Monthly Archives: May 2010

GABRIELA BARARATA


Gabriela Barata, one of the participants in the Sound Project workshop at the Sunnyside Library


The view from Gabriela’s Sunnyside bedroom window

“And there you are, Sunnyside! You are number three!”

“I wake up early in the morning, up at 5:00 AM, when the break of dawn is coming through my window. I brush my teeth, fix my hair and do my morning prayers (I’m Buddhist), I put on my oversized headphones. On my way to the train station I pass Dunkin Donuts. There is always a line, no matter the time of the day. I take the 7 train to Midtown Manhattan, where I work as a hostess at a Greek Diner. I spend nine hours of my day, six days a week there, but I think about coming back to my neighborhood and how much I like it there almost all the time.

“On this particular morning I have a cup of coffee and read New York Magazine. I come across an article about the best neighborhoods in New York City. And there you are, Sunnyside! You are number three!

“Automatically my competitive side kicks in, and I start showing the article to my coworkers. Some of the waitresses are Greek and live in Astoria. They think their neighborhood is better than Sunnyside, even though Astoria only makes number eleven on the list.

“On my way back to Sunnyside I start making a list of things I have to do when I get home. One of them is doing my laundry, one of my most dreadful duties, but there is no escape. It’s either doing laundry today or buying new clothes tomorrow. When I get off the train, I see the “churro lady” (churros are pastries that look similar to cannolis from South and Central America). Across the street is the Taco truck. Yummy, me love some taco please! The fruit guy is also there. I say ‘hi’ and think about how these images of people on the street make Sunnyside familiar to me.

“As I take my laundry out of the dryer, I notice that all the dryers are very old but still function very well. I was reading the ads on the board out of boredom, when I notice a flyer advertising “The Sunnyside Sound Project.” I take some pictures with my camera phone and decide to start writing about my day. I think about what makes a neighborhood good. There are many factors, but the most important one is its people. Its people make a neighborhood happy, pleasant and successful. While the buildings and the scenery of a city can be breathtaking, it is the people who make a neighborhood valuable. People who own small businesses and who don’t give up, despite the crazy economy and terrorist threats. People who are raising their family here, creating new value for the next generation. I particularly love this neighborhood because it is my little piece of the world. It is where I come to relax after a hard day of work.”

by Gabriela Bararata

Gabriela was interviewed by Tristian Goik. She talks about her little “battle of neighborhoods” after a recent article in New York Magazine rated Sunnyside the third best place to live in New York.

Listen to Gabriela’s interview

LEONORE LANZILLOTTI


Leonore took part in a special edition of the Sunnyside Sound Project at the Sunnyside Library.

“I could have moved many times, but I can’t find another Sunnyside.”

Leonore Lanzillotti, who was born and raised in Sunnyside, has more stories about the neighborhood than this website can hold. An actress and singer, Leonore’s first performance took place at P.S. 125, where she starred in the play Little Women. Back then she had no acting aspirations; she wanted to become either a police woman or join the Navy. “I loved uniforms,” she said.Leonore knows about every famous and infamous personality who has ever lived in Sunnyside. (Plagues confirm that jazz legend Bix Beiderbecker and actress Judy Holliday, who also attended P.S. 125, lived just north of Queens Boulevard; but the rumor that Gary Cooper and Fidel Castro resided in Sunnyside could not be confirmed.)Leonore remembers Sunnyside’s farms housing horses and even camels. On 41st Street Sunnyside residents picked up fresh eggs and three blocks West on 44th Street—where Wendy’s is today—they cheered and boo’ed at the Golden Gloves boxing competitions.Asked what she considers special about Sunnyside, Leonore responds, “Everything. I could have moved many times, but I can’t find another Sunnyside.”

In the interview, conducted by Paula Hostetter, Leonore talks about the romantic Saturday night dances at the park on 43rd Street and Greenpoint Avenue. After the war, men and women would dress up in gowns and tuxedos to listen and dance to the music of big bands. Children would dance in Hawaiian and Scottish costumes, competing with children from other parks.

Listen to Leonore’s interview

JULIE WU

“It’s like my home”

When Julie Wu isn’t hemming pants, making curtains, tapering skirts, exchanging zippers or accepting clothes for dry cleaning, she has coffee and chats with her husband and the friends who come to visit her. “I’m still working because I love my store. I love Sunnyside. It’s like family,” says Julie, a Taiwanese immigrant who has worked as a tailor in Sunnyside since 1979. Although she spends 13 hours a day in her store on 43rd Avenue, often seven days a week, work rarely feels like work. “It’s like my home,” she says matter-of-factly. “People say, ‘You must be tired!’ But I feel so happy every day.”

