It’s Not November but It’s Voting Season in NYC

Graphic of a bus with "The City is Yours" stenciled on the side
The City is Yours, Alex Dunn, CC-BY-NC 4.0

May 28 is the last day to register to vote in the June 22 primary election. The race for mayor is just one of several offices that hold primaries, which will determine who is on the ballot in November for the general election. New York has a ‘closed primary’ system which means, to vote in the primary election, you must register with a political party to vote in that party’s primary. In a city where 70% of registered voters are Democrats, is the race for Mayor decided by the Democratic primary? A lot of experts think so. 

Too many New Yorkers don’t vote in local elections but they should, especially for down ballot races! Local politicians make policies and write and enact legislation that impact: housing and land use, education access, climate change, transportation, policing, funding for social services, and more. Aside from mayor, other offices on the primary ballot in June are City Council, Borough President, Public Advocate, Comptroller, and Manhattan District Attorney. Check out who is on the ballot and read some of the resources below to learn where the candidates stand on the issues that matter to you. 

After you register, you should make a plan to vote and look up your polling location. Can’t vote on June 22nd? NYC has early voting for the primary starting on June 12th. Find out when and where you can vote early

More resources about how to vote and information about how you can get involved are available on the NYC Votes website. Wonder about ID requirements, translation services, or think you or a family member might need assistance at your polling place? The New York Public Research Interest Group (NYPIRG), which works directly with CUNY and has an office at City Tech with student interns, has a voters bill of rights

Why this Race is Important

All local elections have a real impact on our lives but right now we have a lot on the table: many NYC families are struggling after the pandemic to keep up with medical bills, pay their rent, or find a new job; a lot of voters want to change our policing system, which disproportionately targets people of color; and people have vastly different ideas on how we should go about creating safe streets, resolving the homeless crisis, ensuring low-income residents have access to technology, and more. 

This year is especially important because a majority of current City Council representatives are term-limited, meaning we have the chance to elect a lot of new people who represent small districts, usually comprising a couple of neighborhoods. Not sure what a City Council representative does? A lot more than you might think! 

Ranked Choice

This election is the first in which voters will be able to support multiple candidates by ranking them in order of preference. Why does this new provision exist? Because we voted for it on a ballot measure in 2019–a lot of people supported ranked choice voting because it might make politics more civil and give a platform to outsider candidates who people might not otherwise vote for because they are worried about wasting their vote.  

Important things to know about ranked choice voting are it’s OK to rank fewer than 5 candidates, and it is not OK to give two or more candidates the same rank. Ranking candidates does not affect your first choice. Want to learn more? Check out the NYC Board of Elections website for information and frequently asked questions about ranked choice. 

Mayoral Candidates

Of course, the largest focus this year has been the (Democratic) Mayoral race candidates. And City Tech students might have a particular interest in their plans about public higher education. So far, all of the candidates’ official websites mention CUNY as essential in workforce development and a valued partner in creating more teachers, nurses, entrepreneurs, engineers, etc. No candidates specifically address the needs of the CUNY system after years of economic austerity and post-pandemic cuts that have left a lot of campuses under-resourced. Below, we’ve aggregated some information about the candidates so you can learn more about their stance on CUNY and other civic issues.

Candidates In the NewsOccupation & Experience
Dianne MoralesInterview with NYTimesCEO of anti-poverty nonprofit in the Bronx; long experience with youth/P12 education; only person to mention CUNY at the first mayoral debate
Maya WileyInterview with NYTimesFormer counsel to current mayor Bill DeBlasio; New School professor
Kathryn GarciaInterview with NYTimesFormer DoS commissioner; ran NYC emergency food program during COVID-19 crisis
Eric AdamsInterview with NTimesCity Tech alum! and current Brooklyn Borough President; Has identified as a Republican in the past; Former police officer and founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement who Care
Shaun DonovanInterview with NYTimesFormer secretary of Housing and Urban Development under the Obama Administration
Andrew YangInterview with NYTimesBusinessman and millionaire; Proponent of private sector partnerships in many areas of governance; has never voted in a local election!
Scott StringerInterview with NYTimesCurrent NYC Comptroller; free CUNY community college proponent; accused of sexual misconduct
Raymond McGuireInterview with NYTimesCorporate executive at Citigroup; lots of Wall Street investment in his campaign

Wonder what other New Yorkers think about the mayoral candidates? The New York Times interviewed people across the city to find out. 

