The Zimbabwe Situation: Identity Challenges in The Diaspora

As political revolts against President Bashar al-Assad prevail in Syria and as Libyan rebel forces continue to ravage a fiery war against Col. Muammar el-Gaddafi, Zimbabwe faces political uncertainties of its own.  As a new Zimbabwean constitution is in the process of being drafted, and as the country looks towards elections that will take place next year, generations of Zimbabwean immigrants grapple with questions of dual citizenship, political participation and cultural inheritance as they envision a new Zimbabwe, after a decade of human rights violations, a persistent steel fisted dictatorship, and a record breaking inflation rate.

Zimbabwean Passport. Photo Credit: passop.co.za

Nothing is certain. Not even what it means to be a Zimbabwean in the Diaspora, living in New York City, with a Zimbabwean passport.

“People have had to adjust – creating new lives in a new place. What does it mean to carry a Zimbabwean passport?” said Vusa Sibanda, who has been living in New York for more than a decade. “People have to constantly redefine themselves. The Zimbabwean Diaspora community in America is something new–something that is still in formation.”

Many are particularly concerned by the fact that Zimbabwe does not allow dual citizenship, forcing those that live in the Diaspora to relinquish their Zimbabwean citizenships if they choose to seek citizenship status in another country, and cutting ties that officially bind them to Zimbabwe.

“There is the misconception that you are only Zimbabwean as long as you hold a Zimbabwean passport. The crisis we had forced many people to the Diaspora. A lot of those people don’t have Zimbabwean passports,” said Amson Sibanda, a Zimbabwean who has been living oversees since 2003. “If you look at most advanced countries, dual citizenship is accepted. We have to think of the kids. Do I have to tell my son that when he is eighteen years old, he has to give up his American citizenship to be Zimbabwean? ”

The investments made in other countries, as well as the heritage that many Zimbabweans abroad hold dearly-belonging to their home country, has complicated the meaning of being Zimbabwean but not in Zimbabwe. Some feel that they do not have a political voice in Zimbabwe and that they are being unfairly excluded from political dialogue.

“We need to be given the right to vote. That’s what the new constitution needs to address. South Africans in the Diaspora can vote, all Namibians vote, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” said Amson Sibanda.

Discussions about  including the dual citizenship in the constitution have been seen as a move to somehow politically include those in the Diaspora, who already cannot vote, but contribute financially to the country.

“There is absolutely nothing wrong with it [Dual Citizenship]” said Rumbidzai Mabuwa, a lawyer based in New York City. “It benefits the country, and it’s a choice for people who are already Zimbabwean citizens. Also, it’s an incentive for people to go back to Zimbabwe after acquiring expertise in other countries.”

The government of Zimbabwe has faced a plethora of economic problems which, according to UNDP (United Nations Development Program) has forced a large population, estimated at least 3 million (about a quarter of the country’s population), to flee the country. It’s involvement in a war in the Democratic Republic of Congo from 1998 to 2002 cost the government millions of dollars. The government’s land reform program, which aimed at redistributing farm land from a small Zimbabwean minority to the larger population, has been largely disastrous, tainted by corruption and lack of production,  and has harmed the countries agriculturally based economy.  The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, until 2009, printed money to remedy the budget deficit which caused the highest hyperinflation rate in history, at 500 billion percent.

“We became a state that could not attend to the basic fundamentals of a state. You can’t call it hyperinflation. You have to call it something else,” said Tendai Biti, Zimbabwe’s minister of finance, in a speech at Africa House, New York University. Biti, since becoming minister of Finance in 2009, and as part of a new coalition government between the ruling party ZANU-PF and the opposition party MDC, had led reforms that have eradicated use of the Zimbabwean dollar, and have replaced it with the American dollar, which has stabilized the economy. However, even with economic storms calming down in Zimbabwe, socio-economic unrest continues inside as well as outside the country.

“The thing that statistics don’t capture is the social cost of the matter. How do we measure the cost of dictatorship? These figures don’t actually portray the real story,” said Biti.

Tendai Biti Speaks to Students At New York University

The story is of families that have been separated because of the crisis, of a community in the Diaspora that has worked hard to acquire goods that have caused psychological as well as economic stress on their families.

“Sometimes we try to so much for our families, to the detriment of our own lives. But our lives here are important as well. It’s a harrowing shift,” explained Vusa Sibanda.

Family members in the Diaspora continue to send money to their families in Zimbabwe, to a population that has an alarming unemployment rate. According OCHA (United Nations office for The Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) out of the country’s 12 million people, only 480 000 had formal jobs in 2008. Those who have left have done so to find employment elsewhere, and a vast majority of the population in Zimbabwe is sustained by foreign currency send by family members from abroad. Yet even with the financial support, tensions arise from questions of political involvement from the population in the Diaspora.

