Friday, November 7, 2008

A Downturn Begins

Published: November 7, 2008

EVEN though the average price for a Manhattan apartment, at $1.5 million, is higher than it was a year ago, some New York neighborhoods have already started to feel the downward tug that has wrenched the housing market elsewhere in the nation.

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DigitalGlobe, via Google Earth
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DigitalGlobe, via Google Earth

Median prices in Harlem and East Harlem were down nearly 20 percent, to $440,000 at the end of this year’s third quarter, from $549,000 at the same time last year, according to data from Miller Samuel Inc., a real estate appraisal and consulting firm.

Similarly, condominiums in Midtown East and Turtle Bay dropped 18.6 percent, to $1.197 million from $1.47 million; and condos in Midtown West and Hell’s Kitchen dropped 8 percent, to $1.01 million from $1.099 million.

“None of that surprises me because those are the fringe areas that are going through change,” said Michael Signet, the executive director of sales at Bond New York, a real estate agency. Whenever there’s a slowdown, he said, those are the first places to get hit.

Another sign that the market has slowed significantly is the marked drop in sales, decreasing 24 percent in Manhattan, to 2,654 in the three months that ended on Sept. 30, from 3,499 in the third quarter of 2007.

The credit crisis and the volatility on Wall Street will probably spur a continuation of these trends and lead to a universal drop in housing prices, Mr. Signet said.

“From everything we’re seeing out on the street, the fourth quarter report will slow prices down across the board in every neighborhood,” Mr. Signet said. “There’s a lot of nervousness out there.”

Jonathan J. Miller, the president of Miller Samuel, agreed that the weakness in the housing market is likely to continue and spread, especially because banks have made it so difficult for buyers to get mortgages.

“Until the financial markets are stabilized and mortgages are more readily available and more affordable to consumers,” he said, “you’re going to see an across-the-board impact on the market and it will affect all demographics.”

As to whether the neighborhoods that have softened first will weaken more quickly, Mr. Miller said: “Emerging neighborhoods by definition are more volatile. They have more potential to decline when the market weakens, and conversely they have more potential upside when the market returns.”

Other neighborhoods that experienced price drops include the Lower East Side and the East Village, where median prices fell 5.5 percent; and Carnegie Hill, where co-op prices decreased 7.2 percent. Median prices in Hamilton Heights and Morningside Heights dropped 30 percent, with sales decreasing to only 19 from 67 in 2007. In Washington Heights, median prices went down 6.3 percent, but the number of sales increased to 24 from 18 in 2007.

The neighborhoods that fared the best through the third quarter included Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue from 59th to 96th Streets, where median prices went up 35 percent. In Lincoln Square, an area between 57th and 72nd Streets from Central Park West to the Hudson River that is home to high-priced apartments in 15 Central Park West and the Time Warner Center, median co-op prices went up 18.6 percent and median condo prices went up 25 percent. Prices also rose in Lenox Hill, where median co-op prices went up 19 percent; and Chelsea, where median co-op and condo prices went up about 6 percent.

Other neighborhoods that experienced increases include Greenwich Village, where median prices for co-ops went up 3.9 percent; Union Square and the Gramercy area, where co-op prices went up 3.3 percent and condo prices went up 2.6 percent; and the Upper East Side, where median co-op prices went up 2.3 percent and condo prices went up 9.1 percent.

Prices were also up in Battery Park City and Inwood, two neighborhoods where sales volume was relatively low. In Battery Park City, the median price rose 6.5 percent and number of sales held steady, going from 31 to 30. In Inwood, prices increased 17.1 percent, but sales dropped to 12 from 26.

Brokers agree that in September after the collapse of several Wall Street brokerage firms and throughout October, many buyers simply opted out of the housing market.

A little more than a year ago, real estate agents worried about how to handle the dozens of people who showed up at open houses. Today, agents are pleased when a sign-in sheet logs six names, because it beats having no one show up at all.