What should the next NYC mayor do? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

City Tech Ebooks on Political History and Voter Rights

This blog post was written collaboratively by Profs. Anne Leonard and Nora Almeida

June Jordan

A photograph of June Jordan

June Jordan was a powerhouse poet, activist, journalist, and educator. One of the most widely-published and highly-acclaimed writers of her time, Jordan was active in the civil rights, feminist, antiwar, and gay and lesbian rights movements. Through her poetry, essays, plays, and children’s literature, she spoke passionately about race, class, sexuality, and political struggles around the world.

Jordan was born in Harlem in 1936, the child of Jamaican immigrants who raised her in Bedford-Stuyvesant. A gifted student, she began writing poetry in elementary school. She attended boarding school in New England, where her teachers encouraged her writing but never shared the work of any Black writers with her. After earning a BA from Barnard College, Jordan began teaching at the City College of New York in 1966. She published her first book of poetry, Who Look at Me, in 1969. She went on to teach at Yale University, Sarah Lawrence College, and the State University of New York at Stony Brook, before becoming Professor of African-American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where she founded Poetry For the People.

Jordan’s essays were published in magazines and newspapers around the world. She also published more than twenty-five major works of poetry, fiction, and children’s books before her death in 2002. In an interview shortly before her death, Jordan said that “the task of a poet of color, a black poet, as a people hated and despised, is to rally the spirit of your folks…I have to get myself together and figure out an angle, a perspective, that is an offering, that other folks can use to pick themselves up, to rally and to continue or, even better, to jump higher, to reach more extensively in solidarity with even more varieties of people to accomplish something. I feel that it’s a spirit task.”

Jordan’s books of poetry include the collections Kissing God Goodbye: Poems, 1991-1997, Haruko/Love Poems, Naming Our Destiny, Living Room: New Poems 1980-1984, and Things That I Do in the Dark. Her essay collections include Affirmative Acts: Political Essays, June Jordan’s Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint, Technical Difficulties, and Civil Wars: Selected Essays 1963-1980.

You can access several online, full text works by Jordan in the City Tech Collection, including:

Life as Activism: June Jordan’s Writings from the Progressive

Some of Us Did Not Die: New and Selected Essays of June Jordan.

National Poetry Month: Yes, you can borrow these books!

April is national poetry month and if our campus library was open, I’d pick out some of my favorite books from our collection and some of new poetry books that I haven’t had a chance to read yet. I’d put them on a little tiered shelf in the front of the library with a sign that says:

Yes, you can borrow these books!

And I hope you would.

A lot of people think that poetry isn’t their thing but I usually think they probably just haven’t found a poem they really like yet.

Some of the poems that have meant the most to me have been poems that I’ve come across when I needed them, or that have helped me understand something about myself or the world. There are a few poems that I return to often. There’s a poem that I read when I’m sad and a poem for when I am nervous. There’s one I read when I can’t fall asleep. There’s this poem, by one of my former poetry teachers at Brooklyn College, which reminds me of my hometown. There’s this poem that I’ve read a million times that I love and still don’t fully understand.

There’s this video of the poet L.S. Asekoff (another former teacher of mine) reading a poem called Sparrow at a bar in Brooklyn that no longer exists that makes me think of all of the other places in New York that don’t exist.

And I usually read the Preface to Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1855 edition) on my birthday.

This is my favorite part:

This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body. . . .

This year instead of a display in the library, I thought I’d highlight a few online spaces where you can read and listen to poems (and watch videos of people reading). Here is also a link to a database of small presses that publish work by new and emerging writers and a link to Small Press Distribution where you can buy affordable books that support these presses.