“Zimbabweans are already so skeptical of their own country. Sometimes Zimbabweans at home don’t trust Zimbabweans in the Diaspora because they walked away from the country,” said Mabuwa. “Yet we were only pushed away by circumstances. Some of us got the money we have under difficult circumstances-abuse, working without immigration papers, disconnected without support in a foreign country.”

Some address the speculation that because so many Zimbabweans have fled to the Diaspora, coups against the government have not been formed, and that the Zimbabweans that have remained have been left to bear the burden of a dictatorship are weak, timid and unable to fight.

“Are Zimbabweans passive? No. It’s a question of values. We believe in order. We know what war means and we know about its destructive capacity. We also want to preserve our infrastructure. We had a huge economic dip, but our infrastructure was not destroyed. We keep it in place, we fix it after,” said Amson Sibanda.

Others address preconceived notions they face in the countries they inhabit that the political atmosphere in Zimbabwe is simply a fight between the opposition and the ruling party- and that the Zimbabwean peoples’ identities are limited to their political tags.

“Zimbabwe hates bloodshed. They panic when they hear a civil uprising in other countries like in Rwanda or Nigeria. Zimbabweans do not like mass violence, where people get into an uprising. That’s “unZimbabwean” culturally. Zimbabweans would sacrifice anything for peace, and that’s a cultural aspect that the Zimbabwean government has manipulated,” said Mabuwa.

Nothing is ever simple in Zimbabwean politics, and in decoding Zimbabwean identity. “It’s so unclear-the brutality in taking power. You have a lot of people standing on the sidelines. After the liberation war [against British colonial rule in 1980] and independence, there was a clear sense of what needed to be done,” said Vusa Sibanda. “The situation is more complicated than that now. I resent being put in a box where it’s either one or the other.”

The ultimate challenge that Zimbabweans face is in the Diaspora is one that concerns the future. Whether the dictatorship will last and whether there truly will be elections next year, or whether the supposed constitution in the works will represent their interests as an intricate part of a global Zimbabwean community are questions that will be prevalent in the next years.

“I have high optimism. I have confidence that they will come up with a constitution,” said Amson Sibanda.

Another challenge is waiting to see if foreign countries will intervene in Zimbabwe or whether immigrants will face perpetual political exile, and if going home will even be an option.

“I don’t ever plan on going back to Zimbabwe. I don’t see any reason why I should permanently go back there. I will visit Zimbabwe occasionally, unless there is some massive change of plan by God,” claimed Nkosilathi Vuma, a Zimbabwean graduate student at NYU and a U.S permanent resident.

The final query is whether a Tahrir square is even a possibility in Zimbabwe. “The North African situation won’t be easy to replicate in Zimbabwe,” said Amson Sibanda. “But you never know, you can’t always predict what will happen.”

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The Zimbabwe Situation: What’s Next?

The issue that I picked to cover is the future of  Zimbabwe, which I find timely and “newsy” given what is happening  in that country right now (dictatorship, power transitions,  human rights violations, vast amounts of the population fleeing to the Diaspora) , and also what has been happening in North African and Arab nations lately.

I’ve found that a lot of coverage that I have read on Zimbabwe in big news publications does a sweep of the situation, usually just straight reporting on location or small side articles about which politician is torturing who. Lately, there has not been much on the intricacies of the political system there, the intertwining of racial, socio-economic and cultural issues that have plagued Zimbabweans, in and out of the country.  I am trying to get my angle to be different and a little bit more analytical, and to include some real people stories; stories that haven‘t been told for a while.

Since I am working on the story from Manhattan, I decided to take an approach from the Diaspora. I am depending on voices and opinions of Zimbabweans that live here and political voices that know about the situation. I’ve figured that the main things I want to get from my interviews are:
1) Political Participation and Zimbabwean “Identity” in the Diaspora. What does it even mean now? How is the “Zimbabwean community” functioning outside the country? How does it relate to those back at home?  Here, I would also want to talk about the political voices and commentary done on Zimbabwe by people like exiled journalists.

2) Economics and the issue of hyperinflation in Zimbabwe; which is getting better but is still a significant challenge. How does this connect to Zimbabweans that are not in Zimbabwe? What system are needed to ameliorate the economic status of many Zimbabweans from outside Zimbabwe in a sustainable way?  How are they affecting the “providers” outside the country?

3) The future in terms of the supposed constitution in progress, the joint government right now, and future elections. What are the predictions? What should be the next strategy? What does the new generation look like?

