In Defense of In The Heights

A skit in the second episode of the brilliant second season of A Black Lady Sketch Show depicts a market research focus group with Black women for a fictious real housewives type series called Black Women Doing Stuff that hilariously doesn’t go very well. Even before the market researcher starts playing the pilot episode, one of the participants invokes Twitter and notes that she would have, “sent my 67 Tweet thread.” The market researcher starts to play Black Women Doing Stuff and the first thing we see is a leg getting out of car wearing a red high heel. Within two to three seconds, the video is paused on the leg: “I have notes!” And WOW, do they have notes:

“A show about Black women and the first thing you show us is a disembodied leg?”  

“Why not have her drive a black Jaguar?”

“Don’t link Black women with cats! We are not catty!”

“And where is Miss Leg even from? Are classy people from the diaspora excluded from this experience?”

“If she is not a descendent of enslaved people, I don’t why I am here.”

“A little light to be dark skin and a little dark to be light skin.”

You get the picture. The researcher never gets beyond the leg getting out of the car. I could not help but remember this skit when I saw some of the unreasonable backlash to In The Heights.

Perhaps the most preposterous assertion came from The Washington Post which declared in a headline that “‘In the Heights’ is just more of the same whitewashed Hollywood.” The article asserts, “With its White and light-skinned leading roles, the film became part of a long tradition in the Americas of Black erasure.” Really? We must not have seen the same film. I did not see one white actor playing the part of a Latino/a/x individual. Corey Hawkins certainly isn’t light skinned and no one in the United States would ever confuse Jimmy Smits, Gregory Diaz, Anthony Ramos, or Daphne Rubin-Vega for white. Most Latino/a/x people are of mixed races. My own DNA shows that I come from people who were Portuguese, Spaniard, Native American, African and several other peoples. In my own extended Puerto Rican family, there is a range of skin tones and hair colors and textures. Better examples of whitewashing would be Natalie Wood playing Maria in West Side Story; Marisa Tomei playing Dorita Evita Pérez in The Perez Family; Kyra Sedgwick playing Suzie Morales in Man on a Ledge. Whitewashing is a film like Birth of the Dragon, which was supposed to be about Bruce Lee but is largely told from the point of view a fictitious white character. Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee, noted, “The only way to get audiences to understand the depth and uniqueness of my father is to generate our own material.”

Proper representation is best achieved when the people being portrayed have a voice. Isn’t that exactly what In The Heights is doing? Lin-Manuel Miranda is a Nuyorican (New Yorker + Puerto Rican) from the neighborhood (I grew up a few blocks away from him) who, through this musical, is exploring issues that affect all Latino/a/x Americans, of all colors, in various ways including gentrification, immigration, identity, discrimination, and profiling. The character of Nina, for example, was accused of stealing pearls from her dorm mate at Stanford and her belongings searched: the way the story is told leads one to realize this may not have happened if she looked more like Cameron Diaz. The film even features a brief, but effective, exploration of Latina/x women’s history. Miranda and Chu also manage to prominently highlight authentic Latino/a/x cuisine without one Goya product in sight! Including Goya would have been whitewashing.

During the 2019 Museum Mile Festival, a group of protesters distributed flyers at El Museo Del Barrio called the Mirror Manifesto that accused El Museo of abandoning its core values as a museum for the community of East Harlem. The Mirror Manifesto explored the meaning of Latinx:

If El Barrio means neighborhood, or enclave, and we are defining the institution as encompassing a diasporic latinidad, then what we are contending with is what is now being called “Latinx.” Loosely defined, this is the Nuyorican, the Dominiyorker, the first, second, and third generations of Mexicans, Colombians, Ecuadorians, and Hondurans that make up a barrio in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and New Jersey. It is the El Salvadorian and Guatemalteco kids in Silver Springs, Maryland, the Cubans in New Jersey, the Tejanos, the Chicanos. It is the dreamers and the migrants who identify with a U.S. lived experience. It is the children of immigrants at the border and the children of recently arrived Puerto Ricans in Orlando and Pennsylvania Post- Maria, that have and will grow up here.

In The Heights is not exclusively an exploration of Washington Heights; it is a partial representation of the diasporic Latinidad in the 21st century described above. Miranda and Chu did an exceptional job representing the colors of the Latino/a/x rainbow. Often many of those colors are not represented, except as criminals and maids. You know where the representation is really lacking? American Spanish language television.

James Baldwin, in The Fire Next Time, wrote, “It is rare indeed that people give. Most people guard and keep; they suppose that it is they themselves and what they identify with themselves that they are guarding and keeping, whereas what they are actually guarding and keeping is their system of reality and what they assume themselves to be.” Miranda gave us a story of a hopeful and positive diasporic Latinidad that deftly responded to the bigoted Trump era still lingering. It’s not Scarface or Carlito’s Way. Artists with Miranda and Chu’s scope and vision should be revered, not reviled—they are the ones carving paths. Anyone saying otherwise is just a limited focus group participant.