“Things have been at a standstill in the last couple weeks,” said Janice Silver, the manager of Bellmarc Realty’s East Side office. “With the markets crashing, people have been seeing their money go away, and they’re thinking twice about buying a sweater, let alone an apartment.”
In Harlem, the median sales price for co-ops and condos dropped nearly 20 percent, and the number of sales in the third quarter dropped from 160 in 2007 to 100 this year.

“The number of transactions in Harlem is definitely down,” said Jorden Tepper, the director of sales at Century 21 NY Metro. “And in terms of what is selling, we’re specifically seeing more interest in the lower end and not in the higher-end luxury-priced units.”

The size of the average apartment sold in Harlem bears that out. It was 744 square feet in the latest quarter, down from 1,011 square feet in the third quarter of 2007.

Veronica Raehse, the sales manager for the West Side office of Bellmarc, said that while she had seen a softening of the market across the West Side, Harlem had been hit the hardest. She said that after six weeks of very little activity, things had started to pick up in the last week of October. “But it’s all low-end stuff, and at this point, anything over $500,000 is high-end already,” and not moving, she said.

She and other brokers said that they had been advising sellers to price their apartments 10 to 15 percent below the latest comparable sales. “You have to use comps as a starting point and price down from there,” she said. “It’s the only way to get more activity, because if buyers don’t think a deal is being offered, they’re just not going to bother with it.”

Donald Kemper, a vice president of Prudential Douglas Elliman, agreed that the only way to be a successful seller in the current market is to set a competitive price. “You have to establish value right away,” he said. “Because nobody wants to buy now and find that they could get it for less next year.”

Mr. Kemper specializes in Midtown West and Hell’s Kitchen, where median prices on co-ops went down 10.8 percent, to $540,000, and median prices on condos went down 8 percent, to $1.01 million.

He said that the area has changed rapidly in recent years, and that condo prices there had been driven up by the new construction along the 42nd Street corridor on the Far West Side. He said that until this year, many buyers came to the area “with a very definite desire to be in Hell’s Kitchen, because it was more affordable and because Chelsea and other neighborhoods were out of reach for them.”

But because prices are softening around the city, he said, buyers are less focused on Hell’s Kitchen, “maybe because they can find opportunity elsewhere.”

Ms. Silver said that Midtown East and Turtle Bay, an area delineated as from 42nd to 59th Street and from the Avenue of the Americas to the East River, seems to be experiencing a similar trend. While not an emerging neighborhood, it often has volatile prices, especially in the eastern stretches farthest from the subway.

“It’s one of those areas where if you live there, you realize it’s convenient and it’s a fine place to live,” Ms. Silver said, “but it’s not the kind of place where people say they’re dying to live.”

Median prices for condos in the area dropped 18.6 percent, and the number of sales decreased to 126 in the latest quarter, compared with 158 in the third quarter of 2007. But median co-op prices actually rose by 12 percent, to $690,108 from $615,000 in 2007.

Mr. Miller said that those numbers were distorted by a huge drop in activity. The number of co-op sales declined 36 percent, to 117 last quarter, from 184 in the third quarter of 2007. He said that the median price may have skewed up because the apartments that sold were higher-priced ones.

The Financial District is one emerging neighborhood where reality seems to contradict what the third-quarter numbers would suggest. Brokers agree that sales have slowed in recent weeks and that buyers can expect to get some good deals there right now, but the median price for condos actually rose by 5 percent, to $940,000, in this year’s third quarter, compared with last year’s $895,000. Co-op prices dropped 19 percent, but the neighborhood has very few co-ops; the number of sales fell to 6 from 11 in 2007.

Mr. Miller says the numbers are deceptive mainly because there has been so much construction in the area. “New construction will skew prices higher,” he said, adding that in most of the deals that closed recently, buyers probably signed the contracts 12 to 18 months ago. “The closings are delayed, so they’re more reflective of a prior period when the market was stronger.”

For people looking to buy in a new development right now, Yvonne DeNigris, an agent with Sotheby’s International Realty, said: “I think the most substantial flexibility is in the Financial District, because it’s so developed now and there’s not the strongest demand for it.”