Segue online reading series (videos)

Electronic Poetry Center

Penn Sound Poetry Archives (audio)

Poetry Project House Party (digital performance and publications…and also writing prompts)

Invisible Women in Women’s History Month

It’s March, which means it is Women’s History Month, a commemoration of “the specific achievements women have made over the course of American history in a variety of fields”…with one notable exception: the field of domestic labor.

Domestic labor—cooking, cleaning, childcare, and other activities related to household maintenance—remains largely invisible and undervalued. Domestic labor is mostly done by women, and particularly women of color, who keep those around them fed, safe, clean, and cared for. It is essential work, without which no other economic activity could take place, but it is considered unworthy, for example, of being an achievement to celebrate during Women’s History Month.

Photograph of Wages for Housework supporters at an International Women’s Day march in New York City,
Wages for Housework supporters at an International Women’s Day march in New York City, 1977. Photo by: Freda Weinland.

Silvia Federici, who was one of the organizers of the Wages for Housework movement, has described domestic labor as “a form of gendered economic oppression and an exploitation upon which all of capitalism rests.” Domestic labor enables others to work outside the home, and to enjoy higher status jobs and better wages. It is the invisible work that makes all other work possible.

If women in the United States earned minimum wage for their unpaid domestic labor, they would have made $1.5 trillion last year, according to a recent article in the New York Times. Imagine what would happen if women either refused to do any domestic labor or insisted on being paid for it. Our entire economy would be transformed.

Of course, some people are paid for doing domestic labor. During the past three decades, as more and more women entered the workforce, those with enough income (usually white, college-educated, and middle to upper class) began to pay others to help care for their children or clean their homes or even buy their groceries for them. The majority of domestic workers in the United States are low-waged women of color and immigrants. Women with privilege working outside the home have depended on outsourcing domestic labor to women with less privilege. Even though there have been efforts to organize and protect domestic workers from exploitation, they don’t have much protection, and are often denied formal benefits and time off to care for their own families.

During the last year, with schools and offices closed and an New York State executive order that classified most domestic workers as “inessential”, more people had to perform their own domestic labor rather than outsourcing it. Many women with privilege have been forced to quit their jobs, as they can no longer hire domestic workers to help them. Because of the pandemic, some have become more aware that their careers and comfortable lifestyles depend on the underpaid labor of undervalued domestic workers. It seems like a good moment to reevaluate the low value assigned to life-maintaining labor and to start celebrating women for all of the kinds of work they do.

Want to learn more about women and work? Check out these ebooks from the City Tech Library!

[This post was co-authored with City Tech Librarians Nora Almeida and Wanett Clyde.]

African American Studies Department presents “Black Lives Lead: We, Too, Sing America!” Virtual Exhibit

The African American Studies (AFR) Department at CityTech presents a virtual exhibit to celebrate Black History Month, entitled Black Lives Lead: We, Too, Sing America! See the exhibit below. (Transcript forthcoming).


Dr. Yelena Bailey, AFR Adjunct, is the author of the newly published How the Streets Were Made (UNC Press). Join Dr. Bailey as she uses historical and contemporary photographs to examine the creation of “the streets” not just as a physical, racialized space produced by segregationist policies, but also as a sociocultural entity that continues to shape our understanding of Blackness in America.

Transcript

2021 Black History Month Virtual Exhibit, Black Lives Lead: We, Too, Sing America!
Transcribed by College Assistant Yu Lau

My name is Dr. Yelena Bailey and I am so grateful to have this opportunity to share a little bit with you about my book project How the Streets Were Made: Housing Segregation and Black Life in America. I want to thank the Department of African American Studies for making this possible and extending the invitation. I also want to thank the City Tech library for cosponsoring this event. You’re going to hear me, um, do a voice over and show you some images of kind of Black urban space in my hometown of Minneapolis-Saint Paul area.

Many of you will be familiar, um, with the Twin Cities that were in the news this past year with the murder of George Floyd and I think that, um, those events are closely tied to my book and the main ideas there. So I am going to walk through some of that and then I am also going to share with you the ways in which one of the authors I talk about in the book, Ann Petry, shows us that these places can also be spaces of liberation and empowerment.

