A collection of photos taken at the 2019 San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy.
A collection of photos taken at the 2019 San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy.
In October 2018, “Portrait of Edmond de Belamy” sold for over 430,000. The piece was created using artificial intelligence and its high auction price sparked interest and debate in the art world. Creative technologist and NYU Interactive Telecommunications Program student, Guillermo Montecinos, discusses using AI in his own art. Artist and programmer Gene Kogan discusses his efforts to teach machine learning to other artists as well as some of the debates surrounding this new form of artistic expression.
Khin Thaw Win works as a waitress five days a week at a local restaurant in Buffalo, New York. It’s not a job she’s passionate about, but for the last 8 years, jobs like these have allowed her to do the work she truly cares about: helping low-income women navigate pregnancy and labor.
While she’s working, she’s also on-call for her job as a doula, or a non-medical companion that serves as an advocate during pregnancy and labor by providing both physical and emotional support to mothers. The 25-year-old is part of the Priscilla Project, a program that works to provide healthy birth outcomes for women who cannot afford the price of private doulas in Buffalo, New York.
“I would love it to be my [full-time] job, but it’s not possible,” Win said. “I am on-call most nights in case one of my clients go into labor, and I work during the day.”
Win and other doulas who work with low-income mothers are not able to work as doulas full-time because non-profit organizations like the Priscila Project are unable to afford to pay their workers full time. Even though Win works as a doula for forty hours a week, she is not able to call it her full-time job because the Priscilla Project relies on services like Medicaid to pay their doulas.
Doulas–who at private firms cost between $1600 to $2000–are typically not covered by insurance companies, making them a luxury for those who need them the most.
As maternal mortality rates in the United States for mother’s increase, studies have found that doulas can help improve birth outcomes for mothers. For refugees and low-income women, who face higher rates maternal mortality, doulas have been shown to vastly improve birth outcomes, and greater access to doulas can help improve maternal mortality rates, especially in New York, where maternal mortality have doubled since 2001.
In April 2018, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced an initiative to expand Medicaid to cover doulas based on the recommendations from a task force of experts based exploring racial disparities in maternal mortality.
The state’s original goal with these initiatives was “to target maternal mortality and reduce racial disparities in health outcomes,” according to the statement from the New State Governor’s Office. Erie and Kings County were chosen to be the first two places to pilot the program because they have the state’s highest number of Medicaid births and maternal and infant mortality rates.
Erie County in particular has been experiencing rising rates of poverty, and 30% of women living in the area are considered below the federal poverty guidelines.
“Disparate outcomes are usually caused by systemic problems,” Danielle Laraque-Arena, one of the co-chair’s on the task force, said. “They are pockets of concentrated poverty and poor health outcomes [in New York]. Erie County was probably picked because it is one of those areas.”
However, in Kings County also known as Brooklyn, where the population is 34% African American, the doula program failed to launch in time because not enough doulas signed up because of pay concerns. Regina M. Conceição, a doula based in Brooklyn, said the program offered doulas in the area $200 for their services during labor and delivery.
Kings County has since been rechristened as “phase two” of the program, with “phase one” launching in Erie County on March 1st, where the population is 14% African American and 20% refugee and immigrants. Twenty-four doulas currently signed up as part of the program, including Win.
Even with this increase in compensation, doulas currently working in Erie County and Kings County do not believe that the Medicaid reimbursements are enough for doulas to work full-time caring for low-income women.
“It’s not a livable wage,” Conceição, who works with low-income mothers via her organization Passions for New Beginnings, said. “To make 35,000 dollars, you would have to attend about 52 births [on the Medicaid program]. You can’t do it. You would have no life whatsoever.”
Conceição mentioned that Healthy Women Healthy Futures, an organization that provides free birth and postpartum doulas across New York City is able to pay better than the Medicaid program does, which means doulas who are interested in focusing on low-income communities are less likely to participate in any Medicaid program that comes to New York City.
“Doulas were like, ‘hell no, I’ll do this on my own I’ll work for Healthy Women, Healthy Futures, where they’re going to pay me better,’” Conceição said.
It’s not uncommon for Medicaid programs to give less compensation than what a doctor would make in private practice but it is still a cause for concern for Conceição, who believes that these initiatives should be valuing the work that goes into being a doula more.
“I’ve been a doula for 19 years and [getting doulas a living wage] this has been my fight for 19 years,” Conceição,41, said. “Medicaid needs to be doing what it’s supposed to do instead of trying to undercut doulas.”
