for any of them. Standing at the corner, sandwiched between a tire shop and a barber shop, I spotted a restaurant I pass every evening on my way from the 6 train, “Ajo y Orégano.” I remember trying their food back in November and liking what I ordered. I figured it couldn't hurt to try them again.
Upon entering, my glasses immediately fog up. The place was small yet packed. The line stretched from the central hot line counter all the short distance away to where I stood near the front door, roughly ten feet. I was practically leaning on a patron seated at the table next to me. I stood quietly, taking in the bright decor of the green walls and paintings around me, eyeing food being delivered to the four tables that made up the small dining space while I inched my way towards the front. For how tight it was, it was incredible to not hear a single person complain, groan, or grunt while waiting for their food. In fact, everyone waiting in line stood in remarkable peace and patience. The turnaround was quick for both take out and sit down orders. When I finally arrived at the front of the line, I ordered what I had last time (and what I have been ordering ever since!): rice and beans, maduros, and stewed chicken. I was in and out in ten minutes (take that Seamless!). Once home, I sat on my couch and silently devoured one of the best take out meals I’ve had in a long time. I ate everything but the tin take out container. Ever since that afternoon, I have devoted ten minutes of my Saturday afternoons to stand in line for their food and have not regretted a single minute (or dollar) spent.
Ajo y Orégano has only been around for roughly four months, but one wouldn’t assume such based on the level of traffic this family owned restaurant seems to muscle through every weekend. Owned and managed by brothers Enver Perez and Jeudy Alexander, Ajo y Orégano has attracted a strong following. With over eleven thousand Instagram followers, the restaurant draws in people from all over the city, including patrons from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut.
“A lot of people who come here aren’t from our neighborhood,” says Enver. “It’s a great part of this…Every single one of these tables, none of them live within a 2 mile radius, and I promise you, someone at these tables here crossed a bridge: from Queens, from Brooklyn, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, [or] Connecticut.”
This success was not an immediate reward. The restaurant originally started as a meal prep service, Slim-to-Go. The initial business struggled with typical issues for a startup food service company, including implementing an effective marketing strategy.
“Originally we started as a meal prep company. [But] in order for you to do it at the level that we were trying to do it you need a huge budget...we noticed that we needed to bump a lot of money into marketing and what not. So that was a tough business to try to sustain. Since we were already familiar with cooking healthy and we are all Spanish, we tried to incorporate that. ‘How do we go from healthy to Spanish?’ And the best way to do it is to make it as organically and old school as you possibly can.”
Enver paused and pointed to the food laid out on the hotline counter. “This is as healthy as Spanish food is gonna get, you know? Nothing here is saturated in salt, nothing is saturated in things like oil, and stuff like that. Every single thing that we do here is all blended up and spice up inside our kitchen. We take our time. We buy tons of red peppers, green peppers, garlic, and blend up all of these ingredients and spices to give it that grandma touch.”
The touch is working and keeps customers coming back and dragging out of towners for a quick visit. One patron I interviewed had barely been back home in the Bronx from Dallas before a friend of his brought him out to eat at the restaurant. “I’ve only been here for 6 hours,” he said, “but she was adamant about getting me here and trying their food.”
Others made their way from just the other side of the Bronx, having discovered the restaurant reposted on a Dominican food Instagram page. “From there, I just started following them, and I [saw] how close they were from us, from where we live,” stated one patron. “There are Dominican restaurants everywhere, but it’s hard to find a good one around here in this area.” His companion went as far to even take note of the restaurant’s hygienic measures compared to other establishments she’s visited, how just their constant use of gloves and keeping their hair covered provided her a level of comfort and appreciation for the food. “I think it’s really popular because of the way they serve it, because [the food] also comes in those little [decorative] pots.
The pots which she referred to have become a distinctive trademark for the restaurant. These colorful hand painted metal pots portray a snapshot of the Dominican Republic countryside; pastel colored houses posed next to vibrant trees with the name of the restaurant scripted across the top edge.
