What Makes A Hipster?

L train J train

You’ve heard the term before and have probably noticed an eruption in recent years of art, various movements of social awareness, reports of pomposity, a retro-chic style of dressing and a rekindling of interest of many things that have long fallen into the realm of nostalgia (including those gentlemanly moustaches that were so two centuries ago). The question “What makes a hipster?” enters the local dive bar of my mind every time I hear the term, and all it does is order PBR’s and talk about its new artistic venture when its there.

The term ‘hipster’ seems to be used more and more today as a derogatory term. Although it doesn’t carry a fraction of the offensive gravity of that of a racial slur, it still isn’t exactly seen as a compliment nowadays. Nobody wants to be labeled a hipster nor do most people who are considered hipsters by other believe that they are, YET THEY STILL EXIST. Whoa dude, that’s like, sooo trippy!

One thing I left out so far is the link between hipsters and gentrification, which although has created many an urban haven of young artists, musicians, writers, etc. it has also uprooted families from low income neighborhoods. Rent for apartments in Williamsburg in Brooklyn, for example (the hipster capital of the United States) has skyrocketed over the past several years due to increasing demand in the neighborhood. The general consensus among long time residents in neighborhoods that have recently transitioned from low income to American Spirit smoking, thrift store shopping 20-somethings is that hipsters are directly responsible for their neighborhoods being gentrified and ultimately is seen as a reason to greet their new stylish neighbors with hostility.

For some, it unfortunately takes a racial angle. Many low income neighborhoods in New York City that are being hipsterized are minority neighborhoods i.e. Williamsburg, Bushwick, South Harlem, etc. Many transplanted, floppy moustached New Yorkers who have recently moved to these areas happen to be Caucasian. Many critics of the hipster culture argue that the entire movement/trend (not sure which word to use there) is based on white privilege and that while recreating a neighborhood into a post-graduate conglomerate of art and dynamic culture may seem to be a beautiful idea, one must consider how this will affect those who already occupy said neighborhoods on a micro-migrational scale.

Well, that escalated quickly.

Ultimately, the hipster culture in my opinion has a good side and a bad side. In a rephrased quote from Chris Rock, I will explain:

“There are bohemians, and then there are hipsters, and hipsters have got to go!”

What I mean is both bohemian types and hipsters usually self identify as artists, but I equate the term ‘bohemian’ to a true starving artist who does not give off the snarling stench of pretentiousness and is actually making his or her own adventure rather then following a trend to be cool. A ‘hipster’ to me would be a cocky, judgemental poser who just wants to be accepted by the reigning ‘culture of cool’ in our present day.

Its hard to tell how long the era of non-prescription, clear-lensed Ray Ban’s and the vinyl record store resurgence will continue, but a word of advice to young artists: be a bohemian, and not a hipster. Nowadays, hipsters are just too mainstream. – RSM

Why Ned Vizzini Will Always Have A Special Place In My Heart

When I was 19 I stumbled upon a curious looking novel at the Borders that used to be at The Shops at Columbus Circle. I had never heard of the title or author before but the description and art work really caught my eye. I bought the novel and instantly fell in love with ‘Its Kind of A Funny Story’ by Ned Vizzini.

The novel spoke to me on many different levels. From the spot on ‘teenage New Yorker’ rhetoric to the descriptions of the city, I was taken to a magical new place which in reality I had always called home. The most profound and apparent way that I related to the story was with the main character, 15 year old Craig Gilner. There are two main ways we related, starting with something that I have never stated on the internet:

Craig and I have both been to a psychiatric ward.

Craig and I were both depressed at age 15.

The story I was reading felt so much like my own. To this day, ‘Its Kind of a Funny Story’ is my absolute favorite book of all time ever in the history of words, not just for its funny anecdotes, unlikely romance and motley crew of characters, but because it helped me let go of so much anguish and guilt that I had kept from my experience.

I mustered up the courage in the summer of 2009 to e-mail Ned Vizzini, just to tell him I appreciated his work.

To my surprise, he responded. I was elated to find a genuine reply in my inbox a few days later from a successful author, what I aspire to be. I told myself I would have to meet him one day. After my study abroad trip in early 2010 I attended a Young Adult Fiction event at the New York Public Library on 6th Avenue and 12th Street. There were several authors there, but I went just for Ned.

I got there early and saw him walking around the room, just wandering like I was. I was talking to a fan of another author and she encouraged me to introduce myself. I walked up to the Average Joe-looking writer who wrote the book that changed my life and asked “Excuse me, are you Ned Vizzini?”

We started talking and I mentioned our email conversation from the previous summer. He remembered me and said he was glad to meet me. I felt on top of the world as I discussed literature, particularly my favorite book, with the author of the book! It was a dream come true. I asked if he could offer any advice about writing, and I’ll never forget what he said:

“Don’t focus right away on writing a book. If you do that it will never get done. Try writing longer and longer stories to build up. Also, read ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King.”

I bought ‘On Writing’ a few days later. I left the event with an autographed copy of his novel ‘Be More Chill’ with a dedication to me which read “Ruben, I’m sure you don’t need a squip!”

To top off the day, I got to take a picture with him. Here I am with Ned Vizzini, in all my overly eager fanboy glory:

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He posted it on his blog a few days after we met. Our acquiantanceship didn’t stop there. I came prepared that day and asked if he could critique a short story I had written about a night I had in Rome. A few months later I got a sloppy hand written envelope in the mail, bearing my name and address as well as his. He wrote a handwritten critique of my work. I challenge you to find any succesful author who would do all this for just one fan. The review came with my original copy of the story with his notes, which were very positive, along with his favorite quote highlighted via brackets written in with black ink.