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Book Review: The Joker War Saga

The wisdom on social media lately is that Batman is on the brink of overexposure and that Joker is the most overused villain. I can see the validity in that point of view: consider how many actors have played these characters on film and DC comics has published quite an assortment of Batman stories in recent years (Batman Damned, Batman: Last Knight on Earth, Dark Nights: Metal). The fact is that Batman is an endlessly interesting character: I have read all of these stories and they are all superb, The Joker War Saga included.

The Joker War Saga sees the Joker seize control of Bruce Wayne’s vast fortune to launch a brutal attack against Batman, his crime fighting colleagues (Nightwing, Signal, Robin, Batwoman, etc.), and Gotham City. The Joker War Saga collects the full story from Batman #95-100, plus tie-in stories from Batgirl, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Nightwing, Detective Comics, and exclusive to this collection, the Batman: The Joker War Zone special.

Let’s start with the good.

The artwork: stirring, sublime, and superb. I have been a fan of Jorge Jimenez’s work since I was introduced to him when he worked on Earth 2: Society. His work is always wonderful, but since coming on to Batman, he has really created something truly special. Kudos also to the artwork of Kenneth Rocafort: for years I thought the only artist that could do Batwoman was justice was J.H. Williams III until I saw his work.

The new characters. I am eager to see more of Clownhunter. I would love to see him go on all out war against Joker. Punchline is also interesting, and I would love to see her mix it up with other members of the Batman family.

The story by James Tynion IV, is quite intense and engaging. Notably, the conclusion shows that if Batman is forced to choose between saving Joker and another individual, he will let Joker die showing that Batman is more important to Joker than Joker is to Batman. The story, of course, leaves the plot open for a return by the Joker.

Now, let’s get to the bad.

The worst thing about this book was the binding. There’s gutter loss on quite a few pages is so bad that it cuts out several words and key art, making it a very frustrating to read at times. Because of the artwork, I would normally recommend buying this in print, but because of the SLOPPY binding, I recommend you purchase this electronically. In spite of the binding, it is still a worthwhile read.

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On Masks

Physicians in 17th-century Europe who cared for plague victims wore a mask with a long, bird-like beak that now has a menacing implication. The reason behind the beaked plague mask was to protect the doctor from miasma: before knowledge of germs, physicians believed that the plague spread through poisoned air. Sweet and pungent perfumes were thought to fumigate plague-stricken areas. Plague doctors filled masks with theriac, a compound of 55 plus herbs and other components like myrrh and honey. The beak shape of the mask would give the air sufficient time to be immersed by the protective herbs before it hit the doctor’s nostrils and lungs.[1]

“Wear a mask.” In 2020, this was a really loaded declaration (and will likely continue to be in 2021 and beyond). As The Washington Post reported in July of that year[2], “at the heart of the dismal U.S. coronavirus response” is a “fraught relationship with masks” as well as “faulty guidance from health authorities, a cultural aversion to masks and a deeply polarized politics have all contributed.” National Geographic noted that humans are experts at interpreting faces and generally use the whole face to interpret emotion which is why wearing masks for health and safety can present some social and cultural obstacles.

Widespread use of masks is critical not just for health reasons but also for social ones. According to researcher Mitsutoshi Horii, when only sick or vulnerable people wear masks, it singles them out, making them targets for fear and stigma. By fostering a culture of mask-wearing, people are showing solidarity with each other and cooperating to ease the strain on their fellow humans. [3]

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[1] Blakemore, Erin. “Why Plague Doctors Wore Those Strange Beaked Masks.” National Geographic, 31 Mar. 2020, http://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/reference/european-history/plague-doctors-beaked-masks-coronavirus/.

[2] Witte, Griff Witte, et al. “At the Heart of Dismal U.S. Coronavirus Response, a Fraught Relationship with Masks.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 29 July 2020, http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/at-the-heart-of-dismal-us-coronavirus-response-a-fraught-relationship-with-masks/2020/07/28/f47eccd0-cde4-11ea-bc6a-6841b28d9093_story.html.

[3] Witte, Griff Witte, et al. “At the Heart of Dismal U.S. Coronavirus Response, a Fraught Relationship with Masks.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 29 July 2020, http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/at-the-heart-of-dismal-us-coronavirus-response-a-fraught-relationship-with-masks/2020/07/28/f47eccd0-cde4-11ea-bc6a-6841b28d9093_story.html.

The Perfect Playlist: Goodbye 1990

The modern playlist is the descendant of the mix tape. And like my mix tapes, I make a significant effort to make sure they are right—and by right, I mean that there is a certain cohesion and shared texture that inspires me. What I love about digital versus tape is the great flexibility for experimentation (though, sometimes I do miss walking around Manhattan with my old yellow cassette Sports Walkman).

