Protesters gather near the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building to call for more aid to be sent to storm-stricken Puerto Rico. Photo by Amy Zahn
As Puerto Rico continues to feel the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, New Yorkers with ties to the island are experiencing a mounting sense of desperation, not knowing how to help, and in many cases, unable to contact their loved ones at all.
“It’s so desperate. We are all anxious,” said Puerto-Rican born New York resident Juan Recondo at a demonstration to rally support for the island yesterday. “My wife is crying all the time and I completely understand — she hasn’t spoken to her brother for more than a week.”
Recondo, like many of his fellow demonstrators, feels paralyzed in the wake of the storm’s destruction. At least 16 people have died, and millions are without power, clean water and gas, according to a CNN report.
“There’s no way we can help,” Recondo said. “Our hands are tied. This is the only way, trying to get involved in this type of movement.”
Recondo, along with over a hundred other protesters, gathered in Lower Manhattan to call for more aid to be sent to Puerto Rico and to condemn what they see as a slow response to the disaster by the U.S. government.
“I haven’t heard from my family at all, my whole family,” said protester Anthony Zayas, wrapped in a Puerto Rican flag. Aside from his mother, who lives in New Jersey, Zayas’ entire family is in Puerto Rico.
The state of New York is home to over a million people who identify as Puerto Rican, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the largest number in any state. There are over 5 million Puerto Ricans on the mainland U.S. in total, making them one of the largest Latino groups in the country, second only to Mexicans.
“People are praising Trump, but you know what? He did it too late. It should have been done immediately,” Zayas said, referring to Donald Trump’s temporary waiver of the Jones Act last week, eight days after the storm hit. “We’re American citizens, too.”
The Jones Act, passed in 1920, requires all ships transporting goods between U.S. ports to be built by Americans, and primarily manned by them. Trump lifted it for 10 days to facilitate shipments to the storm-ravaged island.
But despite the difficulties of assisting 3.4 million people — the population of Puerto Rico — there are ways to tailor relief efforts to be as helpful as possible, or at least avoid making things worse unintentionally.
According to Tony Morain, communications director for Direct Relief, a nonprofit that provides medications to hospitals and other health centers in disaster areas, it’s important for people to be mindful about the kinds of supplies they send.
In natural disasters, he said, it’s common for a shortage of truck drivers to combine with an influx of supplies trying to reach an area, creating a bottleneck in aid transport. After the Haiti earthquake in 2010, Morain explained that well-meaning people sent nonessential items like stuffed animals and toys, which can clog up ports and slow the distribution of life-saving supplies.
Morain also advised against sending winter clothes, since Puerto Rico has been experiencing high temperatures. Water, food, gas and medicine are the essentials, he said.
As far as longer term help goes, Morain thinks awareness is Puerto Rico’s best bet at recovery.
“Keep this in the news,” he said. “It’s always the case that first people talk about the wind speed of the storm, and then they show palm trees swaying, and then things go dark for a bit because there’s no communication, and then we start hearing stories about how devastating the first response search and rescue is … and then it becomes communities that have been forgotten.”
Puerto Rican Americans like protester Robert Perez, whose aunt and sister are stuck on the island, are unlikely to forget anytime soon, and he hopes the government won’t either.
“After the pressure’s put on the government, maybe Mr. Trump will do something,” he said.
Protestors marching for Puerto Rico outside of the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building yesterday. Photo by Monay Robinson
Protesters gathered outside the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building yesterday to express their anger over the U.S. government’s slow response in aiding Puerto Rican victims of Hurricane Maria.
Red, white and blue Puerto Rican flags were waved along with signs that read “No American should be hungry” and “Rise up Puerto Rico.” The protesters marched in a circle and chanted, “Eight days and still we wait,” “Abolish the debt” and “Abolish the Jones Act.”
The Jones Act requires items from the U.S. to be shipped on American-owned and operated ships. According to CNN Money, this act has caused it to be “twice as expensive to ship things” from the U.S. to Puerto Rico. It was temporarily suspended yesterday, eight days after the hurricane destroyed the island, which is a US commonwealth and whose residents are American citizens.
Hurricane Maria first hit Puerto Rico the morning of Sept. 20th with powerful winds reaching up to 140 mph. Residents were left without power, water, food and shelter.
Ambar Martinez, 33, of Brooklyn, attended the rally with her mother. They have family living on the southwest part of the island and waited six days to hear from them. She found out her grandmother lost the roof to her house and everything inside, including sofas, mattresses and beds, was destroyed.