I emailed him again earlier this year, asking him to read my article ‘The Millenial Latin American Identity Crisis Of The United States’. He read it, said he really enjoyed it and even shared it on his news feed on Facebook. I recall him telling me his favorite sentence from my article, which was “We are emigrating to, and reproducing in the United States like a giant herd of nomadic rabbits.”

Given all this, I was completely heartbroken to find out that Ned Vizzini passed away on December 19, 2013. His family lost a father and husband, the world lost a great author, and I feel like I lost a friend. My condolences go out to his family, friends and fans. I will always remember his warmth and kindness when he could have just brushed me off as just another kid who read his book. I will more so remember his best novel in my opinion, for changing my perspective of certain life events of mine from what I considered the worst times in my life to, well, kind of a funny story. Rest in peace Ned. -RSM

Top 10 Things To Do When Unemployed For The Hopeless & Frustrated.

In an effort to better practice many of the points I’m about to delve into, I’ve comprised a list of things to do when you’re unemployed and sick of it. I have recently been freelancing for different publications, but in terms of official employment, I would much rather do 8 hours a day to keep the broke doctor away, if you catch my drift.

With an economy recovering, at best, and underemployment for young professionals at record highs I have not been dealt the best hand in terms of a fruitful job market. However, when life gives you time off you find ways to make the most of it. That’s what I have been doing the past few months in order to make the time off more bearable and less boring, unproductive, and excruciating.

I’ve realized something about myself in the past few years: the only thing I do better than party my ass off is work my ass off. So after a couple of months without a day job it has gotten very frustrating to have no day job to dedicate my time to. Usually my schedule between good times on weekends and productive hours on weekdays would work itself out pretty nicely. For example, as with most people, working from Monday-Friday produces enough income for whatever you wanted to do on any given weekend, and with every paycheck cycle the sequence would repeat. When unemployed, money never seems to stretch far enough, even when festivities on weekends are scaled down a great deal. It sucks, I know. Not only have I been there, I’m there right now still, sort of. Here are a few tips of things to do from someone who is still technically unemployed:

10. Relax.

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Don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world. You can’t find a job? Got laid off, or even fired? Great! Now you can begin a new adventure. Think of it that way, it could turn your frown upside down. Try doing little things daily to take your mind off the angst and stress. Try meditating, even if you’re not into it at first. Watch your favorite show or childhood cartoon. Hang out with your friends. Get out of the house. I can’t stress that last one enough.

9. Exercise.

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I’m a bit guilty here of not practicing what I preach, but nevertheless getting a daily dose of exercise can make all the difference between a boring day with time inching along and a wonderful use of extra time. I haven’t been exercising daily in the conventional sense, but whenever I get some exercise in the endorphins kick in and nothing matters but that runners high or the satisfaction of finishing up a set. Exercise as much as you can when you’re unemployed. Who knows, you may land your next job at a modeling agency!

8. Clean.

Cleaning supplies with bucket

Another one I need to work on myself. Keeping a clean home is just as rewarding as exercising daily. It’s a very productive hobby and will result in a beautiful and attractive living space, which will serve as a breath of fresh air if you’re frustrated with your job situation. If you have nowhere to go all day, you might as well keep the place clean.

7. Record a journal of some kind.

This is a great thing to do your whole life, not just when you’re unemployed. When you get home, just like you would clean for an hour or exercise, try writing for a little while. No matter your mood, try writing about it and how your day went. Express your jubilant thoughts – and dump your sad thoughts – into a journal or diary.  Write about absolutely anything you want, it will make hard times way more bearable and will eventually double as a nostalgic keepsake of a particular time in your life.

6. Spend time with family.

Family outings and hangouts can be a great way to take your mind off being unemployed. Above is a photo of me, my sister and several cousins at my uncle’s wedding this summer. Family members who are your age probably know exactly what you’re going through or have known at some point, and older famalams can offer insight and maybe even a connection to a new employment opportunity. You never know! Your crazy aunt from Minnesota may have a good surprise up her sleeve for a change!

5. Have fun!

at stj

This is a photo of my band and I performing last year. Aside from the shameless plug, I chose this photo because this is what I enjoy doing the most with my free time. Whether it’s rehearsing, recording or playing live my favorite thing to do is to play music with my band. What do you like to do most? Don’t tell me, do it! Do whatever makes you happy when you’re unemployed and have nothing to do, it will make such a big difference. Aside from playing music, I love writing, hence, I’m writing right now to kill time and add to my blog. See what I mean? I’m having an awesome time being unemployed, at least at this particular moment. Woo!

4. Work on acheiving other goals.

One goal I have in mind is obtaining a Master’s Degree in Spanish. In my time off I’ve visited colleges and asked about their programs as well as have started refreshing my knowledge of the language by working on a self-teaching advanced Spanish grammar workbook. You can do the same, whatever your goals are outside of getting a job, work on them in your time off. It will pay off greatly and may even help you land something better than you thought you could, job-wise.

3, Polish your skills.

infinidad writing

Right now, I’m working on my writing skills. I play guitar and sing at least for 20 minutes or so a day. I practice speaking, writing and reading Spanish almost every day and also practice French sometimes too. What things are you good at? What did you go to school for? What do you like to do that can you can use work on? Try doing at least one thing that fits into each of those questions.

2. Volunteer your time.

This is the next best thing you can do for yourself besides landing a new job.  Volunteer work looks amazing on a resume and can provide skills and experiences necessary to land the next job you’re hoping to do. Can’t find a job? Try helping out somewhere. Anywhere that needs help and has a setting that you can learn new skills from, or could just make a positive difference. I volunteer my time at Soka Gakkai International – USA’s Culture Center. I learn how to basically be a part of a security detail and building maintenance team, all while learning more about Nichiren Buddhism. I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity. Get out there and find a resume building, skill learning and awesome volunteer experience!

1. Apply to jobs!

If you’re complaining about being unemployed and haven’t applied to any jobs, punch yourself in the face. Right now. That was from me.

