Decolonial Refusal – What it looks like to me

You don’t go to college to get a degree in financial aid. There is a running joke that you do not end up in the field of financial aid administration on purpose you end up by accident. While that may be how I entered the profession, it is not why I stayed. I got some financial aid assistance while I was a student in college. However, I held down a few jobs in-between. It was not until my junior year that I was given an invaluable federal work-study grant and landed a job in the financial aid office. I immediately gravitated to what financial aid can do for an individual. Allowing access to education, upward social mobility. However, La Paperson’s A Third University is Possible has allow me to critique the academic from a colonial and decolonial perspective. What really resonated with me is the settler colonial apparatus that all colleges trade on from an enrollment and recruitment perspective. That whites without college degrees have established more wealth than Blacks living in poverty with college or partial college degrees. It is the idea of middle-class status vs. middle call material status. I have a college degree, but I cannot get a job vs. I do not have a college degree, but I own my own home, land and do not pay rent into a settler colonial system. I was brought up to believe that education is everything and I still believe that to some extent.

Anderson’s Educating Blacks in the South tells a history of the education of Blacks in America tells a story of sacrifice at all cost to be educated. The period for Blacks in the antebellum South marks a particular evolution of the American public schooling system for all races beginning in the ninetieth century. In the first moments of Emancipation, Blacks sought to do nothing more with their newly found freedoms, than to seek education. The roughly 250 years that mark slavery in this country, Blacks were largely left illiterate. Particularly, after Nat Turner’s revolt because the education of a slave was made illegal. Many Blacks solidified in their minds to pursue education even at great personal risk. However, anger was an emotional sentiment carried by ex-slaves for being kept illiterate by their former slave owners. Many likened this to a sin, of being robbed of an education for so many years. The struggle for education by Blacks can be separated into two categories: short- and long-term goals. The short-term goals of education were to enable the race to stay out of slavery, not to be cheated and to defend and extend their emancipation. The long-term goals are to participate in democracy as free and equal citizens.

Participation in a democracy as free and equal citizens, is a very egalitarian ideal. La Paperson would lump this into Second World University, freedom and liberal ideals from a liberalist perspective. But, that Second World University also trades on the same accumulations of the First World University. Colonial refusal is seeking out aid policies that intend to put students in direct academic eligibility conflicts. Becoming a Scyborg that can navigate or ghost ride the bureaucratic channels that  make it hard for Blacks to succeed in college regardless of financial assistance and need. Not every student enters college having reaped the educational benefits of a society that is designed to benefit the settler class or whiteness.

In my research, vibe, breath, I wish to take these ideas of settler as land, Native as world and slave as a system with me. That in order to contribute to decolonial refusal, I can exist in the breaks, the gaps, and use the technologies that have been set up in support of the First World University towards decolonial progress. Taking those tools wherever possible and shaping them to my objectives to remuneration, restorative justice and contributions, however small, that seeks the best interest, benefit, wellness and nonexploitive practices of Black and Brown bodies.

My First Encounter with Racism in America

I was born in Trinidad and Tobago, in the Caribbean. My mother immigrated to the U.S. when I was about five or six years old. My mother left my brother and I behind for two years to find us a better life. She was running away from poverty and abuse. Not a week would go by that I would not hear from my mother. As a father, I can now fully appreciate how much of a sacrifice that was for her.

One day, in 1992, my mother reappeared. I did not know if she was real. In the life of an eight-year-old, two years was a very long period of time and I had dreamt or thought of this reunion almost every night. A few weeks later, we were landing at JFK airport and heading to our new home in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

We drove under a massive building complex on Bedford Avenue called Ebbets Field. It was the first time that I would take an elevator. It would be the beginning of many firsts. First winter. First snow. First subway ride. My mother was a nanny, like many women who came from my country and had to work long hours. However, she knew that she would have to keep my brother and I by her side during those early years. That fall she enrolled us at P.S. 151 on the Upper East Side. We would get up at 6am, be on the train by 6:45am and in school before all of the other children. I enjoyed the free school breakfast, while my brother and I waited for our first homeroom. In the afternoons we would wait in the lobby of these opulent Upper East Side buildings, waiting for my mother to get off from work.