“The crazy part is that, the pots were kind of... I’m not gonna say it was a brilliant idea because I didn’t even think about it,” Enver began. “What happen was, we sent [for] some things to get picked up from DR. Everything here is from DR. One of the chefs here has a family member in DR and he was coming [to the states] and I said ‘Bring me this, bring me that.’ and he literally brought me six small pots and six medium pots. At first, you know, we were kind of like, ‘This is the perfect size’. You can put the right amount of rice, the right amount of beans, and the right amount of meat and it looks good on a plate. So that was a mistake that magically and brilliantly happened. The pots really put us on the map.”
Of course, it is the food that keeps bringing people back. During its peak on a weekend, roughly three to four parties can be witnessed waiting outside to be seated inside the restaurant. “I think the biggest compliment for us here,” said Enver, “is when people say ‘I want to bring my mom’ or ‘I want to bring my grandma’. Because they want to get it passed them, they want to make sure, like ‘Mom, this is official right? This is authentic, right?’”, he laughed.
Enver seemed to empathized with this feeling all to deeply. He witnessed one of his favorite spots, Malecon, which he frequented with his own mother, almost get pushed out due to gentrification. However, because of the loyalty and love for the restaurant and its owner, local neighborhood members rallied together and paid for the restaurant’s rent, “because they didn’t want to lose that spot,” he added.
It’s worth noting that all the while throughout the interview, the restaurant remained steadily busy, Enver working alongside his brother Jeudy, both manning the hotline, taking to-go orders, delivering food to tables, pausing every now and again to answer my questions and share with me their story as a family owned restaurant. A number of close friends and cousins also worked in the kitchen and prepped food. And lastly, their own mother provided her time and energy to being both a server and a cashier for the restaurant.
It goes without saying that the coziness, the intimate environment, and the delicious food, are a reflection of the family who put in their time and hard work. It’s a small space, but its homestyle Dominican cuisine can make anyone feel like at home next to a complete stranger. Though only four months into it, Ajo y Orégano has the air of having been a neighborhood hot spot for years. The restaurant will see it’s first summer season this year, and plans to expand and meet its ever growing fanbase will allow for many more Bronxites to come and experience them. In the meantime, I recommend everyone take a pause from their respective binges and checkout Ajo y Orégano. I promise you won’t be disappointed, and I guarantee you’ll find yourself back there again and again as I am every weekend.
You can visit Ajo y Orégano at 1556A White Plains Road, Bronx NY, 10462
For our nineteenth episode we sat down with Poet, Visual Creative, and Brand Manager of Bronx Natives, Josué Caceres.
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My immediate thought was, “Why are there chairs at a punk show?”
I had just walked up the stairs to the second floor of the Bronx Museum where a projector lit up the spacious room and chairs were laid out in several rows. The projector displayed the flyer for the night’s event, which was a collaboration between the museum and Bronx Natives.
I was looking through the pamphlet of the Bronx Museum events for the upcoming months during my last visit and I noticed the information for a punk night at the museum. My immediate reaction was one of unwavering excitement – a punk show at a Bronx museum? The event itself was inspired by Gordon-Matta Clark’s exhibit Anarchitect which I thoroughly enjoyed for its contemplation on the intersection of anarchy and architecture.
Part of that inspiration immediately made sense to me – punk and anarchy often went hand in hand. Punk music has roots in rebellion, in fighting against the mainstream culture and against systemic structures. But, it wasn’t until after the show that I started to think about the intersection of punk and architecture.
My original question of, “Why are there chairs at a punk show?” would be the foundation for exploring the idea of how physical space plays an important part in holding space for marginalized communities.
How physical spaces, especially a public space such as a museum, are organized in such a way for individuals to feel welcomed into a space. Accessibility, physically, emotionally and mentally, it is created by physical organization – chairs, tables, stage, and lighting all affect the way we perceive spaces and whether they feel right for us. As someone who grew up going to shows since the age of fourteen, I was taken aback by the presence of chairs facing a stage. I grew up on shoulder-to-shoulder shows. On the other hand, as someone who enjoyed art shows of all varieties, it only took me a second to understand that the chairs were simply staging. At the end of the day, I was in a museum and museums are very calculated spaces.
The night began and people filed into the chairs. I was pleasantly surprised that folks of all kinds flowed through the room and I was grateful for the chairs and the accessibility they offered.