SoHo and TriBeCa and the co-op market on the Upper West Side are areas where median prices dropped, but the volume of sales nonetheless remained strong, leading brokers to infer that the lower prices do not reflect what’s happening in these markets.

In SoHo and TriBeCa, which Miller Samuel combines and maps from Houston Street south to Vesey Street and from Broadway to the Hudson River, the median price for co-ops in the third quarter dropped 6.1 percent, to $1.925 million from $2.05 million in 2007; and the median price for condos dropped 28.5 percent, to $1.9 million from $2.65 million. But the number of sales for co-ops and condos rose to 166 from 98.

Cornelia Dobrovolsky, a senior vice president with the Corcoran Group, said that last year’s median price had probably been skewed up by the closings of very high-end condos in 2007.
Several apartments sold last year at 40 Mercer Street for $5 million to $10 million. “And those are very big numbers for SoHo because you don’t have a lot of luxury loft buildings,” she said. “I really have not seen a drop in actual values between this year and last.”

She said, though, that a shift had occurred in recent weeks, and that she had seen some price reductions. “There certainly have been fewer sales since the summer, so that’s got to have some impact for the next quarter’s numbers,” Ms. Dobrovolsky said.

On the Upper West Side, the median price for co-ops dropped 13.3 percent in the third quarter, but the median prices for condos went up 29.5 percent. The volume of sales for all Upper West Side apartments decreased 7.5 percent, to 577 from 624.

But the drop in the median price of co-ops to $650,000 from $750,000 is at least partially attributable to the fact that the average size of sold apartments also decreased, to 907 square feet from 1,142 square feet.

Jeffery Sholeen, a senior vice president of the Corcoran Group, said he found it hard to believe that co-op prices had dropped that much. “It could be that large apartments in co-ops weren’t selling or they weren’t available,” he said. “But there’s still big demand for larger units on the Upper West Side.”

Many of the new developments on the Upper West Side have successfully sold three- and four-bedroom apartments, he said, which might account for the big jump in the median sales price for condos, going to $1.425 million from $1.1 million.

But Mr. Sholeen and other agents said that activity in the fourth quarter would definitely be down from last year because many people had decided to take their properties off the market in the wake of the turmoil in the financial markets.

“A lot of people also said they wanted to wait to do anything until after the election, regardless of the outcome,” Mr. Sholeen said. “There was a lot of anxiety before it happened and people’s attention was focused on that and nothing else.”

But now that it’s over, agents say they’re hopeful that buyers and sellers will refocus their attention on real estate.

Friday, October 31, 2008

CB9M District Manager Says Goodbye, Heads to CB13Q

CB9M District Manager Says Goodbye, Heads to CB13Q

By Christine Choi

As Community Board 9 prepares to announce its new district manager, members are looking to fill the void left by CB9 veteran Lawrence McClean.

Long considered a staple of the West Harlem community, McClean will soon bring his brand of community outreach to other boroughs. In September, McClean left his CB9 district manager post of 15 years to fill the same position for CB13 in his longtime residence of Queens. McClean was lauded by colleagues for his work in advocating for the neighborhood while working with board members.

While at CB9, McClean made the hour-long trek to Harlem every day, and his decision to leave was in part due to the commute, CB9 secretary Ted Kovaleff said. “It’s a pretty easy decision to make,” Kovaleff said.

But for a community that remembers McClean for his work facilitating dialogue between locals and city officials, letting go has not been easy.

“He was a pillar,” former CB9 chair Maritta Dunn said. “He had the personality required to deal with people.”

As district manager, McClean ensured that CB9 functioned smoothly. Responsible for the office and everyday operations, he juggled deadlines and timetables, filings, and communication with city officials and locals.

It was this last duty which distinguished him. “He had a great working relationship with the city agency and the community,” CB9 Chair Pat Jones said.