As far as interviews and sources, I have already gotten some quotes from the Finance minister of Zimbabwe, Tendai Biti, who is doing some pretty radical things with the economy. He had a lot to say,  and interesting viewpoint on the Diaspora, which is interesting coming from someone who isn’t based outside the country. I’ve also talked to a Zimbabwean immigrant, studying at Columbia and living with his wife and kids. There is an interesting dynamic going on in terms of family and identity. He also agreed to link me up with at least two more people to talk to, who have very different experiences and circumstances as Zimbabwean immigrants in New York.  I will schedule those interviews for sometime next week. I am going to a mini-conference on Wednesday night at Africa house, which is a discussion on African economy and some alternatives. I’m going to try to get some opinions there. I have an interview on Friday with Joanne Landy, Co-director of an organization called “Campaign for Peace and Democracy.” I want to get some insight on the whole constitution idea from a different political perspective. Also, she said that she has done some work on the Zimbabwe situation with Zimbabwean journalists, so she might be able to link me up with even more sources. I contacted the Committee to Protect Journalists to see if I could talk to someone, but they didn’t answer their phones, so I left a lot of “urgent” messages. I hope they get back to me, I will probably badger them some more this week, but if they don’t work out, then perhaps I can lean on Landy’s sources. I just want to find as many diverse Zimbabwean voices as I can.

Harlem Based African Artisans Brave Economic Uncertainity

African Garments and Bags At Malcolm Shabazz Flea Market

While strolling by African art stores in Harlem, mahogany wooden masks gape through the front windows.  A store with piles of folded “African cloth from Abuja,” and a handful of hair braiding salons with women sitting outside them, chatting amongst themselves in different dialects, paints a community of African immigrants.

It is a community of different types of artisans, trying to make it in a land of economic uncertainty and a jarringly different cultural context. According to census estimates, the number of African-born immigrants in New York has increased from 78,500 in the year 2000 to more than 125,000, and the majority of that population resides in Harlem neighborhoods. With an unemployment rate almost double New York’s unemployment rate and an influx of African immigrants that come to settle in New York, particularly in Harlem, business is tough for artisans like Boukar.

Boukar, who refused to give his last name for personal reasons, sells African cloth, masks, jewelry and bags at a stall at Malcolm Shabazz market on West 116th street in Harlem. His days begin with warm smiles and encouraging gestures towards customers, in an attempt to veer them away from dozens of other African craft and textile stores at the market.

“Tourists come here, African handcraft is very popular,” Boukar said. He has been selling African goods at the stall for four years, ever since he migrated from Mali. However, he has noticed that business has dipped and risen with economic trends, which makes it hard to budget to consistently make a profit in an already shaky job situation.

“People ask for discounts every time, they will tell you to reduce the price of everything, even a garment that is 25 dollars, because they are always looking to cut a deal in this economy,” he said.“This year is much better from the last few years. But I’m still living from paycheck to paycheck.”

Others, like Fanta Fofana, a Harlem based hairdresser from Guinea who specializes in hair braiding, go out on the street and court customers themselves, in an attempt to beat competition from other hair braiders, who have hoards of stores in Harlem .“It’s very slow on weekday morning, so I have to fight for customers,” said Fofana.

She waits by the 2 train early in the morning, and with business cards in one hand and hairstyle book in another, scouts out potential customers as soon as they step out of the subway, before they are tempted to be braided nice by someone else. She negotiates with the customer, charging anywhere from $80 for kinky twists, to $200 for a head of small micro braids, depending on how much the customer is willing to pay.

Many small scale African immigrant business owners and artisans in Harlem find it hard to point to steady, predictable customer or profit figures, which make conducting business particularly difficult.

“We are street smart. We don’t have calculations like that, like other business people. This is a different world. We can only make very rough estimates,” said Mamady, who comes from Mali and has been selling African wares in Harlem for 21 years.   “But I will tell you one thing, business had been very slow around here, depending on the economy.”

For those who have been selling African crafts and textiles for decades, changing professions at this time is as daunting as their current financial situations. “I don’t make money,” lamented Mr. Dam, a self employed Senegalese designer, as he stooped over an old sewing machine. “I cannot even count my customers right now, there is no reliable amount of customers to count on,” he added.  “Work is different, so I have to constantly be changing the pricing and it’s hard when I have to pay bills. You cannot save money here, like this. I could go back to Senegal, but I have lived here for so long, I wouldn’t even know how to start. ”

So immigrant African artisans stay in Harlem, where, even though jobs are hard to find, self owned businesses are difficult to manage, and customers are swayed in or kept away according to unsure waves of their own fiscal situations,  their situation might still be easier that going back home, after being in Harlem for years.  While African immigrant have the same problems; the same economically difficult environment and frightening unemployment rate that other immigrants face in Harlem, some feel that the problem is worsened because African immigrants are not given as much attention as other immigrants like the Latino community in Harlem, and are left to fend for themselves.