“I think he (Donald Trump) is not giving it any importance,” Martinez said. “It is not important to him and he would rather spend his time on the internet bashing people over other topics.”
Janette Messina of Brooklyn attended the rally with her daughter. She wore a white hat with a black band that read “Puerto Rico.”
“We are here today to show the administration that they cannot forget about our people in Puerto Rico,” she said. “They are taking their time. They are treating us like second world citizens and we are U.S. citizens.”
Messina’s parents are from Puerto Rico and she currently has family there. She was able to contact some of her family through a texting app.
“One of them texted me today and we were ecstatic,” she said. “ I assured her that we are helping. Don’t think that you are alone. You may not hear us, but please feel us.”
Messina said even though her family is doing badly, they are still alive. She has yet to be able to reach all of her family..
“We cry every day,” Messina said. “We try them every day. In my heart and in my soul, I believe they are alive. But my heart cannot tell me if their house is still there.”
Erica Hernandez, 35 of East Harlem, is trying to spread awareness of the living tragedy in Puerto Rico.
“Puerto Rico is my motherland,” Hernandez said. “It’s where my parents were born. It’s where I’m from and the island where I got married. It means the world to me.”
She has donated supplies and does not know what else to do to help.
“Right now we feel very helpless,” she said through tears. “I don’t know what else I can do. I came here to use my voice because that’s the only thing I know to do right now.”
A group of NYC council members knelt on the steps of City Hall yesterday. The action was a show of solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players who are protesting police brutality and racial injustice in America. Photo by Farnoush Amiri
Donning a black “IAmWithKap” t-shirt under a striped fitted blazer while holding up a red San Francisco 49ers jersey with Colin Kaepernick’s name and number inscribed on the back, Councilman Jumaane D. Williams (D-Brooklyn) led a group of council members in a “Kneel In” on the steps of City Hall yesterday morning, just days after President Trump called out demonstrations in the NFL.
The group of about 15 city officials joined together to display unity against the president’s tweets, which called the action of kneeling during the presentation of the National Anthem a “disrespect of our country,” and suggested that the NFL owners should get any “son of a bitch,” who doesn’t stand off the field.
“This here today was a protest,” council member Inez Barron (D-Brooklyn) said. “It was perhaps silent but it speaks volume in the action we are taking.”
This form of protest began back in 2016, when Kaepernick chose to kneel during the National Anthem in protest of the recent rise of police brutality against African-Americans in the US. The now free agent became the league’s unofficial symbol for the cause for police reform and civil rights for minorities.
“Protesting is probably the most American thing that one can do,” Williams said. “It is in fact the only thing that has ever propelled this country to move forward. Everything we have enjoyed from this country has come from protesting.”
The city officials demonstrating the right to protest also brought light to the lack of attention the president is directing toward Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. They said his focus on NFL players’ right to protest is a distraction from more pressing concerns. One council member even alluded to racism being the reason for the president’s hesitation to devote more attention to the Caribbean island.
“The struggle for racial justice, which we are honoring by taking a knee today, is not narrowing about policing because obviously we have systematic racism in our housing, segregation in schooling and now even in our hurricane relief response,” Councilman Brett Lander (D-Brooklyn) said.
Lander, along with Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Queens,) were just a few of the leaders who showed support for their minority colleagues whose cause they said they are able to empathize with.
“I stand as an ally. Obviously I am not a person of color, but I feel that white people, myself included, need to stand up for this cause and need to remember how it all started, which is an action against police brutality and the experience that people of color experience, oftentimes at the hands of police,” Dromm said to the crowd outside City Hall.
Andy King (D-Bronx,) also believes that the president and others who are not directly affected have an obligation to the ones who are.
“I will ask Donald Trump, live a day in a black man’s shoes, live a day in a Hispanic’s shoes, you’ll have different perspective of the world because you were born with a spoon in your mouth,” King said.
For African American councilmembers, this cause is a personal one, but they know that not unlike the dozens of other civil rights marches and causes that have occurred in this country, this one will also begin and end with the act of nonviolent protest.
“When this started months ago, many of us made it clear that this was not about the flag, this is not about patriotism,” Williams said. “This is about a system of supremacy, a system of oppressive policy that has been around a long time, and many people have tried to use patriotism to stop people from protesting and we’ve said that that will not last.”