And it was just this “very affable, friendly” ease that helped the board through stormier times, such as chair selections, according to Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell, a former board member.
“There were some volatile moments, police being called, battles over who would be the chair,” O’Donnell said, “but he remained above it, didn’t get into the mix, and always brought people back together.”

“This is a thankless job, an impossible job, but it was done with class and dignity with Larry McClean,” he added.

CB9 paid tribute to McClean at its September general board meeting, a day which Jones declared “Lawrence T. McClean Appreciation Day.”

“You’re part of the fabric of my life, you’re part of the way I do things,” McClean said. “I learned how to do it from the people here, so what success I may have is basically based on Board 9.”
Several noted that McClean’s work benefited not only the West Harlem community, but the city as a whole. While chair, Kovaleff worked on a snow removal initiative that required site visits.
“Larry was the one who coordinated and scheduled those site visits, and now we have the best, most well thought snow removal program of anywhere in Manhattan,” he said.

Another time, Kovaleff recalled, he and McClean developed a plan for lead abatement during the painting of West Side Highway. “This program that we developed ... is now a citywide program,” he said.

McClean’s efforts ensured his longevity at the board. “He was the DM [district manager] through nearly five chairs,” Dunn said, “and over the years he was just always there.”Kovaleff, who was part of the nominating committee that hired McClean in 1993, spoke of McClean’s role as a part of the board’s history.

“He was appointed when CB9 and Columbia were at loggerheads over the existence of each other. Right there that shows a major change in the community,” Kovaleff said. “One of these days, without Larry and a couple others like us, nobody’s going to know about all those statements the board made.”

CB9 decided on a new district manager at a closed-door meeting Thursday night, and Jones said the board would announce its decision Friday.

McClean promised in September he would use what he learned at CB9 to reform Queens’ community boards. “Out there they don’t have the kind of meetings we have here,” he said. “It will be an experience that I’m not sure how good I’d be if I hadn’t walked through the door in 1992 for a job.”

In the meantime, McClean already seems to be making headway in his new location. “I’ve had some feedback, and he’s already raised expectations out there,” Kovaleff said. “He’s good luck for them, even if they are the number 13.”

Daniel Amzallag contributed reporting to this article.

Monday, October 20, 2008

CU Works Toward Phase One of Expansion

CU Works Toward Phase One of Expansion
By Christine Choi

As Columbia pushes to complete the first phase of its Manhattanville expansion by 2015, University and community officials have set tentative dates for two projects.

The West Harlem Local Development Corporation hopes to submit a proposal for a community benefits agreement to Columbia by November. Meanwhile, the University plans to break ground for the first phase of development by next spring.

Joe Ienuso, Columbia’s executive vice president for facilities, said that while no definitive timetable had been set, “spring 2009 is certainly the hope.” The University will first have to clear legal hurdles, including the completion of the public review process.

Construction work will begin with the demolition of buildings that currently occupy two patches of land bounded by 130th and 125th streets to the north and south and by 12th Avenue and Broadway to the east and west.

The University plans to construct four new buildings in that space, including, as Ienuso described, “a small triangular building” within the property bordered by 125th and 129th streets, and “the science center, the new SIPA building, and a lantern-shaped building between them” on the larger property between 129th and 130th streets.

The design commission for all four buildings was awarded to Renzo Piano Building Workshop, a Paris-based firm also responsible for the New York Times’ headquarters.

In consultation with the University, the workshop has been designing through a “very dynamic process, very much informed by the occupants of the building, how a building will be put to use,” Ienuso said.

Ienuso said all the buildings were “in very different stages of the design process,” and that none of the designs had been completed.

Two contractors, Bovis Lend Lease and McKissack & McKissack—the oldest African-American contract management firm in the country—have been hired for the first phase of construction.
As part of the large underground “bathtub” portion of the new campus, construction will involve the pouring of a single foundation for the three buildings between 129th and 130th streets, as opposed to three separate foundations. The below-grade layer would be extended throughout the new campus for laboratory space, a central energy plant, and a bus depot intended to shift traffic to the lower level.

