Latinos on the 6 Train Line: A Tour of BX Latino Environmentalists and More!
First published on Bronx River Sankofa by Morgan Powell
Let’s enjoy a few of the hundreds of places overfull with environmental, cultural, and advocacy history (1970s to the present) worth savoring along the Pelham Bay/ no. 6 train line in the Bronx, NY! This journey builds on the scholarship of people like Elena Martinez who produced the landmark map and documentary on 20th century Bronx Latino music calledFrom Mambo to Hip Hop. Where she walks us through a century of rhythms and song, Andre takes us to additional sites of place making and centers of action for Bronx Latino environmentalists. Sometimes they intersect. Orlando Marin (associated with 52 Park) performed at one of the Bronx River Restoration’s first block party/ river celebrations in the mid 1970s (probably at 179th St. by the river! Hundreds more Latinos have made both big and small environmental progress in the Bronx so this is simply an introduction. It is hoped that more writing for everyday people will be produced that goes beyond individual profiles and celebrates these great Americans as a group to better know, love, and learn from! Enjoy your trip!
2014 is the 40th Anniversary of the first group dedicated to cleaning up and welcoming the community, through post Earth Day programming, to the Bronx River. While they dissolved their board and stopped programming a little over a decade ago, their vision and work set the foundation for all we enjoy today and continues to inform current progress. Bernie Hernandez (video above) of Aspira and Patrick Sands of Sands House came through Bronx River Restoration and each now do intensive community development work!
Profiles of Places and People
Pelham Bay Park
Jorge Santiago of Co-Op City loves Pelham Bay Park and has been exploring its natural and archeological treasures for several decades! He was instrumental in founding Givans Creek Woods Park in the Northeast Bronx. Jorge’s a long-time advocate of Bronx ecology where he has long joined forces with fellow locals through the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality and other organizations including his community board. He is also an indirect however real co-founder of the Bronx River Alliance. Further, he was a catalyst to river restitution grants administered by the NYS Attorney General’s office.
Photo description: While there have been many articles in local Bronx newspapers about Jorge Santiago, almost none appear in web searches. His only known reference in a book comes tangentially surrounding the Bronx War Memorial of Pelham Bay Park built in the 1930s. That book is The Bronx in Bits and Pieces by Bill Twomey which Andre is shown reading at the Pelham Bay Park station ramp to the park.
Bobby Gonzalez, poet and folklorist performs and blogs the Bronx. See how athttp://www.bobbygonzalez.com/ . He’s the event coordinator and master of ceremonies for the annual Bronx Native American Festival which takes place at Pelham Bay Park in September. He is also a past member of the board of directors of The Storytelling Center, Inc. of New York.
Bobby is a dynamic speaker specializing in encouraging audiences of all ages and backgrounds to succeed, fulfill their full potential and adjust to a changing world by becoming more aware of the rich history and accomplishments of their ancestors. In his lectures and workshops Bobby urges his listeners to be more sensitive to the various cultures and belief systems of their neighbors and colleagues.
He wrote “The Last Puerto Rican Indian: A Collection of Dangerous Poetry.” These verses reflect on five centuries of dramatic upheavals and heroic triumphs for Native Peoples in North, Central and South America as well as the Caribbean.
Bobby González seeks to empower his audiences by encouraging them to embrace their heritage and use this knowledge to create a dynamic future. As an individual proud of his Native American, Latino and African ancestry, Bobby is a messenger of hope, pride and love of diversity. Find his work on Facebook too.
Near Middletown Road
Do you see the Herbert Lehman High School campus in the distance? Snow covers the Hutchinson River Parkway bike path to the left where many Bronxites bike for recreation and to work! This site is between Middletown Road and Westchester Square. Rich Gans is a long-time advocate of biking city-wide. He can be seen leading rides during the annual Tour de Bronx and plays a prominent role in the Transportation Alternatives Bronx Committee which advocates for safer streets for bicyclists, pedestrians, and all public transit riders. Hatuey Ramos-Fermin of Boogie Down Rides also volunteers with the TABC and the Bronx River Alliance’s Greenway Committee. Both men trace part of their heritage back to Puerto Rico!
Westchester Square/ East Tremont Avenue
Angel Hernandez of the Bronx County Historical Society is no stranger to adventure. He was in the Outward Bound program in his teens and loves the great outdoors. Exploring at a local level before graduating high school, he made himself familiar with the collections and interior of the Huntington Free Library (shown at left) as well as the graveyard to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. Both sites are just outside the Westchester Square stop. The library is open by appointment and welcomes you to its free monthly power point talks called the East Bronx History Forum. See this Lehman College graduate’s work.