Win and Conceição both share a passion for making doulas more accessible to all women; this is what motivates Win to work in the Medicaid reimbursement plan, even if that means she will be paid less.
Win mainly works with refugees at Priscilla, specifically ones who speak Burmese, her native language. Like Conceição, Win works for an organization that is able to pay her more than what the Medicaid reimbursement plan offers, but it still isn’t enough to cover her basic expenses. This month, she has helped with six births alone; she says that the number of births she assists with fluctuates, so she never really knows how much she will make per month.
Sometimes, Win will even provide services that are not covered by Medicaid. Even though this means she has to work another job to keep herself financially stable, Win thinks that it’s worth it because what she does can help save lives.
“Having a doula in the labor room can make a change,” Win said. “When you have a doula, clients are able to have their birth on their terms, which means less pain and more healthy babies.”
Brenzella (Della) Williams, 65, is another doula participating in the pilot program. Her decision to become a doula came after being laid off from her previous job in the healthcare industry two years ago. Instead of retiring, she decided to get certified as a doula.
Currently, four out of Williams’ five clients are using Medicaid reimbursements to pay for her services. While she is glad she is able to help these women, she wishes that the compensation was enough to be a full-time job. While Williams herself is able to afford to just be a doula because of her retirement fund, she noticed that a lot of her peers decided to not participate in Erie County’s pilot because they were worried about making ends meet.
“I know a lot of doulas who aren’t even touching the [program] because of the low reimbursements,” Williams said. “If you were participating in the reimbursement plan, you would have to have another job.”
Since the program is still in its infancy, Williams believes that the initiative needs to do a better job of outreach for women who might use these services but mainly needs to reach out to more doulas by giving them a higher pay incentive.
“[The pilot program] is asking for a lot more than what you might have to do as a doula,” Williams said. “For me, there’s a need for it, so I enjoy being there for the client, but others are not as willing because it can’t be a full-time job.”
For both Williams and Win, being a doula is an incredibly rewarding experience; one that they feel lucky to be a part of every single day–they just wish that they could afford to help combat the high mortality rates without having to worry about how much they are benefiting from it.
“Medicaid reimbursements, even for providers is low,” Williams said. “It’s our hope that once the program starts and the pilot is over, they’ll look to reconsider how much they are paying doulas.”
Miscelanea NY – the now closed shop-and-eat stop in the East Village – was a cozy location to find Mexican products and an elevated street-style kitchen. Talking to the staff members in Spanish as I usually did while I ordered a torta, I noticed a lady, non-staff, stacking cans on one of the shelves. Chapulines. “Hello, I am Virydiana,” she introduced herself, “one of the founders of Merci Mercado. Have you tried my grasshoppers?”
Virydiana Velarde is one of the four founders of Merci Mercado, a business that sells dry and seasoned grasshoppers and worms, as well as these insects’ salt and grasshopper powder. She opened a can and stretched out her hand, “here, try them!” Though I grew up in Mexico and saw family members eat insects numerous times, I had never eaten an insect voluntarily before.
The very first time I tried chapulines was at a friend’s kitchen in New York’s West Village. Writhing half of the time, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. I’d seen basketfuls of crickets and worms when I was growing up in Mexico. One of my grandfathers used to love them and he’d order guacamole with gusanos de maguey, or mezcal worms as they’re known in English. You could find an array of ants and other bugs in marketplaces in Oaxaca and Veracruz, as if they were any other “regular” product.
Six days after my not-so-terrible experience with grasshoppers, I then found myself standing in front of Velarde in the East Village. Why am I eating bugs in Manhattan when I never ate them in Mexico? I braced myself for the second time and took the insect off Velarde’s hand. Surprisingly, I enjoyed Velarde’s grasshoppers. They had no fishy aftertaste, were perfectly crisp and the three different seasonings she sells – natural, adobo, or chipotle – had a delightful smokiness to them, just like the one you feel after a sip of mezcal and a bite of an orange slice, but much dryer, sans the boozy kick.
Edible insects are a dietary staple in some areas of Mexico and other countries around the world, but why did it take me so long to find a liking in insects? Why did I have to opt-into eating them in Manhattan and not in my home country where they can be found almost nation-wide? At least two-billion people practice entomophagy – the practice of eating bugs – regularly, reported the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Have the other five-billion become interested all of a sudden?