“From an urban planning perspective, we’re taking advantage of fixing the below-grade level so we can have the prime condition of the streets above,” Ienuso said of the “bathtub.”

That aspect of the University’s plan has come under sharp criticism from community members who allege it would put the area at risk of flooding. Local-business owner Nick Sprayregen, who is one of the two remaining holdouts in the expansion zone that have refused to strike a relocation deal with Columbia, filed a lawsuit against the University earlier this year over the alleged environmental dangers of the “bathtub.” His suit was dismissed in September.
Ienuso defended the “bathtub” proposal, stating that the University was adhering to environmental standards.

As the architectural plans evolve, the Local Development Corporation is working to complete a proposal for a community benefits agreement.

“We have not officially submitted our proposal, but we’ve put a deadline on ourselves for by the end of this month,” LDC officer Maritta Dunn said. “We’re meeting with the University on a regular basis to try to finish this up.”

The community benefits agreement would allocate $150 million from the University to the neighborhood for a variety of purposes, including affordable housing in the expansion zone.
Dunn said the LDC has been meeting every week for the last two years to discuss the community benefits agreement.

Dunn expressed hope that the LDC proposal would be approved quickly. The delay in its release “has been a roadblock to them [the University], so we would hope and I don’t expect them to take very long in responding,” she said.

Along with the community benefits agreement proposal, the LDC, which operates on a volunteer basis, has requested advance cash funding for a permanent staff.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Locals Concerned About Economy at Harlem Town Hall

Locals Concerned About Economy at Harlem Town Hall
By Christine Choi

At a town hall meeting Wednesday night, West Harlem residents expressed concern that evictions and rent hikes would continue to worsen in the face of economic downturn and Columbia’s expansion into Manhattanville.

About 100 locals packed into the Harlem School of the Arts to address a panel that included Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Councilman Robert Jackson, and CB9 chair Pat Jones. Questions ranged from traffic flow to after-school programs, but tenant issues, gentrification, and the economy dominated the conversation, occasionally making for tense exchanges between residents and officials.

Locals criticized the bailout plan and government as failing to hold Wall Street accountable and instead punishing locals.

“How will we benefit from Mike Bloomberg dealing with affordable housing that’s now trapped by predatory lending and mortgage fraud?” local resident Delois Blakely asked.Still more residents cited development of the area, including Columbia’s construction of its Manhattanville campus, as the key factor in rent hikes and evictions. Nellie Hester Bailey, co-founder of the Harlem Tenants Council, detailed the recent eviction of 22 tenants from an apartment complex due to rent increases as one of many similar experiences sweeping the neighborhood.

“Columbia University admitted over 5,000 tenants would be evicted as a result of their expansion,” she said, combined with other evictions that “are private investor driven. How are you looking at this shift that is going to bring in thousands of high-rise, high-rent tenants? How are you looking at it in terms of the economic meltdown?”

While Stringer reminded residents that he did not vote for the 125th Street rezoning project, which will bring in commercial development and which many fear will raise area rent prices, he defended Columbia’s expansion. Development of the area “would have happened anyway,” he said, but the project includes “millions of dollars in givebacks,” including more than $20 million in affordable housing that could be “leveraged for a lot more money.”

Furthermore, he said after the meeting, his office was attempting to further address the issue of rent hikes “by taking big landlords to court,” including Pinnacle Group International, many of whom now operate on a “business model based on the number of evictions that would result in increase in rent.”

But Jackson said, it is “up to tenants to organize in a building that has been threatened with MCI rent increases and strategize and identify an attorney that can represent your interests.”
For many residents, the conversation was not enough. Tom DeMott, CC ’80 and active member of Voices of the Everyday People, asked, “When you gut the 197-a plan, what kind of hope do we have that a back and forth like this has any value?” Another West Harlem resident, who identified herself as Cookie, said after the meeting that officials “haven’t been reflective of the community. Their allegiance is somewhere else.”