Thirty years ago, tonight, the world bid farewell to 1990. It was quite the year for me.

I will never forget how 1990 started: I was working for The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) and was stationed alone in Tompkins Square Park at the stroke of midnight. PEP was part of the disgusting war, fostered by gentrification (i.e., the wealthy), on homeless people. PEP’s presence in Tompkins Square Park was part of the aftermath of the 1988 riots. I am deeply ashamed of essentially working against the homeless and working indirectly for the gentrifiers, but I will save that for another blog entry.

My life changed a lot in 1990, notably marked by a devastating heartbreak. Thirty years later, I reflect on this key year in my life with the music that defined the time as I am once again facing devastating heartbreak. Not all of the songs on this playlist are from 1990; some are from 1989 and 1991, but they embody what I was going through, the heartache with moments of exuberance.

On December 31, 1990, I was thankfully off from my job with PEP and was able to spend time with my friends. Earlier that week, I had visited Tower Records and picked up the album, Red Hot + Blue, a compilation album from the Red Hot Organization dedicated to fighting AIDS through pop culture. I first listened to the album while getting ready to go out for the coming New Year. The last song, “Do I Love You?” by Aztec Camera was perhaps the best way to conclude that year as well as 2020.

I am proud that I was able to put this playlist together. Just a few years ago, I could not listen to some of these songs because of the memories they stirred. Today I embrace them as  a comprehensive part of the soundtrack of my life.

Let The Beat Hit ‘Em” by Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam from Clivillés and Cole Greatest Hits

Bad Beats Suite” by Sybil from Walk on By

I Wanna Be Where You Are” by Sybil from Walk on By

Power of Love” by Deee-Lite from World Clique

Strike it Up” by Black Box from Dreamland

That’s The Way of the World” by D Mob from That’s The Way of the World

Dancing On The Fire” by India from Breaking Night

The Breeze” by Two Without Hats from Two Without Hats

Together Forever” by Lisette Melendez from Pure 80’s Dance

Come Into My House” by Queen Latifah from All Hail The Queen

Good Life” by Inner City from Good Life

Vogue” by Madonna from I’m Breathless: Music from and Inspired by the Film Dick Tracy

A Dream’s a Dream” by Soul II Soul from Vol. 2, A New Decade

Body To Body” by 2 In a Room from Wiggle It

Tell Me Why (Remix)” by Expose from Arista Heritage Series: Expose

Love Will Never Do (Without You)” by Janet Jackson from Rhythm Nation

Someone In The Dark” by TKA from Scars of Love

Promise Me” by The Cover Girls from Show Me

To Be With You” by Noel from Noel

Here We Are” by Gloria Estefan from Cuts Both Ways

Love Will Lead You Back” by Taylor Dayne from Can’t Fight Fate

I Don’t Have the Heart” by James Ingram from It’s Real

Till the End of Time” by Mariah Carey from Emotions

The Wind” by Mariah Carey from Emotions

Do I Love You?” by Aztec Camera from Red Hot + Blue

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The Perfect Playlist: The Best of Amy Winehouse

The modern playlist is the descendant of the mix tape. And like my mix tapes, I make a significant effort to make sure they are right—and by right, I mean that there is a certain cohesion and shared texture that inspires me. What I love about digital versus tape is the great flexibility for experimentation (though, sometimes I do miss walking around Manhattan with my old yellow cassette Sports Walkman). The playlist featured in this blog entry was easier to compile because it features one artist.

Amy Winehouse. I still miss her.

It has been nine years since she passed away and I often contemplate her missed potential. She was concurrently gruff and tender, but soulful and true. If you think about the state of the pop scene when she rose to prominence, she was a truly authentic voice, not a manufactured cookie cutter. She was the real deal.

She only gave us two albums (Frank and Back to Black), but they were nothing short of extraordinary. A posthumous compilation album (Lioness: Hidden Treasures) was released that contained unreleased songs and a new one that was completed by Nas.

I put this playlist together in January of 2012 and have not changed it once. It is one of the few playlists I have ever gotten right on the first try. The first time I listened to it was on the express bus home and I arrived at my stop just as the last song was playing. I remember I got off the bus and stood there until the song finished. And even after it was over, I stood there for another minute in silence.

The last song on this playlist is “Love is a Losing Game.” I consider this to be her masterpiece. And while this song is indeed an achievement in songwriting, arrangement, recording, and voice, I will always wonder about what could have been.