“African immigrants are not celebrated the way other immigrants are celebrated. We can barely even get the African burial ground,” said Frankie Edozien, a Journalism professor at NYU who identifies himself as Nigerian-American. “We are also a part of the New York fabric in a lot of positive ways.”

African communities in Harlem have attempted to alleviate the dark cloud of economic uncertainty by at least providing money for emergency incidences. Some communities have formulated systems, modeled from traditional values from home that require that members of that particular community contribute, weekly or monthly,  a small amount to a collective fund that can then be used for things like sudden deaths and family emergencies. Systems like these have helped to foster a better sense of belonging and security within African immigrant communities, linking Diaspora to home, and giving its members support, and a more optimistic perspective on their situation.

“Africans have lived in this area for a long time. Every Corner you see somebody you know,” said Dam, referring to his community.  “We are always hoping things will get better around here.”

Harlem Clergy and Police Struggle to Maintain Authority

It’s another slow Sunday morning at Greater Highway Deliverance Temple on 111th street in Harlem -church members slowly filter into the tabernacle, women shrug off their coats, and children impatiently shuffle into the pews. It is a quiet day outside, one that contrasts with the echoes of a recent homicide and shootings that haunt the very streets that members of the congregation walk through on their way to the service.  The church is nestled in a neighborhood that faces dismal times.

A mother and her daughter listen to the sermon at Greater Highway Deliverance Temple in Harlem

Although, according to NYPD crime statistics, the crime rate has not significantly risen in Harlem from last year, residents still worry about the crimes that still manage to take place in their neighborhoods. Stringent budget cuts and disheartening unemployment rates continue to plague Harlem neighborhoods, while religious and law enforcement authorities struggle to improve the situation.  The neighborhood has been tainted by misdemeanors that have left the community stumped, unstable and unsafe.

“There have been 10 shootings altogether around this neighborhood, five in this precinct. The most recent shooting was on January 30th, when a 17 year old male with a firearm shot at the police between 118th and 128th street. There have been 418 arrests in the last year and a homicide in February. We need to get the perpetrators of violence off the street,” said Capt. Nilda Hofmann at a community meeting.

Many attribute the crime rates to the unemployment rates that torment the neighborhood and the lack of authority to stop criminal activities. According to a study by the Fiscal Policy Institute, a nonprofit research organization, Harlem’s unemployment rate is almost double New York’s unemployment rate. “I really feel that the unemployment rate means that more people are just hanging out, up to no good,” said 23 year old Christopher Vernon, who moved to Harlem six months ago. “[People] can’t find jobs, so they do criminal activities. That’s a very uncomfortable situation.” He added “The church could have moral influence and seems to somewhat have an influence, but the cops have the most power in the community. They do what they want. They can also decide to ignore things, and they can stop you when they want to.”

Frustration over the perceived passive role that the clergy and the police play in the community is common among residents. “Most of our concerns fall on a deaf ear, in this community, in Harlem,” said Carlene Hernandez, who has lived in and around Harlem since 1979. “The churches basically run food pantries and just pray for you, and then get on with running their churches. That’s it, they are low profile. The police just make themselves visible. But nothing is changing. Drugs are still being sold. It’s still the same.”

While attempting to change the situation, the church, which is seen as a haven for relief in the community, now faces serious fiscal storms of its own, while police departments scrounge for resources to keep the streets crimeless. Significant cuts in budget spending have hindered the ability of authorities in the community to counter the effects of crime and unemployment. Churches like Greater Highway Deliverance Temple struggle to provide the community with the same resources they used to offer.

“Jobs are a great issue in this area. We used to help a lot of people that were here,” commented Bishop Liston Page Sr, presiding prelate of the Greater Highway Deliverance Temple Ministries. He said the church’s ability to fully aid the community was intercepted by the church’s economic status.  “Our budget has been tapped. We had to cut back because of the condition in which we are living.”

The church has had to cut its budget by 30 percent, from the quarter million dollar budget it used to receive and utilize every two weeks. It has also had to cut several members of church staff, contributing to the unemployment situation.

“We now have to ask people to do just a little bit more, so that we may be able to get through this crisis, so that we can implement some programs we need for the community at this difficult time,” said Bishop Paige, referring to the community development programs the church runs, which aim to empower members of society by offering job skills and helping with housing problems.