Two Bronx-based bands Da Pop and Statik Vision performed while the folks at Bronx Native sold merch and drinks and set the tone for the night with their high energy. The show itself was a treat. Despite the chairs, despite the inevitably organized nature of an event hosted at a museum, a mosh pit opened up. There was something quiet, but high-energy about the crowd and the space that night. It was a silent vibration underneath the toes – steady, peaceful but forceful. I knew that feeling well, it is one I’ve experienced at every show I’ve ever gone to. I wasn’t surprised that by the end of the night, there were people dancing around and moving chairs so that they could move their bodies next to one another.
But, overall I was still in awe for days after. I saw a mosh pit open up, led by people of color, in front of bands of color in the middle of a museum in the Bronx.
Museums can often be exclusive places that aren’t socially, economically, physically accessible for marginalized folks to visit, much less to host punk-oriented shows in. And the Bronx’s underground art scene is often slept on as well, people (both those who reside in the Bronx and those who don’t) often refusing to host or attend events in the borough. Overall, I knew the weight behind this event before attending. But, to see the subtle magic it produced, was another.
I have always known that physical space matters – but it was this event that made me realize, chairs don’t. Chairs are only a tool, there are other important elements, intangible ones such as intention and energy, that determine the way we perceive physical space.
I think back to the Gordon-Matta Clark’s exhibit. Clark’s work focused on how physical spaces spoke to our environment at large. I wonder what Gordon Matta-Clark felt in the buildings he explored and if he felt an energy that spoke louder than holes in the walls.
The Bronx Native’s Punk Night at the Bronx Museum felt like a small gesture towards making room for marginalized communities – it was an offering for those so often excluded from physical art spaces, the offering was cracking open a window just slightly in a stuffy room in the middle of summer. It was more than a just sense of relief, it was space to breathe.
For our eighteenth episode we talked with Low Vision Advocate, Yogi & Founder of Blind Girls See, Nysha Davis.
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When gentrification made an unwelcome visit to Jessica Martinez’s Bronx neighborhood, it arrived suited-up and clothed in camouflaged gear. She had spent her whole life calling Dyckman, Washington Heights and the South Bronx her home, so when changes swooped into her uptown New York community, Jessica recalls immediately feeling a difference in the vibe, before actually seeing the difference with her own eyes.
“In the park we would get weird looks, which hadn’t happened before,” she recalls. Suddenly the routine of hanging out with her friends in public felt wrong. “We were going to our regular bar and we just got upset. The crowd started changing. We felt like the place itself started catering to a new crowd.” Soon enough, the subtle changes became more apparent. “Walking the streets uptown now, it’s like a ghost town. All the stores that my friends and I knew growing up, they’re mostly gone,” she says, recalling all the mom and pop shops that have now been replaced. “I was in Mott Haven and I was in shock, like ‘Where am I?’”
In recent years, the Bronx’s Mott Haven community experienced a facelift, with a slew of new businesses. Yet even with the transformation, she argues, “right across the bridge is the projects and you see the disparity.” It was that visible disparity that prompted protests in a few uptown communities, including Inwood’s Sherman Plaza. “They wanted to turn Sherman Plaza into a shopping center of sorts. They wanted to make it bigger... right across the street from the park,” she recalls back in 2016. That’s when the community became furious and residents began protesting.
Fueled out of anger and inspired by the protests, Jessica gave birth to what is now called Save Uptown; a project under her gnrtn.WHY (Generation Why) brand, committed to putting up a fight against uptown gentrification. Save Uptown is the message branded across the apparel Jessica sells, which includes hoodies, sweatshirts, crop tops, t-shirts and tote bags, sold at www.gnrtnWHY.com. A percentage of the sales are used to create care packages and lunches for the homeless. The movement that started off with stickers plastered across the neighborhood, has now expanded in the past year to a growing brand with huge support. Bronx-bred comedian, Mero of Vice TV’s Desus and Mero, has even sported the brand on his television show.
Still, even with all the love, the brand has faced hate from naysayers. “Save Uptown? You’re a little too late for that,” they’ve told her.
Many don’t quite understand why the brand does not support neighborhood change. Jessica argues, however, “we are not against change. We are against the displacement of people and the expulsion of culture.”