Now brainstorm: what kind of job am I looking for? What are my short term and long term goals? Do I need a job or have time for a job right now? How practical would it be to land job type A over job type B?

Make a list of at least 10 employers you would like to work for. Apply to all of them ASAP. Keep looking for opportunities that fit your needs and wants at all times and all places possible.  If you start feeling like there’s no hope and you want to bang your head against the wall, try suggestions 2-10 but eventually get back this one.

I hope this list helps in your crusade for employment. Even if it seems like there’s no hope, don’t despair. The more you apply, the better chances you have and doing things that are productive and also fun can help your chances of landing your dream job, or any job, tremendously. Hope you find something soon! -RSM

Why It Sucks And It’s Awesome At The Same Time To Be A Performing Artist

I’ve been a performing artist for a few years now, be it solo with my guitar, with Solitaire Revival or doing spoken word poetry sometimes. Being on stage has its fair share of perks as well as challenges, just like anything else.  The experience of performing your own creations on stage, be it poetry, music, theatre, etc. is truly exhilarating and rewarding, no matter how much money one makes doing. I would know, being a musician that doesn’t have a lot of money to throw around. Since I always like to deliver the bad news first and the good last, I’ll start with why it sucks to be a performing artist:

WHY IT SUCKS:

1. Haters.

When I first started playing guitar I felt a little behind the curve, considering I was 18 going on 19 with absolutely zero musical experience or background, save for classes in school that never put an instrument into my hands. I never joined the school band, was not confident in my singing voice and didn’t know the first thing about guitars.

For the most part people were supportive. I learned from a friend how to play the basics and eventually took lessons, which amplified my progress a great deal. It wasn’t very fun though when I would encounter a few negative remarks here and there in regards to my new venture into becoming a musician.  Some people I would talk to about it would tell me that I had started too late and wouldn’t get anywhere. Starting a journey into an art form is a lot like wearing a new piece of clothing: many people admire the new look, but the few that notice that tiny little imperfection on the right sleeve are the few whose comments you can’t seem to forget.

I got a bit more flack when I started singing. I knew my voice was lackluster but I just did it anyway. I figured I wasn’t getting any younger and I have my whole life to improve, why not try and sing? Once again many of the people around me told me I sounded nice and to keep working at it, but the few people who told me I sounded horrible or shouldn’t try were the comments that stuck. I had one friend tell me that if I didn’t sound good already there was no point in trying.

I still getting the occasional negative comment on my Youtube channel or what have you, but I’ve learned to shake off the negativity and if anything to use it to improve my skills.

2. Finding places to perform.

In a place like New York City, there is no shortage of places to play by any means, but a lot of places want experienced artists. If I learned one thing from job searching this year it’s that you need to have experience to get more, and to initially get anywhere you need to be humble and start smaller than you may originally want to.  I began going to open mics and performing my original songs, starting with a very supportive crowd where I had my guitar lessons, The New York City Guitar School. There’s actually a video on Youtube of my very first performance there! My voice was very shaky and out of key, and I was extremely nervous but afterwards I felt the stagefright lift from my shoulders. I was lucky to have the resource of a supportive atmosphere for an open mic, because many musicians just starting out don’t know where to begin.

3. Hobby? Or Job?

Where I currently am on the spectrum of my musical career is trying to turn my favorite hobby, performing with my band, into a paid gig. It’s way harder than it seems to keep up with bandmates, draw enough people to get paid for live shows, pay for studio time, etc. Everyone in the band has their own personal, work, and/or edcucational endeavors to deal with in addition to the band, which is the case for most young musicians in any sort of musical group.  As a hobby it’s already an amazing experience, but the dream has always been to get paid to play one’s own music.  It takes a lot of hard work and diligence as well as creativity and good chemistry with the people around you to do this. It’s very hard to break through into paid gigs, but I’m sure if I acheive a level of skill where I can live solely off musical earnings the rewards will be vast.

 

WHY IT’S AWESOME:

1. Creativity coming to fruition

There’s nothing better than putting a brainchild of yours into the universe and having it received well by your peers, especially strangers who have never seen you before and will offer a truly unbiased opinion of your work.  I wrote most of the lyrics for my band’s songs as well as over 50 solo songs, and there’s nothing better than getting positive feedback from a song I wrote myself or had a part in creating somehow. Whether its someone rocking out to our music when we’re on stage or if it’s someone commenting on Youtube or Facebook that they like a video of mine, I feel the utmost appreciation for whoever sent that love my way, and love my own creations all the more at the same time.

2. Performing artists make great friends

It’s true. Many startup artists become friendly right away when in the same room, because no matter what venue of the arts one is in, the struggle is shared of looking for work, picking one’s own brain to write/compose more works of art, and most of all the all-too familiar feeling of being on stage where as proud and vibrant one may look, they are actually at their most vulnerable point. It’s one thing to be on one’s own at home, ‘woodshedding’, or practicing and rehearsing to yourself, but to share your art with others who do the same is one of the best pleasures I know. It’s so great to find someone new to jam with, to write poetry with, or to be in a band and to play a song together.  Also, I have found through my journeys as a musician that performing artists of any kind are usually the most chilled out people alive and are great to have around, whether you yourself are an artist or not.

3. Immortalization

Now I don’t mean that I’m invincible. What I mean is that hopefully after I’ve left this earth, my great grandkids will ask what I was like as a person, and someone down the line will have saved recordings of my music.  To publish art, be it paintings, illustration, jewelry, music, theatre, literature, means that it is out there in the universe and you never know where and for how long it will float around, but if you’re an artist of any sort you may like to think that your creative endeavors may have resonated somewhere with someone in the world and hopefully helped them somehow in their own life.