The police department also continues to be constrained by budget cuts that limit its ability to fully cleanse the community of crime. “We’ve had to spend less, and hire less,” said Capt. Hofmann. She said that just as the members of the community face economic challenges that are constantly present and obstruct their daily lives, the public should seek to understand that the police department is “not immune to the fiscal reality, which affects the way in which the community can successfully run.”

As fiscal realities continue to burden the nation, and dire shortages of resources continue to be a thorn in the police and clergy’s ability to assert justice in Harlem communities, many residents in Harlem fear that things will not change fast enough, and darker days of crime, desperation and injustice are still to come. “People keep taking things from other people,” said Hernandez. “When people don’t have, they are going to be forced to feed their families somehow.”

Cuba’s Burgeoning Entrepreneurs

(Isabel Castro/New York University) A Cuban street vendor sells pork sandwiches from his home.

When I stepped off the plane after studying abroad in Havana, Cuba, I felt an intense sense of panic. After living on the small communist island for four months, the Miami airport seemed as if it were out of the future. Flat screen TVs flashed with up-to date news, everyone had a cell phone glued to their hand and the cars outside looked sleek and modern. However, the most overwhelming aspect of my counter-culture shock came from the feeling of choice. When I was hungry in Cuba, I would walk five blocks to the local street vendor who would sell me pork, pork or pork (with a side of rice and beans please.)  Walking through the Miami airport, I had more restaurant options in five minutes than I had in my entire stay in Cuba. The options were endless.

 

I’ve been back from Cuba for a year now and it wasn’t until the New York Times ran a story about Cuba’s growing entrepreneurship that I remembered that choice was something that we take for granted in the United States. Our dreams and aspirations are attainable through competition and hard work. In Cuba, dreams and aspirations are harder to achieve because there are limits on what people can do and be. Jose Romero, a Cuban immigrant working as a flower vendor in New York City’s lower east side, explains that this is why he came to the United States. “I was so frustrated in Havana. You can work hard here and make money here and it is so satisfying.”

Eating at Adriana's paladar.

Until recently, entrepreneurship in Cuba was a great act of bravery. In Havana, I would often eat at a paladar, which is a family-owned restaurant run out of someone’s home. The owner, Adriana Sanchez, was breaking the law by running her business but she wanted to capitalize on the lack of restaurants for tourists. This year, President Raul Castro realized that it was people like Adriana who could revitalize Cuba’s economy and thus, the president has begun to issue more and more licenses to people wanting to join Cuba’s private sector. According to Granma, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, the government had awarded 75,000 new licenses by the end of 2010.

I talked to Adriana over Skype to see if things have changed over the last year. “Things remain the same but the change isn’t going to happen overnight,” Adriana explains. “It’s still very difficult especially in terms of getting ingredients for the restaurant.”  Lack of ingredients is not the only hurdle in Adriana’s small business. Inspectors are very strict and Adriana lives with the constant threat of being shut down. However, Adriana says that things are improving. She says, “I think Cubans are optimistic and more hopeful than they have been in a long time.”

(Isabel Castro/New York University)

 

Only time will tell whether Cuba’s economy improves under Raul’s leadership. Competition will motivate Cuban citizens but government restrictions may curtail their efforts. For now, hope and optimism is a starting point for a country that has been oppressed for many decades.

 

Going Organic

By: Claire Schmidt

When health-conscious New Yorkers enter their local Whole Foods, most have only one image in their minds: the white and green circle that signifies a product is USDA certified organic. They are under the assumption that when they buy organic the food is not only going to be a better quality, but it is going to be more nutritious. However, many people do not actually know what the term organic means.

The United States Department of Agriculture Organic Seal

The issue of organic is not easily simplified, and the debate about consuming organic foods is one that is constantly evolving. In order to adequately address the topic, it is important to first understand what qualifies as organic.

The word organic denotes a farmer’s methods of growing and processing agricultural products, and it has a specific set of guidelines defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Organic practices are intended to benefit the soil, the livestock, the farmers, the earth, and the population by conserving natural resources and reducing pollution.

“To be organic the land has to be free of prohibited material for three years,” said Barbara Haumann, senior writer and editor for the Organic Trade Association. “It can’t use toxic and persistent chemicals because it has to build up healthy soils.”

Unlike traditional systems, organic farming does not use chemical plant fertilizers, herbicides, or insecticides to promote plant growth. It also does not allow livestock to be injected with antibiotics or hormones.

There are three levels of organic claims on food labels:

  • 100-percent Organic. Products that are made of only organic ingredients qualify for this claim and a USDA Organic seal.
  • Organic. Products in which at least 95 percent of its ingredients are organic qualify for this claim and a USDA Organic seal.
  • Made with Organic. These are food products in which at least 70 percent of ingredients are certified organic. The USDA organic seal cannot be used but “made with organic ingredients” may appear on its packaging.