  1. Body and Soul” (Duet with Tony Bennett) from Duets II
  2. “Tears Dry” from Lioness: Hidden Treasures
  3. In My Bed” from Frank
  4. “Some Unholy War” from Back to Black
  5. “Me and Mr. Jones” from Back to Black
  6. “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” from Lioness: Hidden Treasures
  7. “The Girl from Ipanema” from Lioness: Hidden Treasures
  8. “Valerie” from Mark Ronson featuring Amy Winehouse
  9. “Rehab” from Back to Black
  10. You Know I’m No Good” from Back to Black
  11. Fuck Me Pumps” from Frank
  12. “Like Smoke” (Featuring Nas) from Lioness: Hidden Treasures
  13. “A Song for You” from Lioness: Hidden Treasures
  14. Back to Black” from Back to Black
  15. “Wake Up Alone” from Back to Black
  16. Love is a Losing Game” from Back to Black

https://www.amywinehouse.com/

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A Look At Charlotte Powell, Village Painter (Photograph)

Charlotte Powell, Village Painter seems to be following me around. Most recently, it came up in a course I recently completed for my graduate degree in Museum Studies. I also belong to many historical New York City photography groups on Facebook (Al Ponte’s Time Machine – New York and Bronx Third Ave El are two of my favorites) where I have seen it several times as well as websites like Gothamist and Monovision.

About the Photographer

Jessie_Tarbox_Beals_with_camera_Schlesinger_LibraryJessie Tarbox Beals (1870-1942) was a pioneer for women, working as the first published female photojournalist in the United States. While working, she carried heavy camera equipment while donning the bulky women’s fashions of the late 19th and early 20th century. Beals later opened her own studio as a divorced, single mother.

At the turn-of-the-century Beals lived and worked in Greenwich Village, which she photographed extensively. Greenwich Village, which resisted the City planning idea of the grid, was a haven for bohemian artists and writers. Beals may have found like-minded peers. It seemed natural that she would gravitate toward photographing the bohemians of Greenwich Village in New York City—the part of the City that said no to the grid and gave birth the Gay Liberation movement!  In her photograph of Charlotte Powell, Beals captured a fellow unconventional woman, dressed in overalls, doing traditional men’s work

Notes on the Photograph

The first thing I would like to note about this photograph is the fact that an early 20th century woman is wearing pants. And she is not wearing pants to be fashionable like Marlene Dietrich, she is wearing overalls, work pants, not unlike Amelia Earhart’s aviator pants. Like Earhart, Charlotte Powell is seen working at what was then considered men’s labor. In contrast to her overall gruff fashion, Powell is wearing a rather delicate looking watch. I couldn’t help but wonder what Beals was wearing when she took this photograph.

We see two sets of stairs in this photograph. Stairs are a principal and practical part of architecture that stand with a sense of purpose. In the same way that water gives and takes life, stairs can bring us up and plunge us down. Powell may be at the bottom of the stone stairs, but she is slowly climbing out of the prison (see the bars on the far right) of cultural norms on a rickety ladder being held together by string, of her making.

I find the sign above Powell concurrently appropriate and irksome. Appropriate because it gives us a geographic marker of sorts and irksome, because the curtains are drawn, and we have no idea what that The Village Store sells. But the sign is also well designed—I admired the way the typeface emphasized The Village.

While writing this, I became more intrigued by the photograph and tried to find this location using Google Maps. I wanted to see if this building was still standing. New York undervalues older buildings. I was unsuccessful in finding the possible location of this photograph.

New York Historical Society Label and Link

Title

Charlotte Powell, Village painter.

Collection Title

Jessie Tarbox Beals photograph collection, ca. 1905-1940.

Creator / Contributor

Beals, Jessie Tarbox

Identifier

Print Room – PR-004-02-13

Date

[ca. 1905-1916]

Subject

Women–Photographs
Women painters–Photographs

Subject personal name

Powell, Charlotte–Portraits

Subject geographic name

Greenwich Village (New York, N.Y.)–Social life and customs–Photographs
Greenwich Village (New York, N.Y.)–Photographs

Material type or medium of original

Photographic prints

Physical Description

1 photograph : gelatin silver print ; 10 x 8 inches

Rights management

This digital image may be used for educational or scholarly purposes without restriction. Commercial and other uses of the item are prohibited without prior written permission from the New-York Historical Society. For more information, please visit the New-York Historical Society’s Rights and Reproductions Department web page at http://www.nyhistory.org/about/rights-reproductions

http://digitalcollections.nyhistory.org/islandora/object/nyhs%3A1211

 

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Si Es Goya Tiene Que Ser…Trump? Listing Goya Alternatives

Today is July 10, 2020. The coronavirus continues to rage on in the United States while Republicans continue to politicize wearing a mask. Today, The New York Times noted that the United States was the biggest source of new coronavirus infections, reporting more than 59,880 cases as it set a single-day record for the sixth time in 10 days. Make no mistake and spin it all you want, this is because of Trump failed to coordinate a national effort.  