4. “Hey, I’m in the band,” is an excellent pickup line after a show. – RSM

A Few Goals

I tend to be very ambitious when setting goals for myself. Especially in recent years I’ve adopted a ‘shoot for the moon’ mentality when writing down my dreams. In the word of an Emmett Smith biography I read in grade school, “Goals are just dreams until you write them down.”

Here are a few goals I would like to accomplish within a the next few years in my life:

– Complete a master’s degree in Spanish

-Complete a Ph.D in Linguistics

-Be fluent in 6 different languages in 6 years.

-Publish a novel within the next 3 years.

This is the first step in becoming a linguist. I want to master my native tongue at the level of an academic in order to better communicate with other Latinos, have better marketability in the job market and for personal peace of mind.  I’ve always wanted to be fluent in Spanish and have made leaps and bounds in learning the language as an undergrad.  I would like to eventually travel to Latin America when my Spanish skills are developed enough to get around by myself.  This will open the door to my next two goals. I would like to enroll in a New York City based college or university by the Fall of 2014 for an M.A. in Spanish.

-Complete a Ph. D in Linguistics.

I’ve always dreamed of speaking mulitple languages, and using this knowledge to travel the world.  I figured there’s no better way to study language than the field of linguistics.  I see it like this: I’m a musician and in order to learn how to play any instrument, one must have a working knowledge of music theory. Linguistics is the music theory of language.  This goal may take a while to complete but rest assured it will happen eventually.

-Be fluent in 6 languages in 6 years.

Although it may sound very challenging on paper, this goal will work hand in hand with the first two.  I’ve picked up different languages while studying abroad very fast and have learned that full blown immersion is the best way to learn a language.  I want to be able to speak, write, read and understand Spanish, French, Japanese, Cantonese, and Arabic apart from already knowing English.  With any of those three languages mastered, I could land a job translating, pehaps even for the U.N. That would be amazing. I figured I have 6 years and change to master 5 languages, 2 of which I have studied before and one (Spanish) I already know pretty well.  My goal is to be fluent in all of these by the time I’m 30.

-Publish a novel within the next 3 years.

My lifelong goal has been to become a published author. Techinically I have many published works already in the field of journalism, but I would like to take my authorship a step further into the realms of fiction and non-fiction.  I would love to write any and every kind of novel, and already have a few solid ideas and short stories to build on.  Although many may say print is dead, that is not the case at all for the written word itself.  The way I see it, like many industries the publishing industry is being changed by recent technological progress we have acheived as a society and will continue to grow albeit in a slightly different avenue from that of the traditional.  Whether it’s in print or if it’s on a Nook or Kindle, my goal is to become a bestselling author at some point in my life.

Hopefully one day I’ll look back at this post and reminisce about my journey toward accomplishing all of these.  I guess until then, I’ll have to take it step by step and hope, and work for the best outcome. Peace -RSM

What is Latin Alternative?

Latin Alternative is an umbrella genre for many different styles of Spanish-language modern day music across a vast array of sounds, countries and musical subgenres. Anything from rock music like pop-rock, alt. rock, rap and club music like reggaeton, 3bal, ruidoson, and other EDM variations, and even as far as Spanish reggae could fall under the meta-genre that is Latin Alternative.The name Latin Alternative usually is used in the United States to refer to all these different genres, although each sub-genre sounds very different from the next.

Personally, my favorite genre of music is alt. rock, and the case is no different when it comes to Latin Alternative.  Here’s an example, with a song from one of my favorite bands, Libido:

Notice the mellowed out intro and harmonious vocals, abruptly turning up the intensity at the pre chorus to an emotional ballad-like tone. Definitely an alt. rock feel. Libido is a Peruvian band that started in the late 90’s and remained active and very popular through the 2000s.

I have a soft spot for Shakira’s early stuff as well, when she sounded more badass and less like the Top 40. Here’s one of my favorites of her olden days:

Here you hear palm muting guitars, and basslines matching with acoustic and electric guitar melodies. Also, the video is pretty trippy, bro.

Moving onto another realm under the Latin Alternative banner is Spanish reggae. My personal fave is Manu Chao, a socially aware Spanish reggae musician who sings in English and French sometimes as well as Spanish:

The smooth, wavy sounds and ska-like rhythms are reggae signatures, mixed in with Spanish lyrics and guitar melodies.  Very cool stuff.

A very interesting side of Latin Alternative music are 3bal and ruidoson, two genres of EDM mixed with traditional Central American rhythms, often fused with cries against political corruption and economic imbalances in Mexico. Here’s an article I wrote about these two developing musical genres.

Some artists and bands to check out are Juanes, Mana, Ataque 77, Rata Blanca, and a little something by yours truly (and please forgive the bad Spanish):

Peace – RSM

What I Learned In College

Consider this a bit of a warning, juxtaposed with a ‘those were the days’ kind of piece. Kids, in the summer of 2008 I began my first semester of college at St. John’s University. It was awesome. I lived in the residence halls my first year and a half, went to Europe for the length of my 4th semester and joined a fraternity the following year. I kept my grades in good shape until my tomfoolery got the best of me.  My grades began to decline while the good times increased; with my eyes nowhere near the prize I inevitably lost sight of the main goal, which was graduating with the credentials and honors needed to make me stand out in the job market.  Although I made up for lost time in epic fashion I still fell short of my ultimate goal and consider my time as an undergrad, albeit an experience of a lifetime, an academic failure, due to a lack effort and a skewed set of priorities which led to an imbalance of fun over work. Don’t get me wrong; I still graduated, I still had fun, still went to a great school and made lasting connections, had memorable experience and learned a lot. Some may call me a perfectionist, but I feel like I could have done better. This sentiment haunts me every time I apply for job, look at my degree or reminisce about the times where my pen and paper should have been busier than my party schedule.