Soon after musician Nipsey Hussle was murdered on March 31, 2019, social media was flooded with the reactions of Black artists, authors, and activists mourning his death. In the wake of this loss, writer and creative strategist Duanecia Evans tweeted, “The hood is a construct. The deepest underbelly of survival and poverty. The science project of classism and elitism. If you get out you have survivors’ guilt forever, if you stay in… man. Ain’t no middle.” This description of the hood or the streets is something more than physical geography is the heart of this book.

How the Streets Were Made examines the streets as a sociocultural construct that stems from the U.S. geographic segregation and continues to define the contours of Blackness and belonging in the U.S. today. This notion of the streets resonates with me on a personal level. Although I did not grow up in the streets, I was raised by a mother whose parenting was in no small way shaped by her determination to keep me from them.

My mother spent most of her childhood in the projects of North Minneapolis. She is intimately familiar with the streets and the threats they pose to Black life. She’s equally familiar with the way such spaces foster community and belonging. Although my mother made it out of the hood, throughout my childhood she was painfully aware of just how little separated us from that life. This awareness created a ferocious determination in her.

Although we did not have much money, she was resolved to keep me from the fate of other poor Black folks. This often meant moving us from place to place, actively fighting against the social, economic, and cultural forces that attempted to corral us back into poor urban neighborhoods. Even we lived in the projects, my mother moved us across town just so we could get into one of the few available suburban public housing projects. We may have been poor; she would be damned if I didn’t get a middle-class education. When those housing and school opportunity ran out, my mother was willing to relocate to another suburb or another area of the city. I say this not to exalt her as an example of exceptional perseverance but rather to highlight the way the streets, even in their strict absence, radically shaped my childhood.

My mother accepted a life of transience just so her daughter could have a shot at a decent education and a childhood free from the violence of the streets. Reflecting on my own experience has helped me to recognize the streets as much more than a physical space.

How the Streets Were Made explains why racialized spaces like the streets exist and why it is that urban and ghetto most often signify Black. The streets have shaped perceptions of Black identity, community, violence, spending habits, and belonging. They produce myths about urban Black pathology, financial irresponsibility, and inherent violence. These myths have fielded the economic and social divestment of Black communities as well as a boarder divestment from Blackness as a part of U.S. identity. How the Streets Were Made explores these topics as well as how we might approach the topic of redress in a practical and robust way.

While How the Streets Were Made explores the history of geographic segregation and how that lead to narratives that negatively impact Black life, often reinforcing economic disparities, it is also a book about how Black people have fought against these forces and how racism takes place. George Lipsitz argues that people who do not control physical places often construct discursive space as sites of agency, affiliation, and imagination. In the case of Black urban inhabitance, literature became one of the primary means through which Black intellectuals constructed these discursive spaces. While government policies, economic rationales, and marketing campaign worked to create a derogatory narrative around urban Blackness, Black authors were simultaneously wrestling with the cultural and ideological impact of living in racialized urban spaces.

In chapter two of my book, I analyze Ann Petry’s The Street, a novel that exemplifies the way the streets have been depicted and theorized in African American literature. Ann Petry published The Street in 1946, just twelve years after the National Housing Act was established. Set in 1944 Harlem, the novel follows the journey of the protagonist, Lutie Johnson, as she attempts to build a life for herself and her son Bub. Lutie migrated to Harlem after her marriage fell apart.

Determined to work her way up the social ladder, Lutie pursues a number of careers all while her son Bub finds himself alone on the streets. The novel is a tragedy that highlights the specific impact the streets have on Black familial relationships and the pursuit of the American dream. More relevant, however, is the way Petry works to narrate the transformation of A street, 116th in Harlem, from the figurative representation of everyday life in Black spaces in a menacing sociocultural entity, The street. Despite the harsh realities of the streets, depicted in the novel, they are also depicted as a safe space where Black people build community and live free from the constricting gaze of White supremacy. There is a moment in the novel when the protagonist, Lutie, is returning to Harlem after working in another part of the city and she expresses the sentiment in a clear nuanced way.

