A Sociologist’s Guide to Spanish

TED spends the last two hours of Wednesday afternoons in what we call “Learning Wednesday.” This time is reserved for a lecture, company wide meeting, or a series of workshops created and hosted by the staff.

For this month, I volunteered to host a workshop called “A Sociologist’s Guide to Spanish,” where we explore the Latino/Hispanic communities that coexist in New York City and the differences in the Spanish each of these groups speak. We have a number of native Spanish speakers from different countries on our teams, so we’ll host and discuss language differences together with some of our coworkers who are new to the language. It’s also a neat opportunity to compare pronunciation, slang, and expressions between our communities.

This seemed like a good time to host this workshop as the city comes together to support all of its communities in light of the executive order on immigration and the proposal for the border wall going through the government.

We have many different immigrant communities in our city, all coexisting peacefully, and language is one wonderful way to connect to our neighbors. I would love to be able to teach my coworkers enough Spanish that they could ask for directions or specific groceries in some of the predominantly Spanish-speaking areas of the city. Practicing a language that is foreign to you is humbling. It is good to see what it’s like to stumble through someone else’s words and sentence structures to fully appreciate what it means to learn English as a second language. It’s also about recognizing how cool it is that you can visit a neighborhood like Corona in Queens and practice your Spanish with a short trip on the train.

The guidebook I created includes some basic conversations in Spanish with relevant vocabulary lists, demographic information about different neighborhoods and communities within Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, and our favorite recipes from the different countries represented within our staff.

This was a tiny way I can be a bridge between two of my communities, but it was also a nice way to introduce a broader conversation about the diversity that exists within Spanish speakers in New York and across our hemisphere.

Header Image credit: Chris Goldberg / Flickr

Making “an Eccentric Guide” to New York

This guidebook by Diana Enriquez with design by Kaela Gallo plays on our love of adventure… and people watching. Or the reasons why we’d prefer to meet you at the Blue Whale than the Met, and we’ll buy dinner at the Hong Kong Grocery store and meet you for sushi on a stoop nearby, with some change and our hearts in our pockets.

Kaela Gallo: Pigeons on a rooftop in Bushwick, Brooklyn

For Christmas this year, I wanted to give my boyfriend a year of adventures. New York as a choose your own story guide sounded exactly right… but it needed to be a little more thoughtful, better tailored to us than the guidebooks I have stashed in every corner of my bookshelf.

Already, I take him to lots of strange things all the time… For example, he first met my father entirely by surprise (for both of us) at a lecture about voguing and underground clubs in New York. He is willing to indulge me by going on my walking tour I put together covering the History of Organized Crime in lower Manhattan. He’s followed me down to DC for TEDxMidAtlantic and into a MOTH story slam about “Guts.” I needed to think bigger, this time.

Why Write a Guidebook?

I love the physical thud I feel in my heart while I am savoring a particularly good memory, but especially moments from my adventures and discoveries. I am perpetually curious.

Sometimes I find these moments in other people’s traveling writing. I find myself again and again, highlighting and scribbling in the margins of Pico Iyer’s books and currently in Patti Smith’s M Train, identifying my own slices of experiences happening in parallel to theirs.

In my own written work, it’s the moments where I’m reading outside in an urban garden in Mexico City, and someone sits down on a bench nearby to tune their guitar and take a private moment before heading to a gig. Before I leave the park, I will scribble it down into a notebook. Or the smell of the mango I picked up off the pile in the crowded street market… and when I touched its curve to my nose, all the busy stands and calls from street hawkers disappeared, until it was just me.

The Prompt.

I set off to create a guidebook written entirely through people’s hearts. I wrote to a number of my friends asking them to share five of their favorite places and the memories that they associate with each of these spaces. In this way, the book was more about creating a “memory tour” of the city.

For three months, I collected these memories. Tagging and organizing them based on themes that emerged through the memories. Every email with the subject line “Eccentric Guide to NYC” that returned to me was immediately opened and devoured. For weeks, I was spoiled by beautiful memories.

The Process.

I wrote a number of entries between September and December 2015, sprinkling them through out the collection of stories I gathered from 27 different New Yorkers, in various stages of their relationship with New York.

