2016 – Festival Betances Celebrates Latin American Culture & Community History

Published in the Bay State Banner, July 21, 2016

Last week, New England’s longest running Latino festival, Festival Betances, celebrated its 43rd year in the Villa Victoria Community in the South End.

The festival’s history is rooted in triumph against gentrification and displacement and has become a weekend event where multiple Latin nationalities come together and pay homage to the Puerto Rican activist, doctor and intellectual, Ramón Emeterio Betances. The free festival was organized by Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción, a non-profit organization and community-building agency that played a role in Villa Victoria’s inception.

When the festival first began in 1973, it was mainly a celebration of Puerto Rican culture and was “a little less formal with music and talent presentations mostly from the community,” said Yarice Hidalgo, Director of Institutional Advancement for IBA.

Today, the festival boasts international musicians, participants from all over Boston and guests from all over New England. This year’s musical headliners were Bohemia singer Edgardo Zayas, Grammy Award winner Jesus Pagán y su Orquesta, and salsa band 8 y Más.

Fun and games

Part of the three-day agenda featured a basketball tournament, domino tournament and a greased pole competition. Food and drink stalls were lined up, and the stage was set up at the center of plaza with plenty of room for dancing.

“Music and artistic presentation have always served as a catalyst to community organizing. Today we continue to work towards these goals and to celebrate our beautiful community and its diversity,” said Hidalgo.

The opening parade that kicked off the festivities on Friday evening was joined by members of Villa Victoria and organizations including Sociedad Latina, South End Neighborhood Church and MIT Casino Rueda Group. Local musicians and colorfully-dressed dance performers also joined the lineup and led the way from West Dedham Street, down Tremont Street and around the Villa Victoria Community streets.

Diana Ruiz, a member of MIT Casino Rueda, said that the dancing group was invited by the festival’s organizers to participate in the parade for the first time. The group, which teaches and performs the Cuban style of salsa dancing, began at MIT but is open to anyone. “We love these types of events and we love bringing something to the community,” she said.

Deep roots

Anastasia Correa, who has organized the domino tournament for the past ten years, was 9 years old when Villa Victoria was founded. She was born and raised in Boston to Puerto Rican parents and was living in the working-class area in the South End called Parcel 19.

In 1965, the Boston Redevelopment Authority intended to tear down the existing housing in Parcel 19 for a new development that the current residents would not be able to afford. “We were being burnt out of our own apartments,” said Correa. “There was no place to go.”

In response, members of the community formed IBA as a grassroots organization to take action, gather support, and save their homes. Correa’s grandmother, Paula Oyola, was among the organized residents who joined the leadership of Israel Feliciano, Rev. William Dwyer, Helen Morton and Phil Bradley. They rallied and protested at the State House and City Hall shouting, “No nos mudaremos de la parcela 19.”

In 1968, residents of Parcel 19 won control over their housing and with the help of IBA, developed Villa Victoria, a 435-unit affordable housing community designed by a Puerto Rican architect, inspired by a typical Puerto Rican neighborhood and plaza.

A couple of years later, the residents of Villa Victoria started the festival with the support from IBA, which has continued to secure sponsorship and resources for the event through the years. “We created something where people can come out, know their neighbors, enjoy the festivities, the delicious food that we have, and the music that can move your feet,” said Correa.

The festival’s evolution into a diverse celebration occurred naturally. “The festival became really popular and that’s when people recognized that we had other cultures living in the community,” said Correa. “They began to introduce themselves and their culture.”

Correa emphasized the importance of the festival as a way for Villa Victoria’s youth to learn about where they live and how they got there.

“We want to teach them where they come from and the community’s history,” said Correa. “The past is what we got…without the past, we wouldn’t be having all this.”

In addition to her role organizing the domino tournament, Correa also has helped coordinate youth fashion and pageant shows as part of the festival.

Correa said that her grandmother was her teacher, telling her all about the community’s legacy of activism and strong cultural pride, and that in turn, she wants to be the same resource for today’s kids.

“The last words she said to me were, ‘Take care of my people and take care of my community,’” said Correa of her now-deceased grandmother. “I believe that’s what I’m doing now.”

Photo courtesy of Steve Tompkins

 

 

2016 – Paying it Forward in the IT Business

Published in the Bay State Banner, July 13, 2016

After working in the information technology industry for 13 years, Reinier Moquete witnessed the emergence of cloud computing and founded Advoqt Technology Group in 2012 to help usher companies into a new era of easier, cheaper and quicker data storage and protection.

“Our goal is to be at the intersection of cloud computing and cyber security,” said Moquete.

Advoqt, pronounced as “advocate,” comes from the company mission to be a strong proponent for clients’ technological needs, while the “qt” is a nod to Moquete’s name.

Moquete was born in New York City and spent the majority of his childhood traveling back and forth between the Washington Heights neighborhood of his hometown and the Dominican Republic. Moquete moved to Boston in 1999 to start fresh and pursue his childhood interest in technology engineering.

“As a kid I was tempted by certain dark elements of street life,” Moquete said of his life in New York. “I lost many friends to violence or prison. I had to work hard to put that behind me and get myself into college.”