Rather than summarize it, I’ll read a short excerpt because Petry’s skill as an author is highlighted here and is a primary example of what I mean when I say that Black authors were using their writing to claim space. The book narrates that Lutie got off the train, thinking that she never really felt human until she reached Harlem and thus, got away from the hostility in the eyes of the White women who stared at her on the downtown streets and in the subway, escaped from the openly appraising looks of the White men whose eyes seem to go through her clothing to her long brown legs. These other folks felt the same way, she thought, that once they are freed from the contempt in the eyes of the downtown world, they instantly become individuals. Up here, they are no longer creatures labeled simply colored and therefore, alike. She noticed that once the crowd walked the length of the platform and started up the stairs towards the street, it expanded in size. The same people who had made themselves small on the train, even on the platform, suddenly grew so large, they could hardly get up the stairs to the street together. She reached the street at the very end of the crowd and stood watching them as they scattered in all directions, laughing and talking to each other. This is a powerful moment, both within the text and outside of it. In the novel, this realization stands in stark contrast to Lutie’s fears for her son, the dark dank apartment she lives in, and the harassment she receives on a daily basis as a Black woman. Harlem becomes a safe space where she is free to be herself and to feel fully human.

Outside of the novel, Petry uses Lutie’s realization to reclaim Black space, even space that was initially created through anti-Black policies. She writes these spaces as fostering community and freedom. This passage in Petry’s novel reminds me of the chant “Whose street, Our street.’’ When Black protesters make this statement, it’s a bold reclaiming of power over the space we live in.

In her book Demonic Grounds, Catherine McKittrick says that Black matters are spatial matters in that we produce space, reproduce its meanings, and we work very hard to make geography what it is. When we look at Black organizers today and the protests that take place in the streets, this is a prime example of giving space meaning, of turning the streets into a space of liberation.

Black Foodways Collection

The themes of food justice and activism have been in the forefront of public consciousness as we live through a pandemic. Our recent virtual exhibit, Sustainability & Self Determined Food Systems, examined the intersection of food justice and Black Power, and featured people rebuilding relationships to the land and reimagining food systems.

This Black History Month, our African American Studies department hosted a virtual event with similar themes. Environmental and food justice activist, Tanya Denise Fields’ conversation with City Tech’s Dr. Emilie Boone called to mind the library’s collection of texts related to Black foodways. We have been steady in our intention to acquire newly published works by Black authors as well as those about to Black culture. We are also fortunate to have many important out-of-print or difficult to find texts in our collection.

Though we are currently away from campus, please enjoy this selection of titles.

You may also wish to view:
Winter Holiday Foodways and Cookbooks, Part 1 of 2
Winter Holiday Foodways and Cookbooks, Part 2 of 2

Anti-Racism Resources

A tintype portrait of a woman from Weeksville, Brooklyn

“A white ally acknowledges the limits of her/his/their knowledge about other people’s experiences but doesn’t use that as a reason not to think and/or act. A white ally does not remain silent but confronts racism as it comes up daily, but also seeks to deconstruct it institutionally and live in a way that challenges systemic oppression, at the risk of experiencing some of that oppression. Being a white ally entails building relationships with both people of color, and also with white people in order to challenge them in their thinking about race. White allies don’t have it all figured out, but are deeply committed to non-complacency.”  White Allyship 101 by the Dismantle Collective

February is Black History Month in the United States. As 2020 demonstrated, the situation of Black people in the US is still challenging, often unfair and discriminatory. One way we can honor the historical struggles of Black Americans is to invest in the ongoing work to make our society and ourselves (if we are not Black) less racist. For nonBlack people, February 2021 is a good opportunity to educate ourselves on how to be better allies to our Black family, friends, and neighbors. There are many excellent educational online materials on Anti-Racism free and open to all:

Films

The PBS website offers several films about racism in America, adding historical context to racial issues. PBS’ programs include profiles of police departments, documentaries that cover the treatment of African Americans since slavery, and films about both past and current civil rights activism.

Readings

The case for reparations

“I used to lead tours on a plantation. You wouldn’t believe the questions I got about slavery.”

Allyship and accountability glossary

Podcasts

1619  An audio series on how slavery has transformed America, connecting past and present through the oldest form of storytelling.