The New York Times published another story today on how ICE helped spread the coronavirus:

“Even as lockdowns and other measures have been taken around the world to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, ICE has continued to detain people, move them from state to state and deport them.”

Speaking of ICE, the United States is STILL caging the children of individuals seeking asylum—many of whom are from Latin America.

—–

Yesterday, Bob Unanue, the president of Goya Foods, was at the White House to announce that the company would donate one million cans of chickpeas as well as one million pounds of food to food banks in the United States as part of the Hispanic Prosperity Initiative, an executive order created to “improve access to educational and economic opportunities.” Really? What happened to sufficient aid from the federal government for Puerto Rico after a series of natural disasters? Notably, the founder of Goya, Prudencio Unanue Ortiz, a Spaniard, got his start in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico before he moved to New York City.

During this event, Unanue bizarrely said the United States was “blessed” to have Trump as its leader.

While I truly applaud the company’s humanitarian efforts, I have to wonder if Unanue has been living under a rock these last three years? Trump is enormously unpopular among Latinx Americans: according to the latest New York Times/Siena College poll, Latinx Americans favor Biden over Trump by a 36 percentage-point margin. The timing of the Hispanic Prosperity Initiative is curious.

The following day, Unanue went on to Fox “news” to say he wasn’t going to apologize.  He claimed a double standard in the reaction to his remarks about Trump, noting that he accepted an invitation from Michelle Obama in 2012 to an event that promoted the former first lady’s healthy-eating initiative. Unlike the Hispanic Prosperity Initiative, the healthy-eating initiative had been in full swing by 2012 and President Obama was not trying foster divisiveness. In short, Unanue was simply acting as a cog in Trump’s publicity machine.

Predictably, conservatives belly-ached about freedom of expression. Unanue indeed has the right to express himself, but I also have the right to no longer buy Goya products (in spite of the fact that they employ many Puerto Ricans) and express it. Maybe the company needs a change of leadership, much like the United States does right now. My message to Unanue is to look at what Trump does, not what he says.

—–

Looking into my pantry, it is FILLED with Goya products and I have to plan on how I am going replenish them once I have consumed them (and to anyone thinking about throwing out Goya products, don’t be foolish—eat it or donate it). I would like to present you with some possible alternatives.

  • Sofrito and Recaito: Iberia makes a product similar to Goya.
  • Abodo: Iberia makes a similar product  as well as Simply Organic. I have tried the latter and it is more expensive, but it is organic and the taste is on par with Goya.
  • Sazon: I have not tried these, but it seems that Iberia also produces this (with achiote).
  • Tomato paste and sauce: Again, we have Iberia as well as an assortment of other companies. I have tried the organic brand, Muir Glen, and it is very good, but more expensive.
  • Beans: Again, Iberia, like Goya, offers canned and dry varieties. I have tried the canned beans by Eden Foods and they are quite good (expensive, but organic). In a pinch, I once used Bush’s kidney beans and they were quite good.
  • Rice: If you can find Vitarroz (I feel their presence in stores has diminished in the last few years, and the company doesn’t appear to have a website); I actually prefer to use sushi rice (which is a lot like Valencia rice) when I make the classic rice and beans and having been using the one produced by RiceSelect for several years now.
  • Empanada dough: This was a tough one because I have been using the Goya discs for a very long time. Then I remembered that my Mother used La Fe.
  • Frozen banana leaves: These are often used for pasteles, but Asian markets also sell them.
  • Frozen yuca: Since I discovered Goya packaged these, I started using them for my pasteles as they save a ton of time. Thankfully, La Fe packages them as well.

I feel like Unanue is having his ‘shooting someone on Fifth Avenue and not losing voters’ moment—I can shoot my mouth off and praise Trump and I won’t lose customers. Words matter and let’s show Unanue how much they do.

#BoycottGoya #goyAWAY #BoycottGoyaFoods

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Why Disco Doesn’t Suck

I grew up in the Inwood neighborhood of upper Manhattan. Back then the neighborhood had a clear physical division: east of Broadway was primarily populated by Dominicans and other people of color, while the west of Broadway was primarily populated by whites. The neighborhood residents seemed to coexist and share public spaces such as Inwood Park without any strife I was cognizant of. I attended a Catholic grade school where I had friends of varied ethnic backgrounds. I was fortunate in that my first encounter with bigotry was not until I was 12 years old (though as I got older, I certainly experienced it).

In the summer of 1979, I entered Inwood Park and saw this boldly spray-painted on a wall: “Disco Suxs!” For some reason, it rattled me. What was so bad about disco? I was a fan. It had ENERGY and you could dance to it. It made me happy. Back then, and to this day, I never understood people who severely went out of their way to slam something that was not of their taste. If you don’t like something, ignore it and move on—why deface a wall? Why troll online?