“People focus on the wrong thing. We’re not talking about what really matters. I get angry at what’s happening, but also angry with the misinformation that’s out there. I think a lot of people focus on the racial aspect of gentrification and when you ask someone what they think about gentrification, the first thing they say is ‘white people.’ My thing is, yes, that is definitely a side effect of gentrification, but it’s not gentrification. We should be talking more about the people that are getting displaced. Where are they going? What’s happening to them? What are they going through? Why are we so focused on coffee shops and dog walking?”
She adds that although gentrification might be bigger than herself, the goal of the brand is to start a conversation and spread resistance. “I know I can’t take on this whole societal structure. I know that me, one person, I’m not going to go against that [on my own]. My goal is to get my peers involved, even if it is through conversation.”
“A lot of people don’t like what I’m doing,” she continues. “They tell me a sticker is not going to stop gentrification and people feel like maybe I’m further racially dividing the neighborhood, because they look at this as an attack on the gentrifiers. But it’s like, are you so privileged that you feel like even this struggle is about you? I’m not doing this to attack you. I’m doing this to bring awareness to my people, to the people that are being affected by this and don’t even know why.”
Though her brand mostly appeals to young people, the gnrtn.WHY founder also worries over the elders in her uptown neighborhood. When she’s not busy with her brand, Jessica serves her local church, where she says the elderly often go to seek help. “They’re scared. It’s an immigrant community so they see a paper from the city and they get scared. They don’t know what to do.”
In the past two years, she’s observed that gentrification coupled with the English-to-Spanish language barrier has been very crippling. “I started going to the rezoning meetings to try to figure out what was really going on and in those meetings, I would notice that they really make it difficult for [attendees]. They get small rooms so that a lot of people cannot fit. They barely get interpreters even though they are in a predominantly Hispanic community.” Jessica says the interpreters are not Hispanic and for whatever reason, they always have to leave the meetings early. “Things like that make it difficult for the community to get informed.”
She’s willing to admit, however, that the failure she sees at the rezoning meetings don’t completely fall on the city’s shoulders. “There weren’t a lot of people of color in those meetings. Our people need to do better at getting informed and really putting priority on things.” Jessica hopes that her brand will help bring more awareness to her people and take away the culture of fear.
And to the people who say gentrification is good for the Bronx’s economy, Jessica argues that, “Yes, gentrification can be good, but it’s usually for a certain crowd. Yes, they might have new services available in the neighborhood, but it’s usually not even available to the people who have been [living] there. Yes, our streets can get cleaner and things can look nicer but I don’t feel like that’s ok if it comes at the cost of a whole community. Yes, there are good side effects of gentrification, but I don’t think that we reap them. I don’t think that we ever get to see that side, unless it’s [neighborhood] beautification, but I don’t need that. I want my community to be what it is. So if we’re all being wiped out so things can look nicer, I don’t think that’s good.”
Though the activism behind her brand is often fueled by anger, Jessica also receives a lot of positivity. “I get so much love, that it’s overwhelming,” she says. “People are writing to me, and then they find out that I’m a girl and that I’m young and they’re like ‘wow that’s insane.’ I have a lot of love and support from people who think it’s really cool that I’m young and that I’m interested...but really, I’m here to learn. I’m not here stating that I know everything about gentrification. I’m learning along with [the community].”
Jessica also gets messages from past residents who by now, have moved out of New York. “I grew up in the Heights...I visited and it’s completely different,” some of the messages say. “What you’re doing is amazing. Thank you so much.” The community love and support is what inspires Jessica to keep fighting for her ‘hood.
The definition of anarchism, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, is “a political theory which is skeptical of the justification of authority and power.” The work of Gordon Matta-Clark which is currently on display at the Bronx Museum of Arts is intended to be the intersection of anarchy and architecture, an exhibition titled accordingly Anarchitect.
When one thinks of architecture, one often thinks of physical structures. Especially as New Yorkers, we picture the structures that envelope our everyday life – skyscrapers, apartment buildings, subway stations. Gordon Matta-Clark, as an artist, looked at those same structures and created work that contemplated how structured political systems, such as a local and/or federal government, influence the structuring of everyday physical spaces.