Years later, I would be identified by my elementary school guidance counselor and teachers as a candidate for skipping a grade. However, in 1992, elementary schools went up to 6th grade and I was already in the 5th. My guidance counselor knew of a school downtown, called the NYC Lab School and thought that I would be a good candidate for admissions. The grades began in 6th and ran all the way to the 12th. Some months later, I interviewed and was accepted into this new school. I connect with When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele in this experience of having to navigate these white spaces and to code switch. When I started school the next fall, I had to adjust to the change in academic expectations from my elementary school. I was a star pupil at P.S. 151, but at Lab, I also was feeling like my stardust too was running out. Similarly, I had the same experiences when bringing home some of my school friends to hangout and showing them where I lived.

While attending the Lab school, I was on my way home with some friends. We got on the A train headed downtown from West 14th Street. In-between the 14th and West 4th street stations, we were mugged by a group of older kids. When we got off of the train, we found a police officer and reported what happened. I was the only person that was Black in the group. We were asked to head downtown to Fulton Street, there was a police station within the subway station. After hours of taking all of our statements, contacting our parents, we were asked where we all lived. We were separated into groups by boroughs and two police officers would escort each group home. My group was heading to Brooklyn. We all were asked for our addresses. Then, we all got in the back of the squad car. The two friends of mine headed to Brooklyn, lived in Park Slope. We drove through Brooklyn—us rehashing the events of the day and the two cops engaging in some indistinct chatter. It was not until they dropped off the last of the two Park Slope kids that they looked back and spoke to me. They asked, “I hope you don’t live in some projects. I really am not in the mood to deal with that.” I was so taken aback and made to feel so deeply ashamed that I lied and said, “No.” The next twenty minutes or so that it took to drive to my home in the Ebbets Field housing projects was filled with dread. I started thinking up excuses for them to drop me off a few blocks away. But, they had orders to drop me directly home. The car pulled up to my building. I heard one of them sigh in the front seat, I grabbed my backpack, opened the door and just said, “this way.” We got on the elevator, that same elevator that thrilled me years before. Washing away all of the hard work, sacrifice and effort that my mother put in to get us to this better place. But, in a single moment I was made to feel embarrassed about where my family lived. That was my first direct experience with law enforcement and racism. It has seared itself into my memory and I have never forgotten that moment since.

As a higher education administrator, providing access to education through financial aid has been an unintended career path, but not a mistake. I think this moment and moments like these that have followed, have shaped me in being critically aware that we are not all afforded the same privilege.

NYC Chinatown – Dim Sum (Tea)

One of the best things about living in NYC is the ethnic diversity, especially when it comes to food. Something that has always peaked my curiosity is culture, that of my own and many others. Globalization and modern transportation is making the world easily accessible. It is also my deep hope that because of this fact, by the mare exposure of people to different cultures can help to improve understanding and decrease ignorance. And the best way to understand another culture, other than speaking the language is through food. I would also like to think that my penchant for languages is also closely related because I can order food in 4 different languages (which is pretty much the extent of my being a polyglot). In many cultures food is often used as an ice-breaker, respect and appreciation. From high-stake political banquets to a humble offering. I know in my culture, refusal of food is seen as an insult. I have been eating and learning my way through NYC since circa 1992 :).

One of the first places I explored on my own and with friends was Chinatown. My friends and I would take the train to Grand St. to go to the video arcade on Mott and buy comics or video games at the Chinatown mall. I remember my first venture into street food, buying little Chinese hotcakes 20 for $1. But, it was dim sum that I loved the best. The carts of freshly made dishes, which is all centered around drinking tea. Drink some tea, snatch up some choice eats and then fight over the bill. In my years of dim sum, I have seen families literally fight over who gets to pay the bill. Often sneaking to the cashier to get the bill before it is even asked for. Grandmothers sneaking off into the kitchen to get a dish before it hits the carts, let alone the dining room floor. It is a marvel of organization and management the way these large dim sum restaurants are ran.