I asked my parents about it and that became our first talk about bigotry. Because they knew I loved music so much, they used the history of Motown Records as a way to explain it to me. They noted how Motown played an important role in the racial integration of popular music. After that talk, I never looked at or heard those records in the same way again.

Years later, on a VH1 Behind the Music episode on disco, virtuoso musician and producer, Niles Rodgers conveyed that the hate stemmed from the fact that it was the music of minorities that included people of color and the LGBTQ community. Music critic Robert Christgau noted that homophobia, and most likely racism, were the driving forces behind the anti-disco movement[1] that resulted in a preposterous disco demolition night at Comiskey Park in Chicago. The way the 1960s counterculture ended at Altamont, disco ended at this event (by the way, those in attendance trashed the stadium[2]). The haters were also likely intimated by the liberating physicality of disco dancing and hastily labeled the music as vacuous.

Concurrently forceful and sensual, disco was the resurgence of Dionysian pagan culture in the 20th century. Disco is not vacuous and is indeed complex.

First and foremost, disco took significant effort to produce than say the four-piece bands found in other genres. Disco often contained an ample band, with chordal instruments, drums, percussions, horns, a string orchestra, and various classical solo instruments like the flute. The recording of complex arrangements with a large number of instruments required a team that included a conductor and mixing engineers. Disco also had extraordinary vocalists that included powerhouses such as Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand as well as Gloria Gaynor, Diana Ross, Chic, France Joli, Michael Jackson, Cheryl Lynn, Sylvester, A Taste of Honey, and Barry White.

After the ridiculousness of disco demolition night, disco found a second life in early rap, notably “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang which sampled Chic’s brilliant song, “Good Times.” Disco still lives on under the sapped title of dance music. Dance music is not as beautifully produced as disco but has had many remarkable moments over the last forty years.

If you hated disco in the 1970s, let me encourage you to put aside your prejudices and put on a pair of headphones and embrace the genius. Let the music take you away.

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[1] http://www.robertchristgau.com/xg/pnj/pj78.php

[2] http://www.fuzzymemories.tv/index.php?c=4548

Community Organizing and Voting

A Brief History of Community Organizing in the 20th Century

Community organizing seeks better responsiveness of institutions to the needs of the community by addressing and restructuring decision-making processes. Community organizers recruit residents to take on powerful institutions in their community through direct, public confrontation and action. Respected figures such as Saul Alinsky and noted organizations such as the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) have advanced community organizing.

Saul Alinsky founded the Industrial Areas Foundation in 1940. The IAF is a grassroots organizing network involving people in over sixty cities in the U.S. that draws together coalitions of poor and middle class people to address poverty, housing, education, public infrastructure and many other issues. However, the IAF is not necessarily about issues: its aim is to build a culture of vibrant participatory democratic practices that gradually transform political and economic power. The IAF is an organization of organizations, drawing upon religious congregations, neighborhood associations, community centers, and unions. Issues tend to be chosen and negotiated with an eye to how they might strengthen and broaden grassroots democratic relationships. The IAF has been successful at drawing people into long-term democratic practices and bridging relationships that cross lines of complex difference, creating new political relationships that concurrently work with traditional and the emerging.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), like the IAF, is also a grassroots community organization of low and moderate-income people. Started in 1970 by Wade Rathke and Gary Delgado, the early version of ACORN helped people obtain clothing and furniture; it campaigned for schools to provide healthy, affordable lunches and promoted Vietnam Veterans’ rights. The organization then branched out into housing and workers’ rights advocacy and has helped thousands of working-class and poor citizens obtain home loans, register to vote and fight for better wages. ACORN differed from IAF in that it engaged in electoral politics as a way of gaining power and ddi not rely on support from organizations and churches, but on door-to-door solicitation and dues paying members. ACORN did not limit itself to local issues and campaigns; and was very particular about picking winnable issues. ACORN found that it could win on issues that are not just about welfare and the poor.

As the IAF expanded, Alinsky felt that the most essential element of organizing was relational organizing. To make IAF organizations more cohesive and assertive, especially when dealing with municipal government, Alinsky encouraged face-to-face meetings. He also believed in establishing local power through individual local leaders who organized and mobilized the poor. One of ACORN’s strengths is its combination of insider and outsider tactics and strategies: activists and leaders often work both inside the system (organizing the poor) and outside the system (protests and confrontation). ACORN did not shy away from using the in-your-face confrontational protest tactics. ACORN was unapologetic about its tactics because it helped draw attention to neglected issues and built membership.