The following images illustrate Velarde’s work and how chapulines can be incorporated in different culinary spaces.
The images were taken throughout December 2018. An article written on Velarde, grasshoppers and entomophagy can be found here.
When Sophie Sandberg started @catcallsofnyc as an NYU freshman, she never thought that it’d become one of the most influential anti-harassment accounts, and that it’d initiate a global movement.
A transit of Mercury was visible today against the solar disks. Passersby on the streets of Manhattan were able to take a peek at the event thanks to amateur astronomers and their gears.
Doraian Givens, a third year NYU student, shares her story of attending a “cult” high school – T.M. Landry.
A conductor of sorts, Carlos Álvarez Nazareno in action is a sight to see. The manner in which he draws attention from a crowd is so skillful it can only be likened to that of a professional performer, yet so dispositional, the attention can’t help but be followed by respect. His way of speaking is in no way cacophonous, a conductor knows just how to control their instruments. On the contrary, Carlos has a very smooth manner of speaking, his cadence incorporating a water-like lull, so that his voice carries the listener up and down to the rhythmic beat of his bobbing intonation. At this particular meeting for Agrupacion Xango, an organization made for and by Afro-descendants in Argentina (including Afro-Argentines, African Americans, and Afro-Latin@s living in Argentina), the respect he elicited from the members would have had any unbeknownst guest assume him the president instead of the general coordinator.
Halfway through the meeting a man — dark, wide shouldered, and soft smiled — came through the door. Carlos introduced this man to the attendees and prompted him to speak on the precarious state of the Senegalese community in Buenos Aires. He informed the room of that local police are making it more and more difficult for them to work, most usually street vending, and with their lack of lawyers, there is a widespread yearning within their community to move to Chile. This policial abuse is just one of the many facets of discrimination against black faces within the country. The various forms of racism are both implicit and explicit, micro and macro, whispered and shouted. Alongside institutional racism they manifest in fear, hypersexualization of black women, and invisibilization.
The Senegalese story sparked a dialogue about the abuse the community is facing by the police which mirrored a very similar conversation witnessed by New York University student in attendance, Michelle Jones. She expressed that Carlos “favors a more forward approach to activism,” which is exactly what she saw when she attended a march on El Día Internacional de Lucha contra el Racismo, or the International Day of the Fight Against Racism. Carlos, as well as the Xango collective and other members of the Afro-Argentine community, made an act of denouncement in front of El Congreso Buenos Aires. She bore witness as Nazareno informed the crowd about the case of Massar Ba, a local Senegalese activist murdered on March 7th 2016. Ba was found by a neighbor with multiple injuries to the head, hip, and lower abdomen, screaming “they want to kill me”. Despite the gravity of his injuries the police arrived late, and only to call an ambulance. There was virtually no investigation and no records were taken of the crime scene. “The speech was so powerful,” Michelle recounted, “as an activist myself, he executes exactly what the community needs and what I hope to eventually be doing too.”
Back at the meeting, the dialogue was followed by plans for a group field trip to the United States and a discussion on Xango’s possible collaboration with New York University to teach its members English. He managed to pass the floor back and forth between members and himself seamlessly, like a game of tennis. As the match came to its end, Carlos gathered his coat and bag, his next stop the March for Marijuana.
After this meeting, I found out just how difficult it is to track Nazareno down. From council to march, meeting to protest, he keeps himself busy with activism. Between this and his job in the government, little is more difficult than setting up a meeting with him. Sunday he was busy. Monday he was so busy he couldn’t make the scheduled meeting. Tuesday, he had no free time until 7.30 pm, and still couldn’t make it until 8:00. He entered the restaurant in a calm but brisk manner, with his dreadlocks tied neatly so as to fall as one raven wave down the small of his back, managing to elicit interest from the entirety of the café. Yet, the steady stares he received could not solely be attributed to his poise. A common occurrence in Argentina for those with black skin, Carlos knows firsthand, as a human rights leader and a black man himself, the struggle of being Afro in Buenos Aires. This case in point, is one of invisibilization, or erasure, of those of African descent, resulting in the starring, as the black presence is underestimated, and thus over-examined.
Carlos’s niceties were warm, but brief, as he chose to immediately delve into the topic of police brutality before even settling into a seat. He had spent the entirety of his weekend petitioning for the freedom of 18 Senegalese immigrants that had been wrongfully handcuffed and detained by the police for over 36 hours without food or water, solely for street vending. His passion in recounting the story made it very clear that his involvement in the community took precedence over any other facet of our meeting. Before he even opened his menu, Carlos spent many minutes describing the case of the detained Senegalese, and after opening it, many minutes discussing the current racial political climate.“There is a large level of violence and mistreatment from the police” he asserted, before ordering a cafecito and muffin.