B.A.A.D! (Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance) is located at 2474 Westchester Avenue in a stone building in the grounds of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. BAAD! was founded in Hunts Point in the late 1990s by Arthur Aviles (dancer/choreographer) and Charles Rice-Gonzalez (activist/novelist/marketing expert). Both Arthur and Charles were key to the first Golden Ball Festival in 1999 and are associated with numerous river developments before and since that date including hosting classes for river worker training and much more! Arthur danced the whole length of the festival from Westchester County to the Bronx while Charles took the huge responsibility for organizing promotion, in partnership with Partnerships for Parks, of this historic and well documented watershed in Bronx history. Bronx River Sankofa first learned of their love for the river in 2003 seeing photos of the river and surrounding communities on display at their former American Bank Note Building space. Those iconic images were taken by Arthur. Over the years BAAD! has been a vital venue for Bronx L.G.B.T.Q. artists working in dance, performance, dramatic theater, film and free public/civic events. BAAD! is a Bronx-based arts organization that creates, produces, presents and supports the development of cutting edge and challenging works in contemporary dance and all creative disciplines which are empowering to women, people of color and the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) community. Find their work on-line!
Castle Hill Avenue
Ed Garcia Conde is a popular blogger and ambassador of the Bronx’s Melrose community who increasingly reports on events farther and farther from his home base of Melrose.Welcome2TheBronx has joined his earlier Welcome2Melrose web pages. While green issues are not a dominant theme to his writing, they are present. More importantly, he is creating a broad body of local documentation of the Bronx as lived by Generations X, Y and millennials with great re-blogging and periodic features on older Bronxites.
Photo description: Ed and friends at the former South Bronx Food Co-op once located near the busy commercial district of The Hub.
G.I.V.E. began in 2010 and has gotten bigger and better ever since. Their blog tells how they started. Newbold Avenue’s intersection with Virginia one block from the Parkchester train station is one place you’ll see G.I.V.E. in action! Located behind the C-Town Supermarket, they began as a block beautification project and grew into a new culture. They plug local youths from many cultures into volunteer work. G.I.V.E. teaches them through active involvement to take care of the Bronx while developing social skills and learning job skills! G.I.V.E. seeks to cultivate awareness of urban environmental issues through volunteerism, education, activism, and hands-on experiences. Their ever-growing beautification work includes the Yankee Stadium area, Starlight Park and beyond. See how they’re growing on Facebook too!
St. Lawrence Avenue
This is your train stop if you want to see where Justice Sonia Sotomayor grew up. The New York City Housing Authority development where she lived is within a short walk and they now bare her name. Hear and see this distinguished Bronxite speak about her origins and be inspired!
Photo description: Andre holds the June 8, 2009 Time Magazine cover featuring US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Morrison Avenue/ Soundview
Andre is holding one of the few known printed accounts of the Bronx River’s rehabilitation that features a number of Latinos with deep involvement in profiles, mentions, and pictures. Page 153 (shown) of Groundswell: stories of saving places, finding community includes impressions from and of Alexie Torrez-Fleming who founded YMPJ. Youth Ministries for Peace and Justiceoperates a few blocks away and is a faith-based teen-focused program that address a wide range of social issues while providing practical support like tutoring, housing services, and more.
Velo City and Friends of Soundview Park deserve to be associated with this key train station which facilitates access to Soundview Park. Velo City was founded by three women of color who are each urban planners. See their portrait against the MTA map at the top of this blog. They use bike culture (touring, maintaining, etc.) as a means to open up career considerations and civic awareness. Teens enjoy their programs in the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn. The Friends of Soundiew Park was among the most active Bronx park groups at the time this blog was published. Long-time Soundview neighborhood residentLucy Aponte, who is a fine artist and Poe Park Visitor Center administrator, is among the core members. Carlos Martinez, of Queens, through Partnerships for Parks, provided solid administrative leadership through 2014.
Omar Freilla worked for many years with others to get the open space you see in the background,Concrete Plant Park, re-built into something more pleasant and green you would find today while he worked at the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance followed by Sustainable South Bronx before creating Green Worker Cooperatives in 2003.
He was creative in his advocacy, often drawing the community to the site before the city accepted it as a potential park through his live Afro-Caribbean folkloric music. He is a drummer, singer and dancer. He also wrote about the adjacent highway, the Sheridan Expressway, in an anthology called Highway Robbery.
Omar is the second male from the left in this group portrait from the Groundswell book, page 144 showing many Bronx River advocates active in the 1990s and early 2000s. Some have continued on while others now work elsewhere.
Hunts Point Avenue
Maria Torres is a co-founder of and continues to help manage The Point, a youth-focused community development organization and performing arts/ civic center. She can be seen first from the left in this group portrait (click for a closer look). Like many of her co-founders, she came from the now defunct Senaca Center once located on Hunt’s Point Avenue which served hundreds of youths from Spanish Harlem and the South Bronx. Numerous youthful change agents find community and develop further at The Point. A great place to see some of them is in the A.C.T.I.O.N. (Activists Coming to Inform Our Neighborhood) program (find details on more teen programs here).