Unlike normal guidebooks, we had a lot of eclectic entries that didn’t fit neatly into groups

I took each entry, tagged it with the themes that most moved me about the entry… and then cut them up and tried to organize them into groups. Some of the groups are definitely “loose categories,” where I was hoping to combine an entry about a yoga teacher in Chelsea with a story about a laundromat, a room in the Standard Hotel that becomes a creative lecture space, and a handful of other eclectic entries.

Then I reformatted the entries in their new order and send them to my lovely designer, Kaela Gallo with some ideas for colors, type fonts, and themes. In about a week, she sent me a new copy, beautifully formatted and ready for a rough print for me to give Alistair… before we take another crack at making the final, beautiful copies.

We built a tour of memories.

Kaela Gallo: FDR Boardwalk

In the next step, we build out a tour of memories, leading the adventurer from Harlem through Manhattan and into Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. Each leg of the adventure, beginning with some walks through parks and meditative spaces along the way, offers windows into moments of time. One friend talked about her favorite entrance to Central Park, where she’d go to think when she needed private moments away from the boyfriend she had just moved in with. Another friend talked about the little park outside the 72nd Street 1/2/3 stop where he had come after a concert to make sense of the music and the experience he had just had, not wanting to lose the moments, instead crystalizing them then and there forever.

One author (and friend), Alex Rosenthal, recommended visiting the Blue Whale in the Museum of Natural History while you’re on the Upper West Side:

This is one of the most spectacular spaces in NYC: a huge dark void dominated by a flying model of a Blue Whale (to scale), that’s ringed by dioramas featuring various marine creatures. The floor under the whale is strangely calm — strange to find calm in an environment dominated by scores of children running around, barely avoiding trampling other children who have lain on the ground to stare at the whale. Yet you feel like you’re on the bottom of the ocean in the shadow of a magnificent creature. I like to go there and contemplate big ideas, like the meaning of existence, the future of humanity, and what it would be like to jump on the whale’s back and ride it around.

I recommended standing on a street corner, on Crosby Street and Howard Street in Soho, where I frequently find myself falling back in love with New York.

This street ends up in a lot of “street scene” shots in movies, but there is something gritty and old New York about it in a way that appeals to me. De Vera is a store full of old and super creepy antiques artfully arranged behind glass. Each glass chamber is more mysterious than the last. Stop for some amazing coffee and treats at Smile. Watch the fashionistas, people wandering off Canal street and sitting on the iron stairs along the street sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes. Take in the remnants of gritty, warehouse filled soho. I love standing at the corner watching the ecosystem move by.

My friend Emily Ludolph grew up in New York City, but made herself a promise to explore the city as a new world when she returned in her 20s… and this promise kicked off on a visit to the Eldridge Street Synagogue on the Lower East Side.

This place is so darn beautiful. It has a blue stained glass galaxy window that’s really neat. There’s a story about how this congregation got into an innovation arms race with a neighboring synagogue when Edison in- vented the electric light. Which explains the insane light bulb chandelier. I first went when I got back from study abroad my Junior Year and was determined to explore hometown NYC like it was a brand new city.

After that, my Kim Nederveen Pieterse offered us a sincere moment about living in New York while you’re close to broke in your 20s:

When I first came here, I felt like I stumbled into a place I wasn’t supposed to know about. Jellyfish and unfamiliar animal bits lay on crushed ice in the back, while almost exclusively asian shoppers hunt with their overworn carts without saying excuse me. When I was first interning on a thousand dollars a month, the aisles of vegetables at 88 cents a pound meant that I, also, could eat produce. Today, the $2.50 California roll handcut by the old man in the front still tastes best from a dirty Chinatown stoop.

And my friend and co-worker Cloe Shasha took the reader to her favorite arts space in Brooklyn, where she found her jumping point into adventure.

A magical building in Red Hook full of artist residencies and event spaces,Pioneer Works hosts an event on the second Sunday of every month, aptly named Second Sundays. A lineup of multiple live musicians, performance art, and other surprises fill the space, and people gather for food and drink in clusters. As the afternoon turns to evening, strings of lights blink on, and people dance to music — whether it’s a brass band or a drum line — and lounge outside on a little hill. Next to the hill and an outdoor bar, groups of old and new friends talk around the fire pit overlooking the East River. When craving quiet time, people go back inside and climb up the stairs to the second or third floor to explore colorful rooms and take in the art made by the current artist residents of the building.