I started out strong my first two years at St. John’s. After my first four semesters I had a 3.2 GPA and had a few academic organization memberships under my belt, not to mention the study abroad trip of a lifetime which sent me to three different European cities over a span of four months.  The following year, my junior year I joined a fraternity on campus, Phi Iota Alpha Fraternity, Inc. for all the right reasons (no sarcasm intended). I learned about my culture and historical background on an unprecedented scale and felt a new sense of pride in my Puerto Rican roots.  The catch, however was that once I finished my pledging process I stopped caring about my grades for that semester, the cardinal sin of being a neophyte, a.k.a. a new member of a fraternity or sorority.  As my ‘neo summer’ began, my stellar academic record’s golden age was coming to an end, and little did I know would enter a dark age which took several semesters, summer courses and CLEP exams to correct.

In the Spring of 2011 I let procrastination spill over into finals’ week, which is like a soldier going into battle unarmed. I was on an academic suicide mission all due to my own thirst for good times via wild parties, a thirst all fueled by my irresponsibility.  I failed three courses in the Spring of 2011, bringing my GPA down to a 2.8. I was devastated and disappointed in myself. I could have passed every course I had failed with a C at the very least. I knew I was harder working and more intelligent than to have three Fs show up on my grade report, but then again “Your grades are not given, they are earned,” said every teacher ever. I had never failed a course before in my life.

The following semester the pressure was on the redeem myself. It was my senior year, I was behind in credits and I was in danger of losing my partial scholarship. I balked epically at the chance, but had just enough success to barely keep me going.

I got caught up in the party life, this time worse than before. I was Jay Gatsby of St. John’s, focused on the vanity and the craziness that would not matter after I was finished with my undergraduate career. My grades, however, mattered very much and were declining at an ever more rapid rate. I passed 9 credits worth of CLEP exams to make up for the three classes I had failed the previous semester. The catch (there’s always a catch) was that I had to withdraw from all of my  classes in order to not completely ruin my GPA, except for one class that I had not fell completely behind in.

The stage was set in what I hoped would still be my last semester as a Johnnie before I graduated. After two semesters of crazy nights and horrible grades I took it upon myself to try and right my wrongs.  I took on 27 credits in one semester. That’s right, 27. I took 6 classes, amounting to 18 credits, plus 9 credits of CLEP exams. I was not easy and although I tried I fell slightly short, failing a class and earning 24 credits instead.  I toned down the good times in West Egg, although my shenanigan-ridden shindigs still went on from time to time.  I had 4 credits left before I graduated, enough to be able to walk across the stage with my class at the May 2012 commencement.

I felt like I didn’t deserve it. Any of it. All the praise I got that day, my family coming out to see me on campus, my sophomore and junior friends hugging me and saying “Congratulations!!” felt like a total sham.  Call me a perfectionist, but I felt like my commencement was ruined by no one else but the man in the mirror. I was determined to make that change and finish up strong.

The following semester I registered late and had no choice but to take 2 classes with professors that I was not on very good terms with; one professor I had not worked meshed well with and would often skip class and come in unprepared during my Spring 2011 semester, and the other professor was the only professor whose class I had failed during my 27 credit crusade. I had to juggle morning classes 3 times a week in Queens, a part-time job at Union Square in Manhattan and being part of a band complete with gigs all over the city, all the while living at the very top of The Bronx.

It was the best semester I ever had, save for my time Europe.  I came into the Fall 2012 semester deeply embarrassed that I was what the kids nowadays call a ‘super senior.’ I was surprised to find out that many 2012ers like myself had gone the ‘whole nine,’ semester-wise and I was not alone in my plight to finish a bit past the 4 year expectation.  I loved my classes. I studied diligently and really immersed myself in my coursework. I finished my final semester with an A- and a B+, the latter grade coming from the class I had failed the semester before.

I am now proud to say that I officially graduated with the class of January 2013. It wasn’t easy and wasn’t perfect, but I did what I had to do and got the job done.

A few lessons can be learned from my experience. I had many moments of self reflection, challenges galore as well as good times, ultimately forming a novel’s worth of memories and experiences to cherish. Here are some lessons that I learned in college, in a few short phrases:

“All work and no play make Jack dull boy, but no work and all play might make Jack fail out of school.”

“Life is what you make it; you get out what you put in.”

“Balance is the key to life.”

And my personal favorite:

“Redemption is sweet.” – RSM

Second Annual Enlightenment Conference sheds light on José Martí

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Student-illustrated program for the Second Annual Enlightenment Conference. Photo via Cynthia Sandoval

The second annual Enlightenment Conference was held at the Brooklyn Academy of Urban Planning on Saturday, June 8th. The day’s events featured talks from scholars and educators from the Greater New York Area focusing on the central figure of the event, nineteenth century Cuban writer and revolutionary, José Martí.  The event drew dozens of high school students, college students, recent college graduates and educators alike to discuss topics regarding Latin American politics and history.

The conference opened with two speeches from the Salutatorian and Valedictorian of the Brooklyn Academy of Urban Planning’s Class of 2013.  The top honors tandem were brothers Ramón Luciano Capellan and Ramón Antonio Capellan. Both brothers, who are originally from the Dominican Republic, delivered inspiring words detailing their hard work as well as what motivated them to strive for academic excellence.

“I feel connected to Martí’s life because I am Latin American,” said Salutatorian Ramón Luciano Capellan in his opening speech. He felt motivated to succeed by Martí’s struggles and accomplishments. “Look at me,” said Ramón Luciano, “I came from the Dominican Republic three years ago, and didn’t speak any English, but I didn’t let that stop me from becoming who I am today.”

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Brooklyn Academy of Urban Planning Class of 2013 Salutatorian, Ramón Luciano Capellan. Photo via Cynthia Sandoval

His brother, Valedictorian Ramón Antonio Capellan, expressed similar sentiments. Speaking of Martí, he said “Today I am here telling you about a great young man who made his dreams possible.”  He expressed gratitude for his family for giving the opportunity to succeed. The young scholar ended his speech with “If you want to change something, you have to fight for it.”