Dim sum cart

My friend, who I met in graduate school and is from the outskirts of Beijing asked me if I would join her for tea last weekend. A few texts later and we had settled on Jing Fong restaurant on Elizabeth at 10:30am because anytime later than this, expect to wait at least an hour to get a table. I have been to a couple in Brooklyn since the emergence of the chinatown there but nothing to me is better than Jing Fong. You are provided with a ticket, every dish that you order gets a stamp: small, medium, large or special dish. We snatched up some stewed chicken feet, which I love — in Trinidad we eat it all the time. It is very gelatinous and flavorful. Then some dumplings and my favorite steamed pork ribs.

Dim Sum

At this particular dim sum spot, there is a section on the middle far wall where you can get specialty dishes. I got some clams in black beans sauce. Sorry, I totally forgot to take a picture it was so delicious.

Far wall has a special food table.

For about an hour, every time the dim sum carts rolled by my friend would ask the lady something in Mandarin. She told me that she was waiting for a special desert. I asked what it was called and she didn’t know the name in English, so she googled it for me; there on her phone I read the dreaded word – DURIAN. Now, I had never had the guts to try this fruit before, having watched enough episodes of ‘No Reservations’ to be rightly weary. But, what the heck – why not give it a try. We waited for about 20 minutes more and finally the dish was spotted on the lower level of a passing cart. It looked harmless enough, looked like filo dough on the outside, hot and crusty. I took a bite and got a slight sent of rot, but it was actually not bad — delicious even. Not too sweet, which is a plus for me because I dislike overly sweet deserts. So, if you visit Jing Fong try the durian puffs and let me know what you think. I will warn you, it is probably not for everyone.

Durian pastry

Afterwards, we walked to a local bakery (Hop Shing) I have been meaning to try. Let me just say, this place is also not to be missed. Their char siu bao and coconut buns are incredible. On the way, there was this guy showing off his classic car and blasting classic music – perfection.

Chinatown Classic Car

JING FONG
20 Elizabeth St
(between Canal St & Bayard St)
New York, NY 10013
Neighborhood: Chinatown

(212) 964-5256

Hop Shing Restaurant 合诚茶楼

9 Chatham Sq

(Btwn Mott & Division St)

New York, NY 10038
Tel: (212) 267-0220

Baking Bread from Scratch

Nothing smells better than hot bread fresh from an oven. Growing up in Trinidad, we lived next to a commercial bakery and had a small shop selling delicious pastries out front. The smell of yeast, heat and flour to this day is one of my favorite smells. Many Trinidadians made their own bread to save a little, rather than buying it from a store. Particularly, around Christmas time – it is very traditional to bake a ham and make bread. It is so delicious and nothing rings in the holiday better than that for me.  Years later, I have taken pride in the fact that I have learned and continued on in that tradition.

This recipe isn’t fancy, it’s practical, easy and fast. It is one of my go to because it is versatile. Feel like whole wheat? Substitute whole wheat flour, add nuts, oats or dried fruit. Sometimes, I just make a plain white bread but these days I try to make healthier food choices where I can.

Basic Bread Recipe

  • 6 cups of flour
  • 2 cups of milk
  • 3 tbsp of butter
  • 1 egg (optional)
  • 1 and 1/2 packs of yeast (regular or rapid rise yeast*)
  • 2 tsp of salt
  • 3 tbsp of sugar (I like brown or even honey)

Instructions

In a large mixing bowl, sift together your dry ingredients (flour, salt and rapid rise yeast*) you can only use yeast this way if it is rapid rising. Once your dry ingredients are incorporated in a small sauce pan warm the milk, butter and sugar/honey over a low fire. Once the butter is melted, sprinkle your regular yeast into your wet ingredients. Be careful not to let the milk boil or get too hot, otherwise you will kill the yeast and your bread will not rise correctly. The sugar also gives the yeast something to feed on and will allow it to bloom nicely.