My first time going to a Second Sunday was this year. The place holds a lot of meaning for me because of a series of connections to the space. I first visited the space two years ago with a few colleagues when scouting for a TEDYouth venue. Though we didn’t end up using that space for TEDYouth, we absolutely loved being inside the building, and it was there that we first met the artist Dustin Yellin who runs Pioneer Works. His artwork — layers of glass with collages on each pane which, when completed, are stunning sculptural figures with depth — were being created by his art team and exhibited all over the place. He told us about how much damage Hurricane Sandy did to the building, and that they had only recently restored the space. During the storm, he was so moved by the violent intensity of the water rushing into the building that he didn’t leave right away — instead he stood on his glass structures and photographed the chaos. We were so blown away by his work that we ended up inviting him to speak at TED@ NYC and TED2015.

It was on that first visit to Pioneer Works that a personal realization struck me for the first time. The building felt magical and open to the air and the sky in a way that I rarely experience in New York City — the city that I grew up in — and that openness brought me so much joy and a sense of possibility. Being there reminded me just how powerful a beautiful physical context can be for the energy and experiences within it. A year later, I moved to San Francisco for a few months — a city with physical dimensions, architecture, and outdoors that I love — where I was delighted to find that from the high hills of the city, I experienced that context-induced magic on a daily basis. When I returned to New York City in September, I really missed that feeling, and wondered if it would be possible to find it in New York City. I had forgotten all about my experience at Pioneer Works in the midst of moving apartments and work. But a couple of months after my return to the east coast, a friend invited me to join her at a Second Sunday. The moment I arrived at the building, the magic all came back!

And the person who inspired the project… received his christmas gift: An Early Draft!

The first copy has been well received by all. My coworkers and friends, like me, dove right into the text, looking for people they knew who had written something for it and started collecting ideas for their yelp bookmarked lists.

I am excited to announce that we will be looking into a better binding option and turning this into a real guidebook. Look for our Kickstarter later this winter! (And thank you to everyone who wrote for this, Kaela for the beautiful design and layout work, Julia for guiding me through the mine field that is typography, and Helen for helping me organize all of the beautiful content I received.)

Originally published by me on Medium.

Misfit Economies

Three years ago, I was introduced to Kyra Maya Phillips through a mutual friend, because we have a lot of similar interests. I had just finished a two year long research project on campaign investing in Colombia (by cartels, paramilitary groups, and the far left) and was trying to wind my way back into normal life in New York City. [how “normal” life is here is relative… but for me, this is much better than making sure I was inside and locked away by nightfall every night, staying up to write up my interviews and combing the universe for insight on organized crime… then having nightmares about said criminal groups haha]

She is a brave Venezuelan journalist who decided to start looking at black markets and the entrepreneurs that thrive in them. When we first spoke over the phone, she from London and me from New York City, we talked about cartels, and research methods and all the good stuff that comes from unusual research interests. Especially for young women.

Last night I attended her book party at the Impact Hub in Tribeca, just a block from the thriving counterfeit markets of Lower Manhattan. Perfect.

the panel for the Misfit Economies discussion
the panel for the Misfit Economies discussion

Their guests for the evening included Antonio Fernandez (from the NY State chapter of the Latin Kings), George Jung, and “Freeway” Rick Ross, all with their own stories to share about the power networks they connected to while in prison, their work in trafficking in the black market, and the power of organizing and collective action.

The event was powerful for a number of reasons.

The tug and intrigue of the topic was a major reason people were there. The black market and its rulebreakers intrigue a lot of people. Organized crime is sexy.

When I tell people I compiled a lot of research on the history of organized crime in manhattan and made a tour for myself, they get really excited and ask me to take them to see it. It’s less epic than it sounds, unless you love history and stories about the past. The truth is, organized crime and black markets look like real businesses. The same urgency to meet the demands of customers and, honestly, cheat the government out of whatever they can is there is many many different kinds of businesses.

[If you don’t believe me, talk to anyone thinking through compliance measures inside a bank. There is a whole lot of where can I make as much money as possible and slip through the holes in this regulatory web going on. Also, the research I did a few years ago on remittance transfer markets for the World Bank Transparency tools shows another side of secret costs in business. I can offer many other examples from topics ranging from pharmaceuticals to construction etc.]

Once there, people got to see organized crime and the entrepreneurs who work “the streets” from a new perspective.