Many local produce stands boast their organic claim.

But are organic foods really better for the consumer? “We have no idea!” answers Gabriella Petrick, the assistant professor of food studies at New York University. “It depends on how they are produced, when they are produced, and how they are stored.” In terms of conventional versus organic farming, there is no real scientific data that says one method is superior to the other, stated Petrick.

Yet, studies are linking non-organic practices to certain health risks, such as cancer.  In May 2010 a study published in Pediatrics found that attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was more prevalent in children who were exposed to certain pesticides, prohibited in organic production. “There is not a study that says if you eat organic you are going to be healthy,” said Haumann. “But there are some cancer centers, where in their facilities they recommend to their patients that they eat organic.”

Cynics of the organic farming trend say that prices of organic foods are so high, making them inaccessible to lower economic classes. “Organic tends to be more exclusive and based on what your socioeconomic status is,” said Petrick. “What we are seeing now is reflective of that fundamental inequality, between the have and the have-not.”

Enthusiasts argue that this is a common misconception about organic products, and that there are ways to eat organically without paying extravagant prices. “There are discount stores where you can buy organic,” confirms Haumann. “If you shop around you can get really good deals on organic products.” For Haumann the practice of buying organically is beneficial to a large portion of the population. “It’s really a win-win situation,” she said. “You’re helping the farmers produce the right way, and you are helping the soil. Because once the soil is depleted its really hard to bring it back.”

Customers get to know their organic producers at a farmers market.

While the consumer might not be paying high prices for conventionally produced goods in the supermarket, they will eventually be feeling the longterm effects of these choices. “When you buy organic products, you are paying the true cost of the food,” says Haumann. “When you buy non-organic products, there are hidden costs which everyone will pay indirectly—they include damage to water sources, damage to soil resources, damage to wildlife and ecosystem biodiversity, and damage to human health from such things as exposure to pesticides.”

Supporters of organic farming say that “price” might be just an excuse. Usually there is a deeper reason as to why people aren’t buying organic. “Generally they don’t place health as a very high priority,” suggests Doug Tedeschi, creator of the Organaholic.com. According to Tedeschi, if people are not actively choosing to live healthier lifestyles, which includes going to the gym, getting enough sleep, and taking care of the body, then they probably aren’t motivated to make such a lifestyle change.

Despite the recession many people are choosing to eat organically. “People still want food, and although people are being really careful with what they are spending, they want to spend it on good food,” say Lisa Kerschner of North Star Orchard in Pennsylvania. In 2009 the total United States organic consumer product sales grew 5.3 percent, according to the Organic Trade Association’s 2010 Organic Industry Survey.

“Its not a fad,” says Haumann of the expanding organic food industry.”It’s continuing to grow.”

Now let’s hear what you think!

Proposed Bloomberg Budget Cuts Shake Senior Centers

Annette Nunez’s hand trembles as her finger goes down the hit list of the 110 senior centers that might be closed on April 1st, as part of Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed Title XX budget cuts. She sits among more than 100 other senior citizens at Woodstock Senior Center. Some finish off their lunches, some crochet over their Anti-Title XX  budget cuts petitions, and others flip nervously through packets of paper listing numbers of assembly men, and council members.  On the front of each packet is typed, boldly, “WE ARE ON THE LIST.”

Mr Jullian looks over the list of senior centers that might be closed

The threat of budget cuts of up to $27 Million has left many New York City senior centers in a state of panic. According to Council of Senior Centers and Services of New York City, over 10,000 seniors would lose their senior centers, which provide services like housing, meals, legal aid, recreational activities, counseling and benefit assistance that they would otherwise not be able to afford.

“Social security checks are not going up, and our children don’t have the resources that these centers have. Some of us are living on the poverty level. This is a time when we need our meals the most,” said Nunez, a retired social worker.

Like many senior centers that may be closed down, Woodstock Senior Center provides affordable meals for seniors, much cheaper than those they would have to buy if the centers close. Woodstock Senior Center charges $1 to $1.50 per meal.

“This is an upsetting situation for people who have meals on wheels. If we take that away from them, they will have no access to real meals, and real facilities. You will not believe some of the things I see. People feed some of these meals to their families. Some of these people can’t heat them up in their homes, they are too poor,” said Maggie Morton, a resident at Woodstock Senior Center.

Bill Sattan shows some recent craft work

Many seniors fear that the closings will eradicate social senior communities that have established themselves for decades around the senior centers. “I come here and my spirit is uplifted. Senior centers are so vital to our community. So many people have nothing else left in their lives, ” said 70 year old Bill Sattan, who has been directing the arts and crafts activities at Woodstock Senior Center for 12 years.