Next, with a stand mixer, a hand mixer or by hand slowly add your wet ingredients to your dry. After you put about half the wet ingredients add your egg if you choose to do so. Sometimes due to humidity or the type of flour used, it will take less or more liquid than indicated above. What you are trying to achieve is a ball of flour that will not stick to the sides of your bowl. It should not be tough or hard, but soft and slightly sticky. It should take about 8mins of kneading to bring this dough together and to establish the right consistency for a good bread. If it’s too sticky add a little flour, too dry a little warm milk.

Place your ball of dough in a floured or greased bowl with a damp (nice catch Jenna 🙂 ) paper towel over top and allow to double in size. Make sure to place your bowl in a warm place, I usually use the stovetop of my pre-heated 375 degree oven. Once doubled in size, punch the dough down lightly, cut into two even parts and place into two greased bread baking pans. Again, cover with a warm damp paper towel and allow to raise a second time. Then bake in a 375 degree oven for 30-35 mins, you can dip the damp paper towel in a little milk and brush the top of the bread lightly to get a golden brown crust. Once the bread is out of the oven, remove it from it’s baking pans otherwise your hot bread will sweat, get soggy and ruin that delicious crust. Enjoy!

Try some variations and let us know what creative breads you come up with, I am thinking about making a 7 grain and 7 nut bread next. But, nothing is better than hot bread out of the oven with some creamy butter or slices of ham.

Cape Cod – The Perfect Getaway

Every year, going on four years we have spent Memorial day weekend on the outer cape. Cape Cod is a 4:30 – 5 hour drive from NYC and is the perfect north-easterner’s vacation. Everyone should do it at least once in their life, especially if your looking to get away to some place quiet. This vacation is about relaxation, friends, some activities and great seafood. Our first year, the challenge was to find the perfect house. We knew that we needed a vacation rental and a hotel just would not do. My friend Ferlaisa and I began hitting up internet vacation rental sites. We complied a short list of properties that met our needs and shared with the rest of our group to get a consensus. In the end we chose a beautiful home situated in mature trees perched high enough that at night the sound of the ocean can be heard from the hot-tub, but more on the details later. We have taken to calling it the ‘tree-house’ and the owners Dick (who built the house) and Leslie are wonderful.The Treehouse.Now that we had the biggest item on our check-list, checked off, it was time to settle into the details. Let me confess one thing right now, I’m the kind of person that likes an itinerary while on vacation. Okay, not extreme hour by hour breakdowns but a rough collections of interested activities sorted by day will suffice. Ferlaisa, was worst at the time. She planned a weekend trip to Ireland and I felt like I saw most of the east coast of that country in three days. Our list started looking a bit like this:

  • Eat a great lobster-roll
  • Go whale watching
  • Rent bicycles and go exploring
  • A bond fire on the beach
  • Get a message
  • Go kayaking

So, one night I could not contain my excitement any longer and had to get it out creatively. I opened up a graphic design program and constructed a flyer to share with my fellow vacationers. It provided them with all of the details for our trip and with that, we were ready to go.

We got on the road early, but eventually passed through Liberty Avenue in Queens to get a true Trinidadian breakfast – doubles, at Trini Delite. Then, we hit the I-95 and didn’t look back. We ran into some stop-and-go traffic in Rhode Island, but eventually we made it to the town of Wellfleet. It just so happened that a couple of weeks before we left, I was watching ‘The Best Thing I Ever Ate’ on the food network and Duff Goldman (of Charm City Cakes)mentioned that PJ’s Family restaurant had the best lobster rolls he had ever had. The segment showed him driving in Cape traffic for an hour just to get there. Let me add, another advantage of going at the beginning of the Cape’s tourist season, is low traffic volume. The one lane highway that runs from Sandwich all the way to Provincetown or P-town as the locals call it can get ridiculous by mid-summer. It just so happens that PJ’s was located just before the turnoff that lead into the town of Wellfleet. I could not wait to pull over and try one.