One criticism of the IAF was the lack of diversity among the organizing staff. ACORN’s organizing staff was 90% white in the 1970s and 1980s, but the organization has made considerable progress hiring and retaining organizers of color. Regarding matters of membership and possible racial issues, both organizations approached it in somewhat similar ways: they essentially ignored it. IAF’s practice of multiracial equality presupposes that common religious values creates a basis for cooperation that over time could overcome longstanding prejudices and create a mutual understanding. IAF emphasized the economic and ignored the racial fearing that raising the issue of race could disrupt and divide their organization. ACORN rarely framed issues racially; therefore, it had difficulty forming alliances or coalitions with Black organizations. ACORN also did not organize around single issues such as desegregation, police brutality or the loss of needed public services.

Interestingly, The IAF and ACORN had chapters in some of the same cities that often work on similar issues, but they never work together. Because the IAF uses religious values as a unifying force, their local chapters usually had more members than ACORN’s, but it never sought to build an amalgamated organization that could have waged national policy campaigns. Interestingly, IAF’s Baltimore affiliate, BUILD, coordinated the first successful living wage campaign, but was not able to translate that into a national movement. ACORN, on the other hand, had used its amalgamated structure to build a national living wage movement, with victories in several cities.

While organizations such as unions have historically played an effective role in representing everyday citizens, those organizations now have weaker organizing power. What we have left are community-based organizations. The IAF and ACORN both sought broad-based constituencies that spanned race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, and geography. But in this political atmosphere, can they survive?

The Mid to Late 2000s

In 2007, ACORN had field offices in 100 cities and 260,000 members, mostly from minority communities. ACORN helped register more than 1.6 million voters nationally between 2004 and 2008. In 2004, it initiated a successful ballot measure raising Florida’s minimum wage. But by 2008, Republicans were accusing ACORN of voter fraud, even though prosecutors across the country failed to find any evidence. Let us be clear that ACORN was indeed contributory in getting Barack Obama elected.

In 2009, workers at ACORN were secretly recorded by conservative hacks Hannah Giles and James O’Keefe. The videos were heavily edited to create a misleading impression of their activities.

In September of 2009, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to ban the ACORN from receiving federal funding. Here’s how the Democratic leadership voted on the “De-fund ACORN” amendment (A “yes” is a vote to de-fund”):

  • Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi: did not vote.
  • Assistant to the Speaker Chris Van Hollen: Yes
  • Majority Leader Steny Hoyer: Yes
  • Majority Whip Jim Clyburn: No
  • Senior Chief Deputy Majority Whip John Lewis: No
  • Chief Deputy Majority Whip Maxine Waters: No
  • Chief Deputy Majority Whip John S. Tanner: did not vote
  • Chief Deputy Majority Whip Ed Pastor: Yes
  • Chief Deputy Majority Whip Jan Schakowsky: No
  • Chief Deputy Majority Whip Joseph Crowley: No
  • Chief Deputy Majority Whip Diana DeGette: No
  • Chief Deputy Majority Whip GK Butterfield: No
  • Chief Deputy Majority Whip Debbie Wasserman Schultz: Yes
  • Democratic Caucus Chairman John B. Larson: Yes
  • Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra: No
  • Steering/Policy Committee Co-Chair George Miller: Yes
  • Steering/Policy Committee Co-Chair Rosa DeLauro: Yes
  • Organization, Study, and Review Chairman Michael Capuano: No

In December of 2009, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) released a report on ACORN activities, commissioned by the House Judiciary Committee. It noted that ACORN has not been found to violate any federal regulations in the past five years. The report’s other findings included that there were no instances of voter fraud by people who were allegedly registered to vote improperly by ACORN or its employees, and no instances where ACORN violated terms of federal funding in the last 5 years. In fact, the CRS found that O’Keefe and Giles may have violated Maryland and California laws banning the recording of face-to-face conversations without consent of both parties.

Postmortem Denouement

I can’t help but wonder how could an organization that had become a force across the country, mobilizing low- wage minority workers and Democratic voters, be pushed to its downfall by its beneficiaries? Alinsky wrote, in the afterword of his Reveille for Radicals (on page 225), “A political idiot knows that most major issues are national, and in some areas international, in scope. They cannot be coped with on the local community level.” He also warned against jumping directly to a national organization while skipping “the organization of the parts” (page 226). Is this what happened to ACORN? Were they not firmly rooted in the communities they worked in? If they were, would politicians have been less inclined to throw them under the bus?

Speaking of politicians, I want to single out Debbie Wasserman Schultz as one glaring example of what is wrong with the Democratic Party.

In 2011, she missed 62 votes of Congress. In December 2015, Wasserman Schultz was one of 24 co-sponsors of H.R. 4018, authored by GOP Congressman Dennis A. Ross, which would delay the implementation of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau regulations. Wasserman Schultz was among a dozen Florida representatives who cosponsored the legislation that would delay the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s payday lending rules by two years. The fees for these loans, over the course of a year, can add up as high as the equivalent of a 300% APR.