Moquete attended Bunker Hill Community College, obtaining associate’s degrees in finance and business administration, then graduated from Pace University with a degree in telecommunications. He worked for various corporations over the years and then, struck out on his own.

“I saw an opportunity whereby a lot of companies were thinking about cloud computing but weren’t sure how to execute it and capitalize on it,” Moquete said.

The Advoqt Technology Group includes 17 employees and 30 contractors, and is certified as a Minority Business Enterprise and a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise. As CEO, Moquete emphasizes social impact as one of the company’s main goals.

“We believe in paying it forward,” he said. “We want to invest in people who are then going to make the same investments for the next generation.”

STEM Alliance

In 2010, Moquete co-founded Latino STEM Alliance, a 501(c)(3) organization that engages underrepresented youth in science, technology, engineering and math through afterschool programs. Two years ago, he also started the Diversity IT Network, a community that brings together information technology professionals of multicultural backgrounds and connects them to career development and personal growth opportunities.

As a company, Advoqt invests time and resources into initiatives like Latino STEM Alliance and Diversity IT Network. It acts as a liaison between multicultural technology professionals and job opportunities either internally, or as a way to fulfill their clients’ staffing needs.

According to statistics released by The U.S. News/Raytheon STEM Index, in 2015 African-American and Latino workers represented 29 percent of the general workforce population, but just 16 percent of the advanced manufacturing workforce, 15 percent of the computing workforce and 12 percent of the engineering workforce — rates that have virtually remained flat since 2000. White and Asian individuals dominate 83 percent of the advanced manufacturing workforce, 84 percent of the computing workforce and 87 percent of the engineering workforce.

“As a business owner, I have the discretion to say, this is the kind of business that I’m building,” said Moquete. “It’s going to create opportunities for folks of all backgrounds. … It’s going to help us all generate personal wealth but do so in a way that is also contributing to the good of our community.”

Diversity is critical for Moquete and his company, not only on a social impact level, but also on a strategic level. “It gives us different perspectives and different points of view to solve a problem,” he said.

But more than anything, when hiring, Moquete looks for attitude and work ethic. “I love hiring people who are demonstrated hustlers,” said Moquete. “Somebody who, despite every obstacle, has found a way to be successful.”

Moquete did not have any capital when he started Advoqt but had already garnered active customers from his previous jobs that allowed the company to float for a couple of years.

“When I decided to go off on my own, there were a number of customers that supported me,” he said. “But then, being out there, hustling, beating the bush, we were able to secure major customers that have functioned as anchors and from which we scaled.”

Advoqt grew 300 percent last year and Moquete is hoping to continue with similar momentum through strategic partnerships with mid-sized business clients.

According to Moquete, the ever-increasing sophistication of hackers only makes the need for cybersecurity through cloud computing even more urgent.

“Hackers are far more advanced than your average business owner, which allows for a business like mine to prosper,” he said.

Photo provided by Reinier Moquete

2016 – 6 Pies You Should Try on National Pi Day (March 14)

Published on bostoncommon-magazine.com, March 14, 2016

National Pie Day (today, March 14) is the perfect excuse to indulge in some takes on the sweet treats around Boston.

Banana Cream Pie at Post 390

This gooey, fluffy treat is pastry chef Molly Hanson’s signature dish. It’s made with brulee bananas, foster sauce, and house-made banana liqueur. 406 Stuart St., 617-399-0015

 

2016 – Wet: Debut Album Review

Published on ymemerson.com, February 4, 2016

We’re at a point in music history where divisions between genre categories have become increasingly blurred. Where there were decidedly pop stars like Britney Spears in the late 90s or rigidly rap artists like Notorious B.I.G., more experimental artists have emerged — they grapple between different genres like Kanye West, The Weeknd, or recently, Wet.

The trio of Brooklynites, originally from Massachusetts, graduated from their SoundCloud days and released their full debut album, Don’t You with Columbia Records in late January. Although produced under a major label, Wet did not diverge too far from their self-titled EP sound, keeping their alternative r&b-synth-pop-hard-to-categorize-style still intact. However, Don’t You does seem more fleshed out with additional production and instrumentals.

“Compared to the EP, there are moments where the album is packed and more dynamic while I think the previous work was easier to digest,” said Kelly Zutrau, the singer/songwriter of the group, in an interview with Dummy magazine.

To be frank, Don’t You is a breakup album dedicated to the heartache, confusion, and regret following the end of a relationship. For some, the 11-song sentimental saga can be hard to stomach all at once, but for those who can currently relate to heartbreak, it might just be what you need to to lock yourself in your room and curl up in a ball with.

That’s not to say the album is without its hopeful moments. “You’re the Best” begins with the afflicted, All I know is/When you hold me/I still feel lonely but then leads to an optimistic chorus with an upbeat tempo of Baby you’re the best/We’ll figure out the rest/and maybe it’s a test.

They’re certainly not the only current artists who are incorporating various genres into their music, which the band is well aware of.