Andrew Lyubarsky, CC ’09 and member of the Student Coalition on Expansion and Gentrification, said that the panel “left a lot of questions unanswered,” including specifications on a community benefits agreement.

CB9 Debates Bylaws, Historical Preservation

CB9 Debates Bylaws, Historical Preservation
By Daniel Amzallag

Community Board 9 discussed bylaws and approved resolutions concerning historical preservation at its monthly general board meeting Thursday night.

The board, whose district stretches from West 110th to 155th streets, had created a committee to propose revisions and amendments to its bylaws. Board member Tamara Gayer presented the committee’s suggestions Thursday, which were discussed for approximately two hours. CB9 will vote on the bylaw amendments at next month’s general board meeting.

Among changes to absence policy and officer elections, the bylaw amendments allow an attendee to be removed from a meeting for “using profanity, threats, and/or engaging in physical confrontation with another member.”

The board also discussed historical preservation in Morningside Heights. It approved a resolution to University President Lee Bollinger expressing admonishment for Columbia’s alleged plans to demolish several brownstones on West 115th and 116th streets.

“Columbia has not been forthcoming at all. They have not provided any information,” said Irene Cheng, who represented a committee of residents of 115th and 116th streets.

Assemblyman Keith Wright (D-Manhattanville and Central Harlem) spoke of Urban American Management Corporation, the new owner of 3333 Broadway, a 1,190-unit development on West 133rd Street. The building was originally under the Mitchell-Lama program, a state affordable-housing program, until it opted out in May 2005. Since then, the building has seen hundreds of evictions.

Wright charged the complex’s new owner, Urban American, with “trying to knock people out, harass them out to bring in market-rate tenants.”

Urban America—as well as its previous owners—purchased 3333 Broadway for “entirely too much money,” and now need to evict tenants with fixed rents in order to meet costs, he claimed.
The board also approved several letters of support. One letter will be sent to the New York City Department of Transportation expressing conditional support for the “concept of the design” for an expansion of Montefiore Park between West 136th and 138th streets. The letter of support allows Harlem Heritage and Housing to go forward in completing a design, but insists on additional green space and on a replacement of parking spaces that will be eliminated.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

After Dispute, Floridita Owner Resumes Negotiations

After Dispute, Floridita Owner Resumes Negotiations
By Maggie Astor

After months of tumultuous back-and-forth between the owner of Floridita Restaurant and Tapas Bar and Columbia real estate officials, negotiations resumed on Monday regarding the business’ relocation to an area outside the Manhattanville expansion zone.

The reopening of negotiations marks the end of a dispute between Ramon Diaz and the University, which culminated last April when discussion was suspended after Columbia, the building’s owner, alleged that Diaz owed outstanding payments on rent, real estate tax, and water charges.

Spanning three storefronts along Broadway between 125th and 129th streets, Floridita is located in the heart of the expansion zone in which Columbia plans to build its Manhattanville campus.
According to Diaz, Columbia officials acknowledged at the Monday meeting that he had been billed incorrectly for thousands of dollars. Diaz had contested the validity of the charges on the grounds that the water meter in his building was providing inconsistent measurements.

University spokeswoman Victoria Benitez said that the University does not comment on ongoing negotiations.

Last spring, the University insisted that Diaz was missing tens of thousands of dollars in rent. In response, Diaz sent Phil Silverman, Columbia’s vice president of real estate, copies of cancelled checks for each rent and real estate tax payment he had made since assuming ownership of Floridita in 2006. At the time, Silverman and University spokeswoman La-Verna Fountain maintained that all the checks Diaz provided had been accounted for, and that Diaz still owed the initial balance. The University subsequently cut off negotiations, Diaz reported.

At the conference Monday, the officials “didn’t admit the water meters were defective, but they did acquiesce to the discount that I thought was appropriate based on what I thought the meters were misreading,” Diaz said. “We negotiated the open amount to a figure that they were comfortable with and I was comfortable with, and the water is now current.”