Others lament that a large gap will be left in their lives with the disappearance of the senior centers that have been part of them for so many years. “My family will go crazy. They see the results when I go to the center, I am full of life. Some people at my age just stay in the house all day,” said 84 year old Hester Moyi, who is a member of the Hamilton Senior Center. “If they cut the programs, half my life is out.”

The closings will not only wipe out social circles but staff jobs at the senior centers. “It’s horrible what they are doing to staff members. These centers are going to lose people that have been working there for years. Here there will be about fifteen staff members cut,” said 33 year old Antonio Marti, director of Woodstock Senior Center, who might also lose his job.

The budget cut threats have left many furious with Town Hall. Assembly woman Linda Rosenthal has been one of many to express outrage and to hold talks at senior centers against the proposed Title XX budget cuts. “Tell Mayor Bloomberg to get that target off our backs. I am embarrassed of our leaders. Maybe they need more common sense at Town Hall,” she said, to a room full of senior citizens at Hamilton Senior Center.

The proposed budget cuts have roused many senior citizens to stand up against the bill by signing petitions and calling politicians. More talks have been scheduled around the city, and some still hope that their actions will enable their voices to be heard. “We’d like to see something we ask for happen for once,” said Terri Pepe, a senior citizen at Hamilton Senior Center. “So we can trust somebody.”

Minority Modeling Madness

Another blonde, blue-eyed girl struts down the runway. Another blonde, blue-eyed girl is told that she has been booked for yet another advertising campaign. Another minority model sits at home and waits for her agent to give her a call that may never come.

Minorities have always been put on the backburner. Try to find them in a significant quantity on major college campuses, in a political office or working as a top executive of some lucrative fortune 500 company. Finished looking already? In the fashion industry, the absence of models that are minorities is extremely evident, especially in a world where the camera lens captures everything. The color fades into a sea of white, merely because it’s what every other designer is doing.

“I started modeling around three or four for Nordstrom. The kids that I modeled with were all white and me and my brother were like the black kids,” said Deonna Pinkerton, a bi-racial former model of a top 10 modeling agency.

Even today, there are only a select few girls of any race that receive significant work. The industry will have its top two or three black and Asian girls that are the hot ethnic girls of the moment. The majority of designers then choose one to put in their show amongst an army of white girls.

From left to right: Jourdan Dunn, Chanel Iman, Liu Wei, Shu Pei Qin

“Racism is very blatant in the industry. They think the collection will be better represented by one race, said Jake Flanagin, Fashion Editor of the Washington Square News.

The competition between minorities becomes fierce knowing that the demand for them is extremely low. Models know what they are getting themselves into when they walk into castings.

“If we see other black girls at castings we know that that’s our competition and that they are only going to pick one of us,” said Pinkerton.

Not only are minorities handicapped in castings, but before they even step foot in the door to become signed with an agency, a hurdle is placed in front of them.

“If you notice on the boards of modeling agencies, you will see about fifty white girls who all look the same, but when I would walk in they would tell me ‘oh, we already have a girl like you,’” said Pinkerton. “They could have fifty white girls, but two girls who were minorities wouldn’t work?!”

While this trend in the fashion industry of blotting out the color still persists, there is a generation of creative directors, photographers, and fashion editors being nurtured who want the industry to change. This group of people will be responsible for the industry to become more about capability than ethnicity.

“If the girl has a good look and a good attitude, I don’t care what race she is,” said Valerie Chan, Fashion Director of New York University’s fashion magazine NYChic. I look at the girl on an individual basis and me being a minority I am really interested in using someone who is capable of doing the job.

Duel to the Death, Literature Style

by KAITLYN MEADE

Red filters obscure the lights beaming down on the trendy New York club. Before the show, the MC stands on stage dressed in an impeccable suit, tie askew, making jokes to the crowd. The adrenaline is running high. No, this is not a rave or even an indie concert; it is a Literary Death Match.

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Four authors read their original works in front of an audience and a panel of judges at the Greenwich Village’s (Le) Poisson Rouge. The readings were judged based on literary merit and stage presence. And the amount of expletives onstage, extra points being awarded for their spontaneous use. The 3 judges mixed appreciative commentary with humor, sometimes forgoing literary criticism in favor of crowd pleasing jokes.

Broadway star and self-proclaimed vampire slayer, Susan Blackwell, who commented on the performance aspect of each reading, blended her judgment with entertainment. “They have a policy that this is not supposed to be like Simon Cowell on American Idol,” she said, adding, “This is supportive. You have to keep it positive. They encouraged fun non sequiturs.” The result was something that resembled a contest in format, a comedy routine in atmosphere, and a poetry slam type read.