“Our music plays into the more general trend of artists incorporating certain elements of R&B and pop into their sound and creating something really unique,” said Zutrau to Interview magazine. So what makes Don’t You stand out from the rest?

Listeners, such as myself, might enjoy Zutrau’s breathy notes and dreamy melodies and the minimalist lyrics punctuated by rhythmic synth pads and drum beats produced by the band’s instrumentalists, Joe Valle and Marty Sulkow.

Not everyone agrees, like Pitchfork’s music reviewer Katharine St. Asaph, “As it stands, Wet may as well be directing readers toward better versions of them. And there have never been more to choose from.”

While Asaph is right in pointing out that there are many other similar bands like Wet, such as the xx, Banks, and Haim, all of whom I also personally enjoy, there’s no reason not to appreciate their music all the same.

Photo by Alexander Wagner

2016 – Not Your Grandmother’s Knit Sweater

Published on ymemerson.com, March 13, 2016

Photo by Benjamin Frohman

Meet Pilar Duralde. Part time Writing for Film and TV major, part time sweater knitter. But she’s no grandma. This first semester senior makes delightfully quirky “boob sweaters” with a bad-ass message.

YM: Why did you start making these types of sweaters?

P: I made myself one last year around this time. I guess I had a dull black sweater lying around and I was thinking of what to do with it and I thought it would be a fun design. I was kind of scared to wear it at first, but it became second nature. Then everyone started asking about them, so when it was time for me to start funding my BFA I started to make and sell more.

YM: Is there a message that you want to give off with your sweaters?
P: I suppose it’s really about desexualizing breasts and creating a safer environment for them to be casually present. The stigma around breastfeeding has always bothered me, and I wholly support Free the Nipple. I don’t think I’m bold enough to go topless when it is warm out, and frankly, I’m not sure that it’s safe enough for a woman in America to truly free the nipple. Ultimately, the sweater is a cozier rebellion that more people can actively participate in (even guys!)

YM: What’s your experience in making clothes/knitting/art?
P: I learned to knit and crochet in the fifth grade but it really took until high school for me to pick them up again. I’ve made blankets, socks, sweaters, all sorts of things! I can do some sewing, I made my prom dresses in high school. I used to play bass, I write, I take pictures. Any project that can push me creatively or my skill set is worth trying. There is a constant need I have to be consuming or creating art, any time I can combine the two is perfect.

YM: How many sweaters have you made? How many have you sold?
P: I’ve lost track, I’d say around 40 or so made and sold. Alex Shadrow of UNItiques (a free online marketplace for college girls to buy and sell fashion) recently reached out to me to sell on that platform under the store PilarsCreations. I just got another load of sweaters, so I’m hoping to make more and sell them there soon!

YM: What sort of reactions do you get?
P: Mostly, overwhelmingly positive. I’ve run into a creepy guy or two who may have missed the point, but I’ve had more female strangers compliment them. My parents thought they were a hoot. College-aged students from all over seem to like them and want one of their own. I mean, I think not only is it a fun design, but since every sweater and color combination is unique it draws more of a crowd.

2016 – An Interactive Art Installation That Will Let You Confess All Your Secrets is Coming to Boston

Published on bostoncommon-magazine.com, March 29, 2016

Starting on April 11, a public video booth will invite people to complete the statement, “The Truth is…” at The Verb Hotel and the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

Filters and backlit iPhone cases aside (thanks for that one, Kim Kardashian), a public art installation slated to appear on the Rose Kennedy Greenway (April 13-15) and at The Verb Hotel (April 11-12) might give Bostonians a chance to speak a more authentic truth with their social media. In Search of Truth (The Truth Booth) is an inflatable video booth that invites members of the public to complete the statement, “The truth is…” in any way they desire.

The global, multi-year project is part of a collaboration between artists Hank Willis Thomas, Ryan Alexiev, Jim Ricks, and Will Sylvester of the Cause Collective in partnership with development firm Samuels & Associates, arts organization GT Public, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. In addition, Thomas will speak at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston on April 12. Since 2011, The Truth Booth has been collecting and archiving 2-minute-long video statements from people all over the world, from Ireland to Afghanistan.

Read the rest here.

2016 – 11 Restaurant Patios for Alfresco Dining Since it’s (Finally!) Warm Out

Published on bostoncommon-magazine.com, April 22, 2016

We’ll jump on any chance to spend outdoors now that it’s finally starting to feel like spring. These restaurant patios fulfill our need to soak up the sun—cocktail in hand, of course.

Coppersmith

Newly opened Coppersmith is embracing its first warm-weather months with multiple outdoor seating options. Housed in a former industrial warehouse for a copper forgery company, the restaurant includes a patio as well as a rooftop deck with a vintage Airstream trailer converted into a bar. 40 W. Third St., 617-658-3452

Stephanie’s on Newbury

This Newbury Street mainstay offers delicious salads and sandwiches and unrivaled people-watching views from the street-level patio. Guests (including the Boston Common staff) especially enjoy the Build Your Own Bloody Mary menu. 190 Newbury St., 617-236-0990

Read the rest here.