Walking into the Anarchitect exhibit at the Bronx Museum of Arts, the first thing that caught my attention was the paper cut outs of graffiti-covered subway carts wrapped around the exhibit rooms white walls. Below the wallpaper-like display were framed zoomed-in graffiti prints, leaving the location of the graffiti’s original placement ambiguous.
I have always had a special interest in graffiti art; it’s relationship with systemic structures, and our relationship with graffiti as Bronx dwellers. We see graffiti everywhere, on everything and I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think much of it on an everyday basis.
That being said, it was back in 2016, when I first read the words of Charles “Chaz” Bojórquez, in the March 2016 publication of Poetry that I began to think about the significance of graffiti in the lives of people who grew up and live in disenfranchised neighborhoods.
That Bojórquez quote immediately came into mind when walking around the Matta-Clark’s exhibit, an exhibit where graffiti was displayed as art – graffiti displayed as work worth being framed. This quote is followed by the thought of my local subway station, the Kingsbridge station off of the D line, and the amount of times I’ve seen graffiti come and go through the years – painted over hastily and mostly carelessly with white paint.
And in contrast, I consider the graffiti lined streets of gentrified Brooklyn that tourists and transplants take selfies in front of them for their Instagram pages. It is with these two images in mind, the Anarchitect exhibit I am left with questions about who has the authority to decide what graffiti is covered and which is displayed. What structures – what social, political and economic structures – have a role in deciding what gets to stay and what gets to go in our neighborhoods? That question is not limited to graffiti – but expands to our local shops, apartment buildings and schools.
It is interesting to note that while Gordon Matta-Clark is on display in museums – the Anarchitect exhibit will be traveling to Paris, Estonia and Massachusetts after its stay at the Bronx Museum of Arts – the graffiti in the Bronx has continued to cover the structures of our borough. And faceless authorities continue to paint over what Bojórquez would call the bruises of our city.
That being said, Gordon-Matta Clark’s work is a portfolio worth being displayed. His work is politically charged and potent with social significance – holding a specific weight by being displayed within the walls of the Bronx Museum of Art in the South Bronx.
Gordon Matta-Clark’s work considered the relationship between what is constructed and what is destroyed. Besides graffiti, Matta-clark focused on the architecture that filled the South Bronx. As written as a precursor to the exhibit, speaking of Matta-Clark’s work with the demolished buildings of the Bronx, the exhibit wall reads “Like an urban archeologist he captured these remnants of by-gone habitation, peeling paint and residual wallpaper, evidence of the structure’s obsolesce as ‘home’.” It is through this description that we can begin to understand how physical structures such as an apartment building and abstract ideas such as the concept of home intersection, specifically for disenfranchised communities.
Throughout his work and throughout the exhibit, the common thread is turning abstract ideas on their heads. By looking at how destruction and abandonment interact with physical structures, populations and systemic structures such as a local government that leaves behind a whole borough to fend for itself, Gordon Matta-Clark demands us to look closely at the spaces around us. In turn, he asks his audience to consider the ways physical structures speak to the abstract structure of our everyday lives. From subway stations, apartment buildings and the skyscrapers around us, from graffiti in the Bronx and graffiti in Brooklyn, these spaces speak volumes for how our social circumstances are constructed and deconstructed.
If you’re interested in experiencing the Bronx in a new way, from the lens of an artist who brought attention to the aching bruises that filled and continue to fill the physical structures of our borough, I recommend visiting the Anarchitect exhibit, displaying at the Bronx Museum of Arts until April 8th, 2018. There, you can see for yourself, the intersection of anarchy and architecture from the eyes of Gordon Matta-Clark.
Our second annual magazine release event was a success. We appreciate everyone who came out and supported. If you weren't able to snag your copy but reside in NYC, you can via one of our retailers. These include: The Miles Coffee Bar, Verde Flowers, Casa Magazines, Quimby's Bookstore NYC and MoMa PS1.
For our seventeenth episode we talked with Founding Pastor of All Saints Church, Eric Hoke.
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For our sixteenth episode we talked with Photographer, Hunter Reveur
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