You have two options on how to order at PJ’s, belly up to the take-out window or dine in. I ordered a lobster roll at the window and at $16 dollars a roll, I was hoping that it would be worth every penny! My number was called and I picked up my take-out box. The roll was fulled with lobster and by my estimation about an entire lobster tail and a claw comprises this roll. I held it up and took my first bite. The first thing I tasted was the toasted buttery roll, followed by the perfect juxtaposition of chilled, sweet and creamy lobster meat. No celery or excessive mayonnaise to distract from what I must also now say it the best lobster roll I have EVER eaten!

PJ's Lobster roll.

Our getaway was already off to a delicious start as we pulled out of the parking lot at PJ’s and headed up to the house. We drove by, observing, getting used to the 15MPH town speed limits and getting our first looks at Wellfleet. It is the perfect little town with the epitome of a main street vibe. A church, a little dress shop, the towns only grocery store and other little shops we would begin to discover soon. About 4-5 minutes later and we were pulling up to the house at the end of a lush green cul-de-sac, when we saw what was to become our tree house.

We parked the cars in the crush gravel driveway and walked inside to greet the owners – Dick and Leslie. Immediately, I knew that we had made the right decision, the house was even more beautiful than the photos on the vacation website. They met us at the large front patio that wraps nearly 3/4th of the way around the house and includes a screened-in outdoor living room, perfect for early morning coffee or late afternoon meals. The front door leads onto a stone tiled foyer with ample room for shoes, a little seated bench, pantry, powder room and laundry. Then we entered the main living space containing a beautiful chefs kitchen with all the modern amenities, dining and living room area. Everything about this home is handcrafted from the most beautiful wood, leading your eye to an abundance of windows and a stone fireplace. Upstairs are two bedrooms with a gorgeous master bath, walk-out patio and hottub. Let me just say the hottub can easily accommodate 6 people and is state of the art. On the bottom level is another bedroom and bath, as well as a TV room than can accommodate additional sleeping arrangements. A short walk outside, is the quintessential Cape Cod outdoor shower, which should never be missed. The owners gave us their last operational instructions, wi-fi WEP key codes and bid us goodbye, stating that if we needed anything – they would be only a phone call away. We brought in our bags, groceries and began our vacation.

NEXT POST: Dinner at the Pearl and Whale Watching.

A Gardening Season of Faith’s Perfection – Growth

A few weeks into my attempt at urban gardening and I was already feeling at home. Comfortable. I am a firm believer that we were meant to do certain things in this life. I guess it makes sense because every generation prior to mine, on my mother’s side of the family have been involved in agriculture. Growing up in the West Indies my family’s main source of income came from a 68 acre mountain cocoa and coffee estate; called La Laja. I spent every summer and many weekends there, in the cool and crisp air. Most mornings I would get up to see the mist rolling down towards the valley floor, eat something delicious, but simple with coffee or creole cocoa tea. Then it was off into the forest with my brother and/or cousin to have an adventure.

At the age of 5, I was already initiated into the generations of hunters in my family with my very own slingshot. Mostly, we hunted birds – my brother was especially good at this and we often were able to reap the rewards of our efforts. We had such freedom to roam and even though we were given no official boundaries, we would never stray very far from the adults in our family. Returning to my great-grandmothers base camp we prepared our meals. Base camps were used for temporary housing, to store a harvest before transportation into town to be sold at market. It included a couple of rooms, an outdoor kitchen with a clay wood burning oven, an outdoor latrine and of course – hammocks, my favorite. A number of these camps dot their way, until the final one almost at the top of the mountain. We would sit down to feathering the bird(s), lucky if we had more than one to share among ourselves. Once the initial layer of feather were removed, we would burn off the fine feathers using heat from the embers of the wood burning stove, then remove the innards. Often, we saved the liver, heart and gizzard – delicious! Seasoned simply with salt, pepper and then roasted using the open fire (the fire also seemed to have a seasoning all its own). My piece of roast bird was often no more than a taste, but it was for the adventure and something to share/do with my brother and cousins that mattered most.