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Brooklyn Academy of Urban Planning Class of 2013 Valedictorian,  Ramón Antonio Capellan. Photo via Cynthia Sandoval

There were six workshops held throughout the event focusing on particular movements and viewpoints of Latin American history, culture and politics. The event was divided into four time sections.  Conference attendees were given two workshops to choose from for the first session: ‘Martí’s Ideology and Today’s Immigrant Family Experience’ by Luis J. Nicho, JD. or ‘Teaching Martí to our Youth’ co-hosted by NYC Assistant Principal Diana Isern and event facilitator and NYC History Teacher, Jorge Sandoval.  Both workshops in the first session focused on José Martí’s life and work in order to relate his experience to modern day struggles of today’s youth as well as modern day immigrant families.

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Enlightenment Conference speaker Luis D. Nicho facilitating a discussion on today’s immigrant families. Photo via Cynthia Sandoval

The second session gave conference attendees three options: ‘José Marti’s presence in the Young Lords Movement’ by CCNY Graduate Student Jorge Arteaga, ‘Socialism, Capitalism and Corporate News Media in Latin America’ by NYU Graduate Student Ramiro Fúnez, or ‘Jose Martí Discusses Today’s Education 115 Years Ago’ by Jorlui Sillau, MPA. These workshops kept Jose Martí and education in mind as well as delved into modern day politics, media relations and corruption in Latin America and the struggles of modern day Latinos in the United States.

The third session of the Enlightenment Conference was a lunch hour featuring several fundraisers and a presentation on the Icla Da Silva Foundation by Jorge Santos, M.S. in Sociology and Anthropology. The Icla da Silva Foundation is a bone marrow registry formed in hopes of finding matches for transplants for those who have life threatening bone marrow deficiencies.  Dozens of conference attendees signed up for the registry. The lunch hour fundraisers included a silent of auction of several pieces of student made José Martí portraits. Over $500 was raised throughout the day through fundraising and generous donations of attendees.

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Students’ depictions of José Martí on sale throughout the day by silent auction. Photo via Cynthia Sandoval

The final session, entitled ‘The Diasporic Martí: New York and Beyond’ was an intriguing look at Martí’s life in New York City in the late nineteenth century.  The first half of this session was presented by Guesnerth Josué Perea of AfroColombia New York, focusing on José Martí’s own commentary on his experiences living in the NYC. Martí met with several of his revolutionary contemporaries during his time in New York, such as the Puerto Rican poet Lola Rodriguez de Tío. This session displayed Martí’s depictions of Coney Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, and several other famous places in New York City.

The latter half of ‘The Diasporic Martí’ was presented by Gabriel Higuera student at the CUNY Graduate Center.  Higuera presented the life and experiences of nineteenth century Filipino writer and revolutionary, José Rizál. An extraordinary individual in his own right, Rizál was a linguist, world traveler, doctor, and dissident of the Spanish colonial regime. The Filipino Renaissance man had many similarities to José Martí, and was only seven years his junior. Presenter Gabriel Higuera hypothesizes that Martí and Rizál may have met during the time that Rizál visited New York, although there is no documented proof that this meeting occurred.

All in all, the Second Annual Enlightenment Conference was a great success, combining grassroots community organization and participation with culturally rich and intellectually stimulating discussions. Attendees learned a wealth of information about José Martí as well as other aspects of Latin American culture, politics and history.

Here are some more photos, all of which are courtesy of Photographer Cynthia Sandoval:

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Enlightenment Conference host and speaker, Jorge Sandoval delivering his introduction to the conference. 

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EC Attendees during the opening of the conference.

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EC attendees having a group discussion during the ‘Teaching Marti to our Youth’ session.

The Second Annual Enlightenment Conference lived up to its name. I hope to see even bigger and better things from it next year. – RSM

The Paradox of Society

The Paradox of Society

by Rubén Sebastián Muñiz

Society is a living contradiction. One’s entire life is nothing but a repetition of things one has seen from your first memories until your last breath.  On the one side there is order, conformity, hierarchy, all based on this quote: “If you play by the rules, you’ll go far in life,” – Every teacher ever. On the flipside of that, there is the urge to be different, the thirst for freedom, the quest to break free from the shackles of this superstructure formed over the base of human relationships.  The paradox of society is simply this: one has to mix and match allegiances, personal preference and priorities into one’s words and actions in order to create a unique mix of highs and lows, yes’s and no’s, stops and go’s that signify that a person truly is who he or she says she is. You have to fit in, but be different at the same time. In a way, high school never really ends.

There are two sides to every person. One can say good and evil, but I disagree with using those terms since every person has the potential to be either. All people really want from any situation is good. No one wants bad from any situation.  I see society today as most people see it: politics. Politics can mean anything involving negotiation, opinion, and power. There are two sides of a person, a side that is cautious and a side that is adventurous. Usually one is not as cautious as one is adventurous. Most people fall more to the cautious side or to the adventurous side depending on one’s actions as well as the opinions others have of that person, as well as the power that each opinion holds over the others’ opinions.

For example, for all we know as the general public, actor and TV personality Russell Brand could come home from his TV show’s filming to a lovely home with a white picket fence, 2.5 children and a pregnant wife in a sundress cooking him and the family a nice, wholesome meal.  BUT, we all know that this is not the case, because of his actions documented by media outlets and in his roles in film as well as the people’s opinion about him based on the former.  This forms a cycle in which public opinion is created and re-created. Media, people, media, people, media, people. This is not exclusive to celebrities either, especially not in today’s world where one can literally become a celebrity overnight via the internet and everyone has a smartphone.