As expected of a death match, the consequences for going violating the rules were very serious. As soon as a contestant passed the time limit, an assistant armed with a plastic cannon was allowed to pelt him or her with foam darts.

Any literary merit degenerated after the finalists were chosen. The two went head to head in a bizarre charades showdown where audience members came onto the stage to represent different types of weather, a reference to Forecast, the book release featured by LDM that night.

Morgan Meis, editor of 3 Quarks Daily and president of the arts collective Flux Factory, won for his poem about a European train. He was not put off at all by the spectacle of it all. “Reading your work can feel so pretentious and serious. It was a nice, pretty fresh way to make the event fun and accessible so people don’t feel so much concern,” he said.

(Le) Poisson Rouge provided the drinks and the atmosphere necessary to create the event’s eccentricity. A spokesperson for the venue said there are many events coming up that try to bring back some fading culture and make it fun. “We try to be open to emerging artists and provide a space where artists can take chances and connect with an audience that wants that kind of risk taking and adventurous programming. We like to think that we’re really providing a space for artists to hang out, support each other, and grow themselves.” For more events in New York City, check out metromix New York.

When asked if he thought the event was a good sounding board for new work, Morgan Meis denied it, saying, “I don’t like sounding boards. [They] scare me.” Instead, he called it an opportunity, a way for people to get together and enjoy a reading with very little pressure.

The next event, the 5th anniversary of the New York series, is scheduled for March 10th at Cameo Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Watch an example of LDM below, courtesy of Opium Magazine.

LDM episode 20

As the 2011 TED Conference Closes, Reflection Takes Over

By Sonia Weiser

Eighteen minutes. That’s the length of a shower, a lunch break or the majority of a sitcom. Eighteen minutes. And that’s about the time one of the fifty speakers at the TED conference gets to prove that they are one of the most ingenious, influential and intelligent people in the fields of technology, entertainment and design alive and that they have “ideas worth spreading.”

Just finishing up their 2011 conference, the nonprofit, TED, hosts two main conferences in California devoted to spreading new and revolutionary ideas on a global scale. Besides the 1000 plus actual attendees, the lectures are attended virtually as well as after the conference in the form of video TEDTalks. With subtitles available in 80 languages and a more involved rating scale than the usual thumbs up or down (a talk can be marked with positives such as “jaw dropping” and “beautiful” or negatives like “obnoxious” and “longwinded”) TED is clearly meant for the world stage. “The TED community is a wonderful, global incubator for ideas,” said Edward Hall, a past speaker at TEDxGotham.

Along with the yearly conference and multiple side conferences, TED presents the possibility of a TEDx event, an independently run and organized event that complies with the TED rules and regulations in exchange for the license to use the TED name.

Occurring on every continent at any given time, TEDx events embody the same goals as the TED conference, but “have a lot more freedom,” explained Hall.

While some TEDx events mirror the set up of the actual conference or shrink it down to fit into one day, others, like TEDxNewYork use the type of creativity the nonprofit values to come up with a new plan.

For Chel O’Reilly, one of TEDxNewYork’s organizers, TED isn’t just about “[bringing] in amazing speakers to blow our minds,” she explained. “[It’s also] about awesome conversations you have after the talk.” Noting that the lectures often prompted attendees to “stay up late talking to people who are as interested as [them],” O’Reilly decided to use that aspect of the day as the jumping off point for her model.

See O’Reilly explain TEDxNewYork.

With TEDx events popping up everywhere, it was only a matter of time before an NYU student began the process of bringing TEDx to Washington Square. Along with sophomore, Katherine Hensley, sophomore Vishrut Kanoria is working to create TEDxNYU for 2012.

Citing Benjamin Zander and this year’s TED Prize winner, JR’s, talks as two of his favorites, Kanoria is looking for speakers “who can share a good story about themselves or something they’ve observed. We want someone who has made a meaningful change in this world in his or her particular field.” Watch Benjamin Zander discuss music and passion and JR accept the TED 2011 prize

By reaching out to NYU alumni and faculty, Kanoria hopes to put together a full conference that focuses on a theme relevant to the time and to the NYU student body. Halls’ advice? “Find kick-ass alumni who harken to NYU’s spirit” but also “have a talk where students can participate and become speakers.”

Like Zander said in his twenty minute TEDTalk, “my job is to awaken possibility in other people.” The same can be said for TED.

To read more about TED and watch other TEDTalks, visit their website ted.com. Make sure to check out the 2007 TV documentary The Future We Will Create:Inside the World Of Ted on Netflix:Watch Instantly