Code Switch: “fearless conversations about race…hosted by journalists of color, our podcast tackles the subject of race head-on. We explore how it impacts every part of society — from politics and pop culture to history, sports and everything in between.”

Seeing White: “Just what is going on with white people? Police shootings of unarmed African Americans. Acts of domestic terrorism by white supremacists. The renewed embrace of raw, undisguised white-identity politics. Unending racial inequity in schools, housing, criminal justice, and hiring. Why? Where did the notion of ‘whiteness’ come from? What does it mean? What is whiteness for?”

Uncivil: “Uncivil brings you stories that were left out of the official history of the Civil War, ransacks America’s past, and takes on the history you grew up with. We bring you untold stories about resistance, covert operations, corruption, mutiny, counterfeiting, antebellum drones, and so much more. And we connect these forgotten struggles to the political battlefield we’re living on right now. The story of the Civil War — the story of slavery, confederate monuments, racism — is the story of America.”

Other Online Resources

The Color Line: “A lesson on the countless colonial laws enacted to create division and inequality based on race.” from the Zinn Education Project

Facing History and Ourselves: “Facing our collective history and how it informs our attitudes and behaviors allows us to choose a world of equity and justice. Facing History’s resources address racism, antisemitism, and prejudice at pivotal moments in history; we help students connect choices made in the past to those they will confront in their own lives.”

Talking About Race is a comprehensive, multimedia site produced by the National Museum of African American History & Culture, with rich offerings.

Weeksville Heritage Center is an historic site in Central Brooklyn that preserves the history of Weeksville, one of the largest free Black communities in pre-Civil War America.

Our own wonderful African American Studies Department has its own list of recommended resources, well worth checking out. Beyond the City Tech campus, there are hundreds of CUNY events celebrating Black History Month.

Winter Holiday Foodways and Cookbooks, Part 2 of 2

Cover of Vibration Cooking

This is the second part of a two-part post on Winter Holiday Foodways and Cookbooks, co-written with Monica Berger, our Instruction and Scholarly Communications Librarian. The first part of the blog is here.

For those who love sweets, the winter holidays are a highly anticipated time of year! This is the season when many special desserts are made by diverse cultures to celebrate their holidays.

Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, memorializes a miracle during the Jewish rebellion against the Greeks, where the Jews were able to regain the ancient city of Jerusalem, and restore their desecrated Temple in Jerusalem. The miracle was that the oil for the menorah in the Temple, only enough for one night, lasted eight days and nights. To honor the sacred oil, for generations the theme surrounding Hanukkah cuisine has been deep fried foods, including delicious desserts. In Israel, the most popular holiday treat is sufganiyah which translates to doughnut in English. It is a specialty item for the holiday because it’s sweet and deep fried, sold exclusively around the holiday season. Sufganiyot (the plural of sufganiyah in Hebrew) originated in Europe. Jalebi, a treat enjoyed by Iraqi Jews, is basically a funnel cake, made out of a flour-based dough then deep fried and soaked in a sugar syrup. One exception to fried desserts is rugelach, an Eastern European pastry, which are crescent-shaped dough cookies filled with fruit preserves, poppy seeds, or chocolate and nuts. Hanukkah Sweets and Treats is a kid-friendly introduction to making these and more. The Kosher Baker is an excellent resource for dairy-free desserts.

Kwanzaa is an African-American festival that lasts from December 26 through January 1. Its purpose is to celebrate African-American family and community, while honoring African ancestors and culture. The holiday is based on seven guiding principles, one for each day of the observance: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. Celebrations begin by lighting candles, giving gifts, and decorating with the African colors of red, green, and black. Throughout the week, favorite African-American dishes, as well as traditional African and Caribbean favorites, are on many menus. On December 31, the holiday culminates in a feast called Karamu. Desserts might include soul food favorites like Sweet Potato Pie, Peach Cobbler, or Caramel Cake. Global Bakery has recipes for delicious cakes from Africa and the Caribbean perfect for Kwanzaa, including Ginger Cake, Rum Cake, and Semolina Cake. A wonderful book on African-American foodways is Vibration Cooking: Or, the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl by Vertamae Smart-Grosveno. It is a cookbook/memoir reflecting on food as a source of pride and validation of Black womanhood, and it inspired filmmaker Julie Dash to make Daughters of the Dust.