The University had first said that Diaz owed $32,000 in water charges. After Monday’s discussion, the final amount was set at $20,000, which Diaz said he paid at the meeting.
“We needed to get those issues off the table, and therefore they made concessions to get them off the table,” Diaz said.

The future of the tapas bar was a major point of conflict this year between Diaz and University officials. Floridita, whose tapas bar is separate from the restaurant, works on two leases. While the lease on the restaurant is good until 2015, Diaz has to renew his tapas bar lease annually. Fearing that the University would terminate the latter, Diaz went so far as to prepare a lawsuit with his attorney.

But after Monday’s meeting, Diaz said, a new lease has been signed and “the lawsuit—even the potential for the lawsuit—is off the table.”

If everything goes according to plan, Floridita will move to another location within the expansion zone, an agreement to be reached mutually by Diaz and Columbia real estate officials. According to Diaz, Phil Silverman said no space was currently available. In all likelihood, Diaz will eventually relocate to a building that still has not been constructed.

In the meantime, he will remain in his current location. Silverman also promised to work to resolve the problem of reduced business, Diaz said, which came about due to construction outside the eatery.

“They have agreed to begin negotiations to start working with me insofar as how the construction is affecting my business,” Diaz said. “He [Silverman] did mention that if the construction ... starts hurting you, we will help you in any way, shape, or form we can to offset losses and business being affected in a negative way.”

Diaz has recently complained to Columbia and to city officials about the setup of barriers and the closing of a lane on Broadway, which resulted in eight traffic accidents outside Floridita in a month. In reaction to Diaz’s reports, the barriers were taken down and new traffic signals installed. He said that no more accidents have occurred since those modifications were made.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Latino Heritage: Our Stories

Latino Heritage: Our Stories
By Ivette Sanchez

In 1947, seven years before Brown v. Board of Education, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Orange County affirmed the decision of Mendez v. Westminster School District, which stated that the segregation of Mexican and Mexican-American students into separate “Mexican schools” was unconstitutional. The case had arisen two years earlier in Los Angeles when five Mexican-American fathers—Thomas Estrada, William Guzman, Gonzalo Mendez, Frank Palomino, and Lorenzo Ramirez—with the help of civil rights organizations, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of 5,000 Mexican-American families, challenging the practice of school segregation in the Orange County district of California. The plaintiffs claimed that children of Mexican ancestry, because of their national origin, were being discriminated against by being forced to attend separate “Mexican” schools in Orange County.

As discussed on the WGBH Educational Foundation Web site, Mexican Americans living in the Western territory of the United States had been engaging in a century-long struggle for equality far before Mendez. Educational codes in California had directly, and indirectly, worked to deny students not only of Mexican, but African-American, Asian-American, and Native American decent, the right to equal education. Conditions in Mexican-American schools were vastly inferior to those in white schools, often as a result of little state funding.

The senior district judge in Los Angeles ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in 1946, finding segregated schools to be a denial of the equal protection provision of the Fourteenth Amendment pertaining to access to education. As the first successful challenge to the “separate but equal” doctrine, Mendez v. Westminster set an important precedent for the arguments upheld in the Brown decision. Furthermore, Governor Earl Warren of California, who would later preside over Brown v. Board of Education as chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, signed legislation repealing the remaining segregationist provisions in the California state educational statutes.