Casita Maria sponsors South Bronx Cultural Trail tours which begin at their home base near this station. Learn more about how Casita Maria helps build a sense of place through the City Lore website!
- 149th Street
Dra. Evelina Antonetty Way is marked by an official NYC street sign unveiled in 2011. It is located at the intersection of Prospect Avenue and E. 156th Street.
Take time to reflect and be empowered by thelegacy of Dr. Evelina Lopez Antonetty (1922-1984) near the East 149th Street station. “Titi” or “Auntie,” as she was often called, formed United Bronx Parents and was a force for establishing bi-lingual education locally and nationally. Among her hundreds of accomplishments, she protested, periodically shut down filming for, and got twenty jobs for local minorities in the filming of Fort Apache, a fictional film set in the Bronx. Her mural across the street (shown here) reads her words from 1980: “We will never stop struggling here in the Bronx, even though they’ve destroyed it around us. We would pitch tents if we have to rather than move from here. We would fight back, there is nothing we would not do. They will never take us away from here. I feel very much a part of this and I’m never going to leave. And, after me, my children will be here to carry on…I have very strong children…and very strong grandchildren.”
Titi’s daughter Anita Antonetty once provided career counseling services to the youths ofRocking the Boat in Hunt’s Point. Many were pleasantly surprised to encounter a mature Latina deeply aware of Bronx ecology issues and trends. Anita continues to make her mark on the Bronx sustainability front in her long standing advocacy through community boards and beyond.
E 143rd Street/ St. Mary’s Street
Some of the people who lovingly care for a public park near our last stop, 52 Park, attended Samuel Gompers high school (across the street) over three generations. 52 People for Progress was founded in 1980. This volunteer organization fuzes cultural affirmation, preservation and more with park stewardship. See where they thrive on Kelly Street and Leggett Avenue. There’s much more history at 52 People for Progress’ Facebook page too.
Congressman Jose E. Serrano’s 2005 essay A Greater Sense of Pride says it all. This ten page booklet expresses his environmental justice philosophy and details some of his legislative accomplishments with respect to air quality, parks and more. His opening letter says it all:
It is no secret that our government treats poor communities unequally, but environmental injustice poses a particularly sinister threat. Environmental problems may not make headlines or grab our attention like a war, but persistent environmental hazards in the Bronx are taking the lives of our children just the same.
Those of us in the Bronx don’t need statistics to convince us that a link exists between poverty and exposure to environmental harm. Our neglected landscape—marred by sewage plants, waste transfer stations, scrap metal yards and power stations—provides ample evidence that the most economically vulnerable among us bear the brunt of our society’s environmental ills.
Relief for our lungs is not the only thing at stake for the Bronx as we wrestle with these issues. The often overlooked presence of noxious polluters and environmental eyesores in places where we live, work and play have taken a heavy toll on our economy, our ecosystems, and our physical and mental well-being. Residents of low income communities not only are less able to ward off harmful activities that encroach upon their neighborhoods, but they often also lack the necessary resources to enforce what few protections they should receive under existing laws.
Fortunately, more and more of us are coming to recognize that a clean and safe environment is not a luxury reserved for the privileged, but a right due to all Americans regardless of their wealth, income, race, or ethnicity. This trend is promising as we continue to build on our community’s past successes. Only through our continued vigilance will we finally achieve true environmental justice for ourselves and future generations.”
Ray Figueroa is the longstanding Education Coordinator at Brook Park. He is also a major mover and shaker in community garden advocacy and skill sharing circles city-wide!
Bernie Hernandez was a teen in the 1980s when this photo was taken in Bronx Park. The location is the east bank of the Bronx River just south of Gun Hill Road. Bernie of Aspira has worked on Bronx environmental issues for over twenty years. He started as a teen-ager with the Bronx River Restoration, founded 1974, (precursor to the Bronx River Alliance, founded in 2001) and went on to run in-school recreation and educational programs after getting a degree in business administration. He has periodically brought school children to the Bronx River during his years as an after-school program administrator. He is now a Beacon program director in a school near Brook Park. In an early 2014 video, he discussed his current work. Andre Christopher Rivera, a college student and accomplished Bronx environmentalist, conducted the interview. He recalls the Neighborhood Open Space Coalition (city-wide greening group), City Volunteer Corps (defunct model for national AmeriCorprs), the Bronx River Art Center and the Bronx River Restoration headed by its last executive director Nancy Wallace.
Aspira’s mission is to foster the social advancement of the Latino community by supporting its youth in the pursuit of educational excellence through leadership development activities and programs that emphasize community dedication.
3rd Avenue/ 138th Street
Thank you for reading this post completed on February 23, 2014.