Christmas: There are many special treats identified with Christmas, such as German Stollen, Spanish Turrón, French Bûche de Noël, and Italian Panettone and Struffoli. The United States is best known for its varied Christmas cookies that reflect America’s immigrant heritages. City Tech Professor Michael Krondl is a food writer and culinary historian. He is also the author of Sweet Invention: A History of Dessert. You can listen to his recent interview on The Takeaway about the history of Christmas cookies. His story starts in the Middle Ages, when honey and spices were very expensive and reserved for the most special festivities. Because of their precious ingredients, people started making and giving cookies as gifts during the medieval Christmas season. For your own holiday cookie baking, take a look at The Great Minnesota Cookie Book : Award-Winning Recipes from the Star Tribune’s Holiday Cookie Contest

Winter Holiday Foodways and Cookbooks, Part 1 of 2

Traditionally, holidays are times when families, friends, and communities come together, with food playing an essential role in celebrations. Obviously, the winter holidays (Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and others) will be different this year, as fewer people will gather in groups. However, for comfort, many will still cook up their favorite holiday dishes. 

In New York City, during the winter, people from many different cultures celebrate multiple holidays with unique foods. It is impossible in a short blog post to “give a taste” of the diverse traditional dishes being served this season. Here are just a few holiday highlights, as well as a selection of e-cookbooks available through the library.

Hanukkah:

Hanukkah is an eight-day festival of lights commemorating the miracle when—after the Second Temple was desecrated then rededicated—one day’s worth of sacred oil for the altar’s eternal lamp lasted eight days. The eight-night celebration of Hanukkah is therefore supposed to include fried foods at the festive meal that is preceded by lighting the menorah, a eight- or nine-branched candelabrum. In Central and Eastern Europe, latkes (potato pancakes) were fried in schmaltz (poultry fat) because potatoes were plentiful while December was the season for slaughtering goose and ducks. Today, many people choose to make their latkes with vegetable oil. Jelly donuts, or sufganiyot, another food deep-fried in oil, are a Hanukkah tradition from Israel popular with Americans. 

Other Hanukkah foods reflect the ethnic diversity of Judaism. For example, Sephardic Jews (Mediterranean Jews) prepare elaborate vegetarian dishes with cheese while many Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews eat roasted brisket as a main dish. For more special Hanukkah recipes, take a look at Sweet Noshings: New Twists on Traditional Jewish Desserts. For a Jewish perspective on Christmas, check out A Kosher Christmas: ‘Tis the Season to be Jewish.

Christmas:

Many New Yorkers from different cultural backgrounds will soon celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas with big, multi-course feasts. One of the most elaborate feasts is The Feast of the Seven Fishes, an Italian-American Christmas Eve celebration. The Christmas Eve feast may include seven or more specific fish dishes that are considered traditional, such as whiting in lemon, clams in spaghetti, or baccalà (dried, salted cod). If you ever want to try to create your own feast, there are several pesci recipes in Canal House Cooking: Pronto! for you to try.

Filipinos celebrate Christmas from December 16 until the first Sunday of January and the Feast of the Three Kings. After Christmas Eve midnight mass, preparation begins for Noche Buena, when family, friends, and neighbors drop by for an open house celebration. Food is often served in buffet style. Among the typical foods prepared are lechon (roasted pig), queso de bola, ham, spaghetti, and fruit salad. Filipino Family Cookbook : A Treasury of Heirloom Recipes and Heartfelt Stories is a great resource if you’d like to learn more.

For many Latinos in the United States, the holiday season is synonymous with tamales. Mexican Americans often opt for corn-husk-wrapped tamales, while those from Central America typically wrap theirs in banana leaves. And while most Mexican and Central American tamales contain corn-based masa, Puerto Rican pasteles don’t use any, instead using a combination of ground yautía (yuca) and green plátanos (plantains). Tamales, Comadres, and the Meaning of Civilization is filled with family recipes and stories. It also celebrates tamaladas, large family gatherings to prepare the Christmas tamales.