Nazareno is a native to bordering Uruguay. Born in Ansina, a “traditional” afro-uruguayan barrio in the capital city of Montevideo, his family changed locations to another neighborhood in 1976 due to displacement by dictator Juan María Bordaberry Arocena. In 1983, he moved to Palermo, Uruguay to begin school. At the age of 18, he met a young activist that introduced him to a group of black youth working to better their community. And with this moment, he began to familiarize himself with the fight against racism.
“My blackness was never a conversation point during my childhood,” he said. “There is a higher density of black people in Uruguay, the population is 10% black. Therefore we more of a visibilization. We have created such important things, such as candombe music. Racism and discrimination are much more explicit here in Argentina”.
Fast forward from that initial moment to the age of 41, he has two daughters and resides in Buenos Aires. While he maintains a strong link to Uruguay and his family, most members now having converted to activists himself, he shows no qualms about being here in Argentina. “I started a life here, have two daughters here, I have no regrets about working for the freedom of marginalized people from Argentina,” he asserts.
This is, of course, in addition to his day job . He works in the nation’s human rights secretariat, focusing on the Afro perspective. While this description aligns perfectly with his personal objectives, some tension does arrive. Nazareno works under the office of Mauricio Macri, the current president of Argentina. A right wing post-neoliberal, Macri backs policies that many Argentines feel do not benefit them, usually Argentines that are not white. This other side of Carlos professional life, fairly adverse to his progressive sentiments, seem to be the only open criticism of Carlos’s within the community.
“How can I trust someone that works for such a, oppressive government?” questions Gabrielle Pita at a meeting for DIAFAR, another local Afro-Argentine group. During conversation about local race relations, I brought up the steps Carlos had been taking to better them, causing him to express his displeasure with Carlos’s seemingly “double” position, stating how no-one who opposed the presidency could work in such proximity to it.
“He helps them plan events, implement policy, do you think Malcolm X would have done something like that?” he exclaims with a tight tone of mistrust and betrayal. Pita closes his argument with a note of apprehension, informing me to take Carlos’s words with a grain of salt. “He’s influenced by money, wherever it goes he will”.
Carlos voices his disdain for his job himself. “I don’t believe in this government,” he said. In fact, during the election of 2015, he was in support of Daniel Scioli, Mauricio Macri’s Justicialist opponent. “The government has the responsibility to work for the Afro-community,” he stated, but feels as though it doesn’t, labelling it a “contradictory” state. At the same time, he holds no shame or bashfulness about his position within it. “I believe that it is my job to help the state remain mindful of public policies for the Afro community and to ensure that they create spaces for Afro-descendant inclusion,” he said. Nazareno does not limit his activism to respectability parameters for his place of work either. Carlos spends much of his time calling out the state directly. “Being a part of the secretariat doesn’t stop me from denouncing the government’s wrongdoings.”
The tension doesn’t stop on a professional level for Carlos. A gay man, he often times finds himself working alongside communities that might not be receptive to his orientation. “Especially with the Muslim African Immigrants, the men might have a homophobic perspective”, he explained sans an ounce of self pity, “but once working with me, they think nothing of it and respect who I am because they understand the different contexts.” He highlights the tendencies between these two communities to undermine one another. “The white gay community can be racist, xenophobic, and classist while the Afro community can be homophobic,” he said. Yet, Nazareno maintains the ideals of intersectionality, a term he continually became excited to use, and of different marginalized communities coming together in order to achieve an overarching freedom. “My identities are nothing more than things that strengthen me” he asserted. By this time, he had just unwrapped his muffin.
Nicolás Parodi speaks in a manner of brisk assurance, his voice bursting through the phone in a succession of crisp quips, despite the torrent of honks and footsteps emanating from the city he paces through. The clarity of his speech, a Castellano that is deep, smooth, and patient, in contrast to the city noise, is no surprise considering his stature. Parodi stands at about 6’3″, and with a rounded out frame and light brown complexion that would contextually be described as “cafe con leche”, there would be no easier feat than to pick him out from a crowd. What is most notable about the photographer sits atop his head. A nest of thick black hair protrudes from his scalp for about two inches before morphing into a streamline of rope-like raven tresses. The ebony branches fall haphazardly around him, some reaching a callus beard just as dark, and others dusting against the small of his back. His dreadlocks, tokened las rastas in Spanish, are formulated in a simultaneous two step process, during which one teases a crochet needle through a section of hair until it is matted, then twisting the resulting tangles. Once completed, the individual partitions dangle like course vines stemming from the wearer’s head.