Staff and children hold hands during a sports program class. Photo by Michael Furino.
Every Saturday for the past four months, Michael Sforza, 11, spends his morning at Be the Best Sport, track and field lessons in Port Washington, Long Island. Running, leaping and landing on two feet doesn’t seem difficult for most, but for Sforza, spending 45 minutes at the Port Washington Tennis Academy, running back and forth to constantly perfect his form is an accomplishment his father couldn’t be more proud of.
Sforza enjoys sports, video games, the internet and exercising, but what differentiates him from most children his age is that he has autism. Sforza was diagnosed when he was 20 months old. His father, Nick Sforza said that although his son likes to be at home on the computer, this program, allows Sforza to get out of the house and spend time doing what he loves to do, run.
About six years ago, Nick Sforza heard about the sports organization for special needs children in Nassau County, which offers an array of programs ranging from soccer, basketball, track and field and others.
Edgar Sanchez, the Sports Program Director, said that although the organization is sports oriented, children also learn how to improve their listening skills and social functioning.
“One of the kids that we had in the previous class, he would walk around flailing his arms, falling on the ground, said Sanchez. “Any bit of sensory stimulation that was too much for him, he couldn’t handle it, and now, he comes in and he knows what’s expected out of him. He’s able to control his emotions so much more.”
Since 2009 Be the Best Sport has been providing Nassau County with sport programs for special needs adults and children. The organization aims to strengthen their motor, cognitive, and social skills.
The CDC reported that in 2016 nearly one in 68 children in the U.S. have autism.
Ameera Ullah, 14, who has microcephaly, a condition where the brain develops abnormally.also participates in the program. Her father, Sayeed Ullah, said that there are three components that all humans need to benefit your life.
“Sports to give strength, music for amusement and education for tools of success,” he said. “These three elements are very important in human life.”
When Ameera was one and a half years old, her father noticed something was wrong when she was only crawling. A neurologist determined that Ameera had microcephaly, now, at 14, Ameera’s brain functions like a 3 year old.
Whether or not the town or county provides sports programs for special needs children, Sayeed Ullah believes that doesn’t give an excuse for parents to overlook their children’s needs.
“Some towns don’t have it,” he said. “It doesn’t mean the parents should sit on the couch. Physical fitness is very important for making your mind feel fresh and healthy. If the community doesn’t provide it, you as a parent need to move forward, look forward.”
Nick Sforza said he is grateful that his son has sports in his life.
“I think the hardest thing for a parent with a child on the spectrum is there aren’t enough things to do for them,” said Nick Sforza as he smiled while watching his son run his last lap around the track. “To have the ability to do this with him, it means more than anything.”
The Dakota Access Pipeline project has been a strongly opposed development for the past 18 months. It would create a new underground oil pipeline designed to carry roughly 470,000 barrels of oil across 1,172 miles of land per day. The pipeline would pass through four Midwest states – North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois – connecting Bakken and Three Forks oil production areas in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois.
The most active opposition has come from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Sections of the pipeline would cut directly through sacred holy ground and potentially damage their water supply, so protestors have been drawn to the land to stop construction. Many camping at Standing Rock have faced attack dogs, pepper spray, and even fires being set to camp grounds.
Social media users across the nation took to action with the hashtag, #NoDAPL. Towards the end of last month, demonstrators in North Dakota requested Facebook users to check-in at Standing Rock. This was done in an effort to create a cyber smokescreen, and prevent local law enforcement from using the social media platform to target protestors. This past week, New York joined the fight.
Keith Claxton has been attending the race for the five years in a row. A person he met on the sideline gave him the sign, but Claxton cheers for everybody.” – Photo by Lisa Setyon
For the fifth year in a row, Keith Claxton, 53, of Eastchester Road in the Bronx, stood near the Willis Avenue Bridge encouraging the runners soaked in sweat to finish the race.
“I love the sport and I think it is something awesome that people run 26.2 miles,” Claxton said. “I just come to show my support for them. It is the least I can do.”
Today , 21 miles away from the finish line, Claxton, an accountant originally from the Virgin Islands, was among the thousands of spectators, waving, cheering and pushing the runners to get through the Bronx. Every year Claxton arrives at 8 a.m. and stands by himself, in a red track jacket, grey sweatpants and Nike sneakers.
While most of the other spectators are in groups and at the bridge to support a friend or family member, Claxton is there to support everyone.