To her customers, many of the challenges Julie faces are invisible. She is currently experiencing her toughest time yet. While costs associated with the store have risen—the rent, for example, has increased from $250 to over $1,600—her alteration fees have remained almost the same.

But not even the robber who once ordered her to empty the cash register was able to foul her spirit. “You know,” Julie chided the young man, “I work very hard for my money.” Remembering the incident, she laughs. “So he dropped the quarters and left.”

Shortly after her arrival in New York Julie started out as an apprentice at Band’s Cleaners, named after the Jewish couple who then owned the business. She didn’t even know how to sew a button and still vividly remembers the first time she hemmed a pair of pants and almost stitched two of her fingers together. Yet after two months, Julie convinced the owners to sell her the store for $2,000.

Initially Julie had a lot of older Jewish customers who asked her to take in or let out their worn clothes as they gained or lost weight. Her new immigrant customers, on the other hand, may ask her to hem three pairs of brand new jeans at once.

Before Julie came to New York, she lived with her sister in Spain for four years and is fluent in Spanish. “When I left Spain, I didn’t know I had such a treasure in my life,” she says, adding her Latin American customers sometimes laugh at her Spanish because her accent—European Spanish mixed with a Taiwanese accent. But overall they appreciate to be able to convey to her the alterations they wish her to perform in their native tongue.

Listen to Julie’s interview

TONY ROHLING


Tony Rohling next to a mailbox, one of many targets of vandals


Awaiting clean-up: The Mosque on Skillman Avenue

“The solution is to clean up graffiti as soon as it appears” 

Researching methods to create a graffiti-free Sunnyside, Tony Rohling and the members of his court association in Sunnyside Gardens came across a successful Australian model.“The solution for graffiti isn’t putting a police car on every corner 24/7,” Tony explains. “The solution is to clean up graffiti as soon as it appears. Once the vandals realize that their work isn’t tolerated in this community, they won’t do it anymore.”The group’s first collaborative graffiti clean-up event eight years ago was an instant success. More than 40 people showed up, cleaning far more than the anticipated two blocks on Skillman Avenue.The nonprofit organization Sunnyside United was born and began collaborating with the local police department, businesses, religious organizations, government officials, merchants and the mayor’s anti-graffiti taskforce. Today Sunnyside United welcomes between 75 and 100 volunteers to each of their biannual clean-up events, in which 40 neighborhood blocks are cleaned.

“But the follow-up work is just as important,” says Tony. That’s why he recruits residents and merchants to maintain lampposts, store gates and walls, providing them with brushes, paint and chemicals, and visits local schools to educate students.

The next clean-up event is on May 15, 2010 at 10:00 AM. Volunteers will meet in front of the Sunnyside Reformed Church on Skillman Avenue and 48th Street.

In the podcast, Tony talks about society’s mixed message regarding graffiti, his clean-up methods, the Australian model his group reproduced and the many ways to get involved.

Listen to Tony’s interview

FRED ROBLES


Fred from ConEd“I have some customers who have snacks ready for me.”When Federico “Fred” Robles knocks on our door we know it’s that time again—time for the monthly ConEd meter reading. Fred’s route stretches along 47th Street between Queens Boulevard and 39th Avenue and includes more than 700 meters. While he chose to work for ConEd because of the possibilities it offered for advancement, his job has several other perks. Touring 21 different Queens neighborhoods each month, he is exposed to foreign cultures and gets a peek at people’s basements. Fred says hasn’t learned any new languages on our block, but does learn some Polish here and there by asking his Ridgewood customers, “How do you say in Polish, ‘I’m here to read the light’?”

On his routes Fred sometimes encounters angry people who blame him for their high utility bills. But, he says, “You really can’t take it to heart. You don’t know what they are going through. And you’ve got to remember: you are the face of the company.” For the most part, though, Fred, who lives with his wife and 15-month-old son in Throgs Neck in the Bronx, likes to interact with his customers. If they were sick the month before, he inquires about their wellbeing, and some customers look forward to his visit in return.

“I have customers who mark it on their calendars and say to me ‘I’m happy to see you this month,’ “ he says. “I have some customers who have snacks ready for me: Cookies in a bag.”

Fred’s feet often hurt and his eight-hour workday can be taxing, particularly when it is freezing or raining. Yet he plans to continue his Sunnyside route for another two years before trying to get a managerial position. I suggest we try to keep Fred for as long as possible. Teach him some of our languages—Chinese, German, Spanish, Irish and Hindi, for example—and please have some cookies ready when he knocks on your door!

In the podcast, Fred talks about what he sees, hears and smells in people’s basements and, of course, about cookies.

Listen to Fred’s interview