I digress. Well, not really. How well one does in society, to me at least, is no more than the opinion of the people about one’s actions based on the media and in turn how the people react to the media about one’s actions, forming a cycle which is gauged by the opinion that the general public has on each person involved in forming the opinion of the general public. Confused? Even if you’re not, I kind of am after writing all of that, so I’ll use an example more so for myself:

www.RottenTomatoes.com is a site which compiles all the ratings of other critics on the internet about recently released films. The way the site works is kinda like the way society works; a percentage from 0 to 100 is calculated for each film on the site depending on how well or not so well the film was received by critics who published reviews of each film online.  Keep in mind that not everyone knows about Rotten Tomatoes. People who are not on the internet, for example, may see an ad for said film on TV and may want to go see it despite a 20% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. People who don’t watch much TV may hear about the film through their favorite radio station on a commercial break with a favorable quote from a renowned critic in the ad, and then the radio listener may go see the film.  There are people who will go on Rotten Tomatoes and see the 20% rating and will hear a much more favorable review from their best friend, and then will go see the film anyway.  Or people may just wait until it comes out on live stream with Netflix. The point here is that the media and the general public influence and create one another through the exchange of ideas and opinions, and that each opinion is weighted differently from one person to another.

The media can be anything. For real, anything. The word media is just plural for medium; the way there is a middle man in a financial transaction, the media is anything used as a ‘middle man’ for communication. Hence, when my major was journalism coming into college, the industry of reporting the news, it fell under the field of communications.  The most accepted forms of the term media are publications; newspapers, magazines, and blogs, like this one. Media could also be a debit card, which carries information about one’s finances. Media could be a flash drive holding information like a PowerPoint presentation for work, or an illegally downloaded album from your favorite artist or musician.  Back in ancient times, media was found on walls, like hieroglyphics, or on messengers sent from emperor to emperor, king to king, etc. in forms of engraved stones or knots on a rope.

The most basic form of media is word of mouth.  Even first graders, for example, have conversations about one another, about their teachers, their older brother or sister, etc. The opinion of a first grader on the people in his or her life works the same way as an 80 year old: opinions form based on what one thinks and what the people in their lives think.  Society is a conglomerate of thoughts.

The problem here is that society naturally becomes a war of opinions from different groups of people. If Bob fits in with Group A more than Group B, than Group A may label Bob as someone from Group B, even though Bob really is a Group A kind of guy. Bob may even cross paths with Steve, who’s in Group C. Groups A and B don’t know too much about Group C so by reflex, A and B call Group C incompetent. Then Group C shoots back at Group A and B –see what I mean? Society is just a war of opinions, bro.

One of my favorite bands, Incubus, has a song with the lyrics “I guess it’s true when they say high school never ends.” Word to Incubus. If you ever thought you can escape high school, “Ya dead wrong,” – Notorious B.I.G. In terms of keeping up with The Jones’, trying to win over the approval and interest of others, and trying to find one’s own identity, ‘high school’ will never end.

So while you’re in ‘high school,’ you might as well go to the dance, and bring a date if you’re sweet enough of a talker to have one. Wear your favorite sneakers, not because they are cool to everyone else, but because they are cool to you.  Don’t worry about the jerks that try and push you around in ‘high school,’ because they usually get sent to ‘detention.’ Fit in. You need to. But I suggest that you fit in the way you want to instead of the way everyone else wants you to. That way, just like everyone else you fit in but are different at the same time. The difference is that if you fit in the way you want, you will actually be happy, unlike the posers. Don’t be a poser. Be you. – Rubes

The Millenial Latin American Identity Crisis of the United States

Young people of the United States, most particularly of Latin American ancestry, are facing a very difficult question. This question is as profound as it is simple: “Who am I?”

Personally, I know who I am but I also don’t know at all. I’m freakin’ confused, man. Here’s a little bit about me:

My name is Rubén Sebastián Muñiz. I’m 23 years old. I was born and raised in The Bronx, a borough of New York City. I just graduated from St. John’s University in Queens, with a B.A. in English with a minor in Psychology. I’m also the lead singer of Solitaire Revival, a New York City based alternative rock and hip hop band.

That’s me on paper. Now here I am as a person:

I’m a new age thinker with a love for the performing arts and free expression. I’m a musician and a writer. I’m a Nichiren Buddhist from a long line of Latin American Catholics and I also went to private Catholic schools from Pre-K through my undergraduate career. I love life and everything about it; the good, the bad, the ugly, and the awesome.

Now here’s me ancestrally:

My parents were both born in my hometown, The Bronx, New York. Both sets of my grandparents came from different towns in Puerto Rico. Until recently I had no idea what came before that. This is because Puerto Rico’s ancestral diversity is a mix of so many nationalities and immigration waves, similar to the United States today, not to mention the indigenous Taino tribe that lived there before Columbus came in 1493.

I did some basic genealogical research recently, by which I mean I looked up and cross referenced meanings of the surnames in my family on various genealogical websites. It turns out the surnames in my family originate from a number of different places, including, but not limited to: The Iberian peninsula, particularly Galicia, Asturia, Castille y Leon, and possibly Portugal. Ireland, and possibly Sweden and Holland are also possible ancestral locations. I am also of Taino heritage, which is held true by primary accounts of my family’s elders. There are also many physical features of myself and my family that point to indigenous ancestry, like the curved shape of my eyes, my fair skin color that is darker than the typical Caucasian, and the darker, clay-colored skin of one of my great grandmothers.

I was very surprised when I found out about all my places of heritage. It proved that I could really come from anywhere in the world. Whoa.