Kwanzaa:

Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday nor a substitute for Christmas, and many people celebrate both. Maulana Karenga founded the weeklong festival in 1966 as a way for African-Americans to celebrate their heritage. Today, Kwanzaa is celebrated across North America and the Caribbean. The seven principles of Kwanzaa are umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity) and imani (faith). 

The largest meal—Karamu Ya Imani—is held on December 31. The main dish served tends to be a stew, such as Ghanaian groundnut stew, Cajun jambalaya, Creole gumbo, West Indian curry. Other classics include Hoppin’ John, Nigerian jollof rice, fritters, catfish, collard greens, fried okra, spoonbread, plantains, and  (are you hungry yet?) sweet potato pie. Celebrate Vegan: 200 Life-Affirming Recipes for Occasions Big and Small offers delicious vegan versions of traditional soul food dishes. The Real Jerk : New Caribbean Cuisine provides recipes for Caribbean classics like jerk chicken, sorrel punch, and rum cake.

Michael Twitty is a wonderful food historian and writer who identifies as “an African American who happens to be Jewish, or a Jew who happens to be African American.” He writes a little about Christmas but he writes much more about  Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. His blog is a rich resource for both recipes and food histories. 

Part 2 of this blog will cover delicious sweets and desserts for winter holidays!

We are on Lenape Land, Part 2 of 2

Traditional Lenape land, the Lenapehoking, was a large territory encompassing parts of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. Scholars have estimated that at the time of European contact, there were about 15,000 Lenape people around New York City in approximately 80 settlement sites. In Brooklyn, the Lenape had settlements in what are now Bushwick, Canarsie, Flatlands, Fort Hamilton, Gowanus, and Sheepshead Bay.

A map of Lenape settlements and roads in Brooklyn
A map of Lenape settlements and trails in what is now Brooklyn, New York

The Lenape thrived for thousands of years in New York, before the arrival of Europeans. They developed sophisticated techniques of hunting and managing their resources. They assigned land of their common territory to a particular clan for hunting, fishing, and farming. Individual private ownership of land was unknown; the land belonged to the clan collectively.

The Lenape kinship system was matrilineal: children belonged to their mother’s clan, while their father was generally of another clan. Within a marriage itself, men and women had relatively separate and equal rights.

Clans lived in fixed settlements, using the surrounding areas for communal hunting and planting. Planting was managed by women, who cultivated maize, squash, beans, and tobacco. They also did most of the processing and cooking of food. The men cleared the field and broke the soil. During the rest of the year, they would fish and hunt deer, bears, beavers, raccoons and foxes.

European explorers arrived in the 16th century. By the 17th century, European investors, including the Dutch West India Company, were setting up colonies to extract resources from Lenapehoking. As the European presence grew, traditional life for the Lenape was interrupted. The loss of their land led to a scarcity of essential resources, as they could not farm and were forced to over-hunt.

In 1626, the Lenape “sold” the island of Manahatta to the Dutch. The Dutch were of course deceptive in their dealings, as the concept of private land-ownership was not recognized by the Lenape. This deceit marked the beginning of the end for the Lenape in New York.

Lenape population fell sharply, due to high fatalities from infectious diseases brought by Europeans, such as measles and smallpox, as they had no natural immunity. Violent conflicts with Europeans and inter-tribal fighting also reduced their numbers. By 1750, the Lenape had lost an estimated 90% of their people.

The Treaty of Easton, signed in 1758 between the Lenape and English colonists, forced the Lenape to move westward, out of present-day New York and New Jersey and into Pennsylvania and Ohio. Other deceptive land treaties and forced migrations followed, and the Lenape were pushed further and further west. In the 1860s, the federal government sent most Lenape remaining in the eastern United States to the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) under the Indian removal policy. Today, Lenape communities are found in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Ontario, and New Jersey.

To learn more about the Lenape, check out the Lenape Center or listen to this podcast.

For more context about Indigenous history and rights, take a look at this ebook from the City Tech Library’s collection: Recognition, Sovereignty Struggles, and Indigenous Rights in the United States A Sourcebook.