In Argentina, this process of locking is mostly conducted in an informal manner at neighborhood fairs by groups of hippies. There are not many places to get them done professionally in Buenos Aires. Most sought out by the younger generations of Argentina; the girl with a spiked lip piercing at the bar or that college grad at the park with a skateboard and skinned knee cap, las rastas are a commonality in Buenos Aires, and have been for a substantial amount of time. “They started to get popular around 10 years ago”, Nicolás shoots through the receiver, “but only with certain groups, not everyone.”
One of the more notable groups within this demographic is the Rastafarian, a practitioner of the Rastafari religion from which their famously sacred hairstyle assumes its Spanish moniker. The movement began in Jamaica during the 1930s. Its followers believe in a black God (Jah), that members of the African diaspora (now exiled and lost as a result of the colonialist slave trade) are destined to return to their ancestral lands on the continent, and that the is messiah incarnated in Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974.
Being a lifestyle in addition to a belief system, there are many popular elements of the culture that its followers are known to adhere to, their dreadlocks being the most visible. Additional aspects of the Rastafari movement common among Argentine loc-wearers include displays of the religion’s three representative colors: red (for blood), yellow (for mineral gold), and green (for earth), as well as a perpetual consumption of marijuana, to the Rastaman, a special gift from God.
“They are [locs] associated with people that smoke weed” Nicolás chuckles before emphasizing his refusal to partake. But, despite the demographic’s acquisition of all things deemed Rasta, it is not belief that influences the trend. Rastafarians make up a very minute percentage of the overall population of Buenos Aires (they only total a million world wide). Here in Argentina, locs do not have much of a religious significance. Rather, they serve as a fashion statement. The Rastafari lifestyle, spread through its musical counterpart of reggae, is simply viewed as an aesthetic.
Reggae is a trance inducing sound born from the slums of Jamaica. It arrived in Buenos Aires with the imported records of esteemed musician and Rastafarian prophet, Bob Marley, at the start of the 1980s. Instrumentation typically consists of a guitar, an organ, the bass guitar, drums, and an array of horns that all come together in a symphony of island passion. Due to the multitude of Rastafari practitioners utilizing the genre to decree their values of love, peace, and black unity, the music’s culture is intertwined with that of the religion, to the point that one necessitates the mention of the other. And when the sound touched base in Argentine, so did the Rastafari.
“Wherever reggae goes Rasta follows” Pablo Kalezic asserts. On the right side of his corded neck rests a thickly tattooed black ankh, an Egyptian hieroglyph that resembles a hooded cross. It is not an image associated with the Rastafari, but the symbol displayed proudly atop his skin illustrates his connection to Africa. According to him, “music is a part of righteousness” and reggae is the music of the poor, the sound of the rebel. A forty-three year old Rasta since the age of sixteen, the drummer sees that today the music’s culture “is more cool than spiritual.” Pablo does not have dreadlocks, as he states they “are not a necessity.” Yet, this does not stop him from having an acute sense of their importance. “Half of the people that have the locs don’t know the history behind them nor Rasta…” he states with a slightly heated exasperation.
Later, on the phone, Nicolás even states that most dreaded Argentines are “not usually Rastas, just people who like the culture,” himself included. The Rastafarian religion is one of inclusion, with love being its biggest requirement. But its core values, such as the black exodus from a white oppressor, prove to be a polarizing ideology for those who do not fit into the category of lost, sanctified children. Thus, reggae music serves as the non Afro-Argentine’s/ Afro-descendant’s relation to Africa and blackness.
As reggae becomes more and more popular in Buenos Aires, so will the hairstyle, though the fashionability does not seem to ensure its longevity. The trend carries with it societal connotations of filthiness, laziness, and weed (known as ganja to the Rastafari). Pablo affirms that in some places the hair is “treated like a crime,” and having the style often interferes with potential work. Many locals that once had the locs eventually cut them off as they get older. For Parodi, out of a work base of 2000 people, he was the only one with dreads. “There are not many white-haired people with las rastas” he professes.