I would also help my great-grandmother plant peas higher up the hill behind her camp. We utilized a stepped-irrigation-agriculture system. Think of stairs cut out into the side of a mountain, we would plant crops on the flat portion and the natural rain/due accumulations would run off keeping everything naturally irrigated. Every time I visit my native country, I must set foot on these lands. It’s funny because I immigrated to the US when I was 9 years old and would consider myself very much American and a New Yorker at that, spending much of my time since then doing things totally unrelated to my initial upbringing. But, something about this rectangular plot of earth made sense to me, that besides all my education and professional success, we will always find a way to be, that which we were always meant to.

I dug right in, weeding out, well, weeds and staking my small tomato plants. My mother was making a trip to the Terminal market in Canarsie (great place for plants in Brooklyn). I asked her to pick me up whatever looked fresh and vibrant. She dropped off a tray mixed with sun peppers (small sweet peppers), sweet basil and rosemary. It was a good place to start, I didn’t want to over-crowd the plot to the point that my plants would have to compete for nutrients. This also is not the most productive way to stimulate abundant yields of fruit from them neither. The new garden director had water lines, interspersed with stand pipes installed every 10 ft. throughout the garden. This made watering very convenient. Within a few weeks, I began to see the rewards of my labor. Everything was growing nicely together, there was an even an unoccupied space and I decided to try germinating some beans. Then I noticed another pleasant surprise from the rich layer of compost within my plot; a vine. At this point, I assumed it was cucumber.

In mid-July I had a federal conference to attend in Chicago, I asked a friend that lived a couple of block away from campus to stop in and water if needed. When I got back she told me it had rained often enough that she didn’t even have to stop by for a visit. So, a week and a half later – I drove on campus at around 7:45 AM, early enough to check up on my garden. I was shocked to see that my garden had almost doubled in size and overgrown. I headed to a home supply store, bought some cheap wooden stakes. After I took care of the overgrowth, I took care of some of the large weeds and finally my garden was ready for full production.

NEXT POST: FULL BLOOM

City Art: The Bowery Mural

Us as NYers are often so busy with our daily routines of work and our personal life, that we sometimes forget to “stop and smell the roses,” so to speak. A prime example of this is how many times have you gone to the NoHo section of Manhattan, the corner of Houston St. and Bowery to be exact and have walked by the always changing but always eye-catching murals on the corner of that block?

PAST MURALS:

past_muralpast_mural2

If your answer is “I have never noticed the murals,” next time you’re in that area please take a second to snap a picture or just slow down and take in a piece of art done by some of the greatest street artist of our time. This wall has been blessed by the likes of Lady Aiko, Retna, Shepard Fairey and one of my personal favorites Kenny Sharf just to name a few.

The latest artist to leave his mark or should I say their mark on this wall goes by the name of How and Nosm, born in Spain and raised in Germany these twin brothers are known for their large-scale mural artwork. With work done all over the world from South America to Europe and Asia, to right here in New-York and Los Angeles, their work is instantly recognizable, especially with such a limited color palate of only three colors red, black and white.

The brothers started this Mural on Nov. 2, just days after our city was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy and just maybe gotten a little inspiration from the hurricane by having broken light bulbs, electrical cords and rising water with dead fish as part of their work of art. So, the next time you’re in the city stop and take a look. Even if you don’t get a chance to see How and Nosm’s work on the wall, the next piece that goes up in its place is guaranteed to be unbelievable as well. So don’t be one of those people missing out on some really great pieces of art by artist who are putting their soul on a wall for you to see free of charge and without having to go into a gallery.

Define Your Own Urbane Lifestyle

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