This confusing conglomerate of characterization through social labels is pretty mind blowing. The thing is I’m not the only one going through this. Not by a long shot.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the United States’ population was 16.7% Latino in 2010. That’s 1 in every 6 American citizens, roughly. Here’s a quote from The U.S. Census Bureau’s May 2011 issue of The Hispanic Population: 2010 to put the astronomical rate of the Latino community’s growth in the United States into perspective:

“The Hispanic population increased by 15.2 million between 2000 and 2010, accounting for over half of the 27.3 million increase in the total population of the United States. Between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population grew by 43 percent, which was four times the growth in the total population at 10 percent.”

The numbers speak for themselves in terms of how big this new wave of people is in this country. I mean, damn. We are emigrating to, and reproducing in the United States like a giant herd of nomadic rabbits.

Let’s take a step back for second. What is a Latino, or a Latina, or a Hispanic as defined by The U.S. Census? It’s this:

“Hispanic or Latino” refers to a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central

American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.”

– The U.S. Census Bureau, May 2011 issue of The Hispanic Population: 2010

 

The language there is kind of intriguing, don’t you think? Look at the last three words again: “regardless of race.” According to the U.S. Census, Latinos are not a race. Hmm, what are we then?

The melting pot of Puerto Rico is not by any means exclusive to the tiny, beautiful island that my grandparents came from. It’s everywhere in Latin America. There are Latin Americans of Japanese descent in South America, particularly in Brazil; this demographic also applies most famously to controversial former President of Peru, Alberto Fujimori. Guyana is a home to many cultural backgrounds, mainly from Africa, India, and indigenous peoples, and they speak English. All of the nations and locations mentioned in the U.S. Bureau’s definition of race have this demographic trait about them. Ah, now I know why they said “regardless of race.” It’s because Latin Americans are every race in the world combined!

In a rapidly changing world where new ideas are battling tradition, one can only imagine how the Millenial generation, otherwise known as people born from 1985-1995, is handling these rapid changes. Here’s a few statistics to show how they, and by ‘they’ I also include myself, are handling things:

The Millenial Generation, people from the ages of 15 to 25 years old as of 2010, accounted for 16.2 percent of the entire Latino community in the United States according to statistics gathered in the data set The Hispanic Population in the United States, 2010. That’s an estimated 7,914,000 in total, about 2.6 percent of the United States’ population.

A study entitled LGBT Acceptance and Support: The Hispanic Perspective from The National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States found:

“With regard to support for legal gay marriage, Gallup has been tracking support within the overall U.S. population since 1996.  They most recently found that 53 percent of Americans support legal gay marriage.  This compares quite nicely with our data on Hispanics, for whom 54 percent offered their support.”

On the flip side of that statement, the same study also states:

“We find that if there is one concern with LGBT acceptance in the Hispanic community, it resides at the intersection of Hispanicity and religion. While the differences are not there for every measure of LGBT acceptance and policy support, for the majority of measures it is the case both that the most traditional, that is, unacculturated, Hispanics are among the least tolerant.”

The following is quoted from an article from the website of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) entitled Latino Religion in the U.S. Demographic Shifts and Trend:

“[Statistics via 2005]

70 percent of Latinos are Catholic, translating into 29 million Catholic Latinos in the United States (compared to 22 million white mainline Protestants).

23 percent of Latinos are Protestant or “other Christian” (including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons). That translates to 9.5 million people.

85 percent of all U.S. Latino Protestants identify themselves as Pentecostals or evangelicals. That translates into 6.2 million people. 37 percent of the U.S. Latino population (14.2 million) self-identifies as “born-again” or evangelical. This figure includes Catholic charismatics, who constitute 22 percent of U.S. Latino Catholics. 26 percent, or 7.6 million, of all Latino Catholics self-identify as being born-again.

1 percent of Latinos identify with a world religion, such as Buddhism, Islam or Judaism.

37 percent of all Latinos are atheist or agnostic.”

I am part of the 1% as a Buddhist.

There seems to be many discrepancies within the religious affiliation statistics since certain belief systems overlap, i.e. Christian and Catholic.  It is intriguing to see that 37 percent, a large plurality of Latinos in the United States self identify as agnostic or atheist. This statistic implies that younger Latinos are breaking away from tradition, as well as their elders who are already set in their ways of religion, and therefore usually intolerant of new ideas about accepting LGBT culture and other religions and belief systems.

The issues and statistics regarding LGBT and religious populations were highlighted to show the obvious conflict arising within the Millenial generation of Latinos in the United States:

The progressive culture of the 21st Century is driving a wedge between older and/or more religiously rooted Latinos and younger and/or more progressive Latinos in the United States. This rift is not exclusive by any means, but is especially confusing to a Millenial Latino whose own racial demographics represent a giant question mark in itself. The growing population of Latinos in the United States when juxtaposed with the Millenial demographic provides a good cross section to inquire about the future of religious trends, LGBT acceptance and can open new questions about how the United States will fair as the Millenial generation become the new wave of young, educated professionals. With more technology and culture at one’s disposal than ever before as well as being the fastest growing demographic, Millienial-Latinos and Latin Americans in the United States are dealing with the age-old, beautiful plight of figuring out who they are as adults and people, yet in an entirely new era. Latino Millenials in the U.S. are asking themselves in new ways: “Who am I?” -RSM

Works Cited:

Dutwin, David, Ph. D. “LGBT Acceptance and Support: The Hispanic Perspective.”http://www.nclr.org. National Council of La Raza, n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2012. <http://www.nclr.org/images/uploads/publications/LGBTAS_HispanicPerspective.pdf&gt;.

Ennis, Sharon R., Merarys Ríos-Vargas, and Nora G. Albert. “The Hispanic Population: 2010.” http://www.census.gov. U.S. Census Bureau, May 2011. Web. 14 Nov. 2012. <http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-04.pdf&gt;.

Murray, Bruce. “Latino Religion in the U.S.: Demographic Shifts and Trend.” http://www.nhclc.org. National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2012. <http://www.nhclc.org/news/latino-religion-us-demographic-shifts-and-trend&gt;.