The following year, during the 2016 presidential primary, Wasserman Schultz only scheduled six debates, significantly fewer than in previous election cycles (and half as many as the Republicans counterparts). Some of Wasserman Schultz’s actions that the media covered during the primaries included:

  • halting the Sanders’ campaign’s access to DNC databases;
  • defending the superdelegate system used in the Democratic primaries;
  • rescinding a prior ban on corporate donations;
  • and accusing Sanders supporters of violence at the Nevada Convention.

The following story from Politico is an advisable read: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/11/02/clinton-brazile-hacks-2016-215774

The right wing’s efforts to demonize ACORN had made the organization a discomfiture to Democratic leadership, and it was far easier to throw ACORN under the bus than it would be to stand up for fundamental fair play and justice, and actually investigate the charges before deciding what the appropriate response might be. After the debacle of the 2016 election, as well as later this year, Democrats like Wasserman Schultz will wish they hadn’t been so cavalier especially if the GOP continues to prevent those who put them into office from voting.

Edwin Roman

https://edwinroman.com/index.html

Edwin Roman: The Year in Pictures 2019

Last year I noted that 2018 was not a very productive year with regards to photography largely stemming from health issues. 2019 was not much better, but for different reasons. In the fall, I started a Master’s degree in Museum Studies at the CUNY School of Professional Studies. And just before I started at CUNY SPS, I spent time working on the two photography books I self-published in November. The first book, 21st Century Coney Island, is a collection of photographs taken over the course of three years starting in the summer of 2016 and up to August 2019. Proceeds of this book will be donated to Habit for Humanity of Puerto Rico. The second book, A New Yorker in New Mexico, collects photographs from two trips, one in 2012 and another in 2018. Proceeds of this book will donated to the While they Wait fund.

The photographs I am sharing here have not been published anywhere online or in print. They were taken between February and August of 2019. I hope you enjoy this collection.

A Garden Stroll
The first picture of 2019. Taken at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Cherished Time.
People watching in Chinatown on Allen Street.
West Side Weather Vane
As seen near Broadway and 100th Street.
Sole Glamper
This was taken on Governors Island. I wanted to take more pictures of this woman,
but she noticed me. I wish she had not, because she was quite interesting.
End of The Line
A detail from the now defunct Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal at Liberty State Park in New Jersey. This park is just wonderful. I recommend you visit—even if you don’t have a car, you can still get there via the Path train and then the Light Rail.
Stand Out
Even before I color splashed this photograph, this guy’s sneakers stood out!
This was taken on the Coney Island Boardwalk.
Two Benches
People watching at Tallman State Park upstate. In the distance you can see the new Cuomo Bridge that replaces the Tappan Zee. I understand that when it is fully completed will have a pedestrian path—maybe I can get some photos next year!
Cold Bench
A chilly day at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Big Hairy Pussy
Perhaps the person who wrote this has a large cat…?
This was taken in the East Village.
Rockland Bench
As seen at Rockland State Park. Yes, I photographed a number of park benches this year.
Smoking
I was out one day on a photo safari and was standing on Morningside Drive photographing the Manhattan Valley landscape and happen to notice these two young men below me on the steps smoking some weed.
Save Us
As seen in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
C
From my last day out with my camera in 2019.
An architectural detail from a building on 6th Avenue.
Tallman View
Another trip up to Tallman State Park. In the distance is the Cuomo Bridge that replaces the Tappan Zee. Pretty soon the trees are going to grow higher and block the view completely.
Framing
As seen on the Coney Island Boardwalk.
Colorful Sunset
An outtake from my book, 21st Century Coney Island. I didn’t use this picture because I choose a different and smaller square size for the book.
Drummer Boy
As seen at Washington Square Park.
Scooted
As seen in the West Village.
Baby Birds
This was taken inside a restroom at Rockland State Park. This picture reminds me of one I took in 2017 of a little turtle in this same park who was burying her eggs on shore.
Iron Floral
As seen at Riverside Park.
Stone Cold
As seen outside of the Brooklyn Museum on a chilly day!
To Trains
Another photograph from the now defunct Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal at Liberty State Park in New Jersey. This building is still quite elegant.
Time Out
This young man was taking a break after making a delivery. This was taken in Chinatown.
Anchor Up.
As seen from a ferry en route to Governors Island.
Manhattan
What I love about this picture is that there is not a construction crane in sight!
Happy Text
As seen in Bryant Park.
Roar
As seen outside of the Brooklyn Museum.
Good Night Coney Island
I used a different photograph of this young man on the back of my book,
21st Century Coney Island.
Crane Operation
As seen from the ferry en route to Governors Island.
Let Us Have Peace
As seen at Riverside Park, Grant’s Tomb.
Isn’t this what we all want?

Thank you for stopping by.

See more of my artwork at edwinroman.com.