One can see how this case served as an important turning point not only for the status of the Latino community in California, but for people of all ancestries and skin colors across the nation.
The stories of individuals, such as Thomas Estrada and William Guzman impacting groups like those 5,000 Mexican families, are the kind of stories upon which Latino heritage and history are built. Latino history is unique in that it is the story of people who are linked very immediately to two cultures, two lands, and two narratives. More often than not, however, this dual identity allows us, as Latinos, to fall between the cracks of the historical narratives told by both cultures, leaving us with a truly minority voice. Latino stories, built out of elements from many sources, but not wholly belonging to one country, are often left untold, absent, and invisible.
On Oct. 1, 2008, in her keynote address at the opening ceremony for Latino Heritage Month, award-winning journalist and author Maria Hinojosa addressed this absence, speaking of her desire, even as an undergraduate at Barnard College, to “tell the stories of invisible people, stories that need to be told.” Indeed, throughout her accomplished career, Hinojosa has sought to tell the social and personal stories of the Latino community that are too often ignored and left untold by even modern media outlets. These stories range from the sociological issues of the prison system and gang culture to developing a Latino identity as a family and as a child.
Hinojosa received the Robert F. Kennedy award in 1995 for “Manhood Behind Bars,” a story for NPR, which documented how jail has become a rite of passage for some men of all races. In 2000, she published her second book, Raising Raul: Adventures Raising Myself and My Son, a motherhood memoir about raising a Latino child in a multicultural society. Hinojosa’s significance is in her devoted efforts to raise awareness of the voices and stories of the Latino community.

As Meylin Mota, BC ’09 and co-chair of the Latino Heritage Month committee, noted at the opening reception, this month-long celebration of Latino heritage aims to promote an awareness of Latino issues, struggles, and triumphs, bringing together individual and collective histories in order to form a deeper understanding of who we are today. The Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, once wrote, “Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar,” which translates, “Traveler, there is no path, you make it as you are walking.” The Latino identity by its very definition is one of a traveler, making paths across culture, time, and geography that are not easily recorded by traditional sources. It is essential that we trace these innumerable paths, if only to discover how it is we got to where we are today.
The author is a Columbia College sophomore. She is an associate editorial page editor.
TAGS: Latino Heritage, Mendez v. Westminister

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Here go again! The perpetuation of the myth of a Latino identity.

The fact is that that there are many historic differences between the Mexican Experience and of the non-White people from Spanish America in the Western USA and in the Eastern USA.
While in fact Mexicans of native heritage were obstracized and segregated in the West. that was not the experience of the Spanish settlers of Florida and Louisiana who in fact were part of the power structure and have always been part of the Southestern US civil society.

The largest number of new Spanish speaking arrivals were the Cubans in several weaves starting in the 1820's, then the 1850's and again in the 1880-90's as exiles, the children of European Spaniards and other European natiionals, Cuba a Spanish colony and at times province, suffered the oppression of the Spanish Colonial system. Many exiles returned to Cuba but many more remained and assimilated into the American Melting Pot. The latest weave in the late 1950's and early 1960's and in 1980's again has been very successful and many have assimilated into American society.

The same being true for many other arrivals from Central and South America that have settled in Florida and New York.

Puerto Ricans became part of the US after the Spanish American War and many have successfully assimilated but those from the lower socio-economic levels have had difficulties and and have been obstracized, descriminated and even gehttoized to a great degree but seem to begin to prosper and move on.

Non-Whites such as the Dominicans and from other countries, particular those of African ancestry, are still struggling to make a place for themselves but being inventive and hard working they are also beginning to make their mark in NYC.

So the Myth of a Latino Heritage is just that a MYTH.

Each country in Spanish America have its own history, folklore, music, culture although all speak more or less the same Spanish language sometimes they need to translate their ideas to each other.

The Real Heritage is those of Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Venezula, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Argentina, Chile, Peru, etc. Each one is a beautiful and glorious and at times sad Heritage but each is an individual Spanish American National Heritage - somewhat similar but not the same.

It is a shame that Spanish American peoples are being brain washed, pasteurized and homogenized by the ignorance of the general US tendency to create an artificial "Third Race" between the White and Black, basically to attempt to diminish the African American ambitions and just desiires for total equality.

Perpetuation of the Latino Myth does a tremendous diservice to the Spanish American peoples as well as to the US in genral general population.

If Europeans are whatever national origins they are, even if speaking the same language, why is it alright to homogenze Spanish American countries of origin? After all Germans are Germans, Austirans are Austrians, Swiss ae Swiss etc. and they all speak a form of German.

It is time to stop the stupidity of the homogenization of Spansih Americans.

Posted by: anonymous (not verified) October 11th, 2008 @ 12:32pm