The panelists come at business from a different angle: consistently they brought up that they were locked out of the acceptable system. As “King Tone” put it, when we worked within the system, we were ignored and hungry. There weren’t any options for us. When we worked outside the system, we could eat. And then at least you weren’t bored. 

Rick Ross added that he meets a lot of youth who are frustrated that school doesn’t teach them to make money and survive. The applications of school feel too distant to feel valuable. For him, he said, I asked a drug dealer how to make money, and he told me in the ways he knew how. So I followed that business model.

Antonio Fernandez spoke passionately about the power of organizing his community against police brutality, and what that meant for a city with an identity as confusing as New York City. He demonstrated the need for local organizations that spoke to the needs of the communities that they served. It was not about destroying a system, so much as creating a chapter for those trying to live in an ecosystem that blocked them out at every turn.

Kyra’s work (and my own) are about bringing these narratives into the conversation about economies. While I look at the layers that operate sometimes in harmony and sometimes in direct contrast with the regulated economy… Kyra is bringing an important narrative and perspective on some of the most misunderstood sections of the economy. The criminal base of “pirates,” “drug dealers,” and “gangsters” to some come from only movies and articles about neighborhoods they dare not explore further. For many others, these professions offer a better life or alternative to starvation.

The book just came out and I encourage you to read on. Keep exploring!

Why Women Worry About Street Harassment (And Other Language Faux-Pas)

When I was a sophomore in college, I remember walking back from the library at 2am in the dark, clutching my laptop and scurrying as fast as possible back to my dorm.

I didn’t like walking alone in the dark.

This was all made worse when I heard loud clanging sounds and male voices chanting in unison:

“MY NAME IS JACK

I’M A NECROPHELIAC

I FUCK DEAD WOMEN

AND FILL THEM WITH MY SEMEN.”

I started running until I got to the gates of my college, with the door firmly shut behind me, I paused and felt my blood pounding in my ears.

I’m 5’6”. There isn’t a whole lot I can do if an entire mob of football players decides they want to chase me down. This was a reality I was well aware of while I was standing there taking in my surroundings.

I run through a list every single time I stand at my door about to leave my apartment:

  • Do I have my house keys?
  • Is my phone charged enough to last me a few hours if I need to make any emergency calls/find my way home?
  • Do I have my wallet?
  • Do I have enough cash for a cab if I need to get home and something happens?
  • Is my dress too short, am I drawing too much unwanted attention to myself?
  • Where am I going? How will I get there? How will I get home?
  • Who should I tell where I am going in case something happens to me?
  • Is it ok for me to go to [This Location] totally alone? Should I call someone?
  • If I need to run, could I run for a while in this pair of shoes?

If I was still working in Mexico or on site in some of the places I study, this list gets a lot longer. Before I leave in the morning, I assess what risks I could encounter that day and try to build a list of options for myself to make sure I am prepared to meet my challenges for that day. Because if the going gets really rough, my options might end up being fairly limited.

That night I listened to a group of men, many of them much larger than me, chanting:

“NO MEANS YES

AND YES MEANS ANAL.”

As part of an initiation routine for their frat, meaning, freshman boys were encouraged to chant about abusing dead women, felt like what I would have labeled “a worst-case scenario” in my morning planning.

Separately, the song is completely vile in every possible way. Who comes up with this garbage?

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I wrote this post because a number of my male friends through the years have asked me why programs like Hollaback are relevant. Why women don’t like to be cat called. Why we get offended sometimes. They mean well, I know they do, so I often explain this experience of constantly wondering how you are going to get home and if someone has been watching you for too long. How we think through our options to escape and how making a single wrong decision could end very badly for us.

For me, this night in New Haven was one of many in my life where we remember that societal expectations and “manners” are abstract concepts that people opt into. They are not enforced by nature, but by communities. Without mutual respect inside of a community, they cease to exist and I am expected to compete for my own survival.

When I explain it in these terms, my male friends are often the first ones to respond with “not cool” to the guy who yells something at me when I walk by. They start to understand where I am coming from when I talk through my morning checklist and what I worry about when I am weighing my options in risky situations.

I think it would be amazing if I could walk down streets in major cities and know that I was not going to hear someone lean out the window of a car and offer me a list of “dirty things I’d like to do to you” or comment on my ass when I walk by. So, maybe it starts with you.

Check out what Hollaback is up to in your city. It’s an issue with deep roots, but it’s a worthwhile one.