“I cheer the last person to come across so I’m going to be here until the night,” Claxton said. “It just gives me a good feeling to be here, to be able to cheer them on, because, if they can run 26.2 miles, what is it for me to just turn up here and cheer?”
Claxton has lived in the Bronx for the past 25 years. For him, having the marathon in his neighborhood is also a way to add color to an area that has often been discredited.
“It gives people an opportunity to see a little part of the Bronx,” Claxton said. “I wish they could have gone more inside the Bronx so they get a better understanding of what the Bronx is.”
Claxton also sees it as a good way to gather communities together.
“Young, old, black, white, all nationalities are here,” Claxton said. “A sport like this bring everyone together. It just supports one cause, no division, just a marathon.”
Ten years ago Claxton used to run. But with a new job and taking care of his two children, Claxton stopped. But as he watched runners run past him, Claxton was envious and felt it was time for him to run again.
“I got caught up with just life,” Claxton said. “Sometimes you tend to put your hobbies on hold just to make a living. Now my two boys are 29 and 22. I feel like it is just time for me to go back out there and do me.”
His goal for next year is to run the marathon.
“My part right now is just to cheer,” he said “Hopefully next year, I’ll be running and I’ll have someone to cheer for me so I’m excited about it.”
If Claxton was looking forward to attending the marathon, the highlight of his day was seeing marathon winner May’s Keitany’s performance.
“She was sprinting and killed the hill in a sprint,” Claxton said. “I almost didn’t even see her, nobody was nowhere close, she really dominated the field this year. This a repeat for her, the third times she wins that in a row, it’s a big deal.”
Batman fans Bill Spinelli, left, and Anthony Ceddia, right, wait in a block-long line in Ryders Alley to meet the creators of Batman. They were chosen in a raffle by Midtown Comics to celebrate Batman day. Photo by Sophie Herbut
Everyone loves Batman. He has managed to keep his swagger for 77 years. But as times have changed, Batman has remained a straight, rich white male who transcended the death of his parents by becoming a straight, rich white man in a bat suit.
Some fans are longing for a change.
“I feel comics in general have this problem,” said Thomas Tremberger from Midwood, Brooklyn, about the lack of diversity in lead comic book characters. “It’s so hard to get people invested in [more diverse] characters that until pretty recently [DC comics] didn’t have any faith in.”
Longtime fans of the character waited outside of Midtown Comics yesterday on DC Comic’s Batman Day, to meet the creators of Batman. The line was a block long hours before it began.
Some fans want to keep Batman straight and white.
“There’s room for change without having to change the characters themselves,” Anthony Ceddia of Crown Heights, Brooklyn said.
The DC Universe is a web of multiple fictional worlds and dimensions. They’ve used this system to create new diverse characters like a Muslim Green Lantern, black Batwing, and a transgender wedding in Batgirl.
“They’ve introduced a lot of new characters, a lot of diversity, and each character is amazing in their own right and at the same time they’ve never had to change Batman,” Ceddia said. “Which is what I think is great about it.”
These diverse characters have their own stories that run parallel to the original. But these minority characters don’t replace the old characters and they rarely break into the mainstream of movies and television like the Batman has done time and again.
“It’s not really the fans’ fault if they’re not really buying stuff because it hard to be invested in [a new character],” Tremberger said. “You have to sort of build from the ground up to get characters to be like, beloved.”
Tremberger did not think DC’s approach to diversity worked because it kept the minority characters separate and made it difficult for fans to attach themselves to them.
“There’s always room for diversity,” said Bill Spinelli of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. “However, I’d be happy with [DC] going the opposite route of what Marvel’s doing where they need to put diversity into characters that are long established and alienate [the] fan base.”
Marvel, on the other hand, has been making their main characters more diverse. They replaced Thor with a female and Iron Man with a young black woman.
“When you’re introducing new characters, you’re always going to have people getting paranoid about us ruining their childhood,” Marvel writer, Brian Michael Bendis, told Time.
Spinelli preferred DC’s approach to diversifying its characters by creating separate universes and having those gain as much popularity as the original and widely known characters. He said this was the best way to bring in more fans without angering existing fans.
“Is separate but equal ever equal?” Tremberger retorted.
Some fans were more attached to Batman’s character than his appearance.
“[If DC] change[s] him,” said Keith Martinez of Crown Heights, “bring in someone new—a girl maybe—that would be pretty awesome. Some people overthink it a lot. If they change the color of his skin, it still has the same impact.”