By DAVID GONZALEZ
New York Times (August 3, 2009)
Befitting a scrappy, independent political pioneer – in 1978 she was the first Puerto Rican woman elected to a state legislature in the United States – her funeral attracted the governor, the mayor, several members of Congress and countless local officials. She was lauded for many things: her tenacity; her willingness to cross party lines; her embrace of labor, housing and educational rights for the poor. She was eulogized as a loyal friend, a fierce competitor and a proud Puerto Rican.
Outside the Church of the Holy Agony, on Third Avenue at 101st Street, beyond the honor guard of construction workers that flanked her hearse, groups gathered by the housing projects to remember La Senadora, and the friends and relatives who got a hand up because of her.
“I don’t think we’ll ever see another one like her,” said Monin Paez, who said she always voted for Senator Méndez. “When she spoke, you had to listen. The politicians today don’t talk to us. They only come by when they want your vote.”
Senator Méndez died from cancer last week at age 84. Married into a politically savvy East Harlem family – and possessed of no small measure of education and determination herself – she found her resolve tested in the State Senate, friends said. But she threw herself into her work, giving as good as she got.
“Many of you have gone toe to toe with her in political battles,” her niece, Annette Vasquez, told the mourners. “But later you would walk away with her arm in arm in friendship and respect.”
Just don’t play games with her.
“When you played Risk with Olga, it was never a game,” she said. “It really was about world domination!”
Among the politicians attending were Representatives José E. Serrano, Nydia M. Velázquez and Charles B. Rangel; the former Bronx borough president Fernando Ferrer; the city comptroller, William C. Thompson Jr.; and State Senator Pedro Espada Jr. Efraín González Jr., Mr. Espada’s predecessor, who recently pleaded guilty to using $200,000 in state funds for vacation homes and other personal expenses, was also there.
Some may have felt themselves in the crosshairs as Gerson Borrero, a fire-breathing columnist and political commentator, delivered his eulogy praising Senator Méndez.
“She worked hard behind the scenes while others pranced around like peacocks,” he said. “They still prance around like peacocks.”
Outside, there was a plainspoken pride among the construction workers who sweated for the duration of the Mass.
“Olga always did the right thing for El Barrio,” said one worker, Marty Torres. “She was about change. She was no punk.”
The plain setting for her funeral was fitting: not the marbled St. Patrick’s Cathedral – though she was well-connected enough to have had her service there – just the simple linoleum tile and plywood walls of Holy Agony, where she had been a loyal parishioner since the 1950s. Opened in 1953, it was built for the Puerto Ricans settling in El Barrio – old timers said it was the first local church where they celebrated in the main sanctuary, not hidden in some basement.
In the days before the funeral, friends recalled Senator Méndez, too, as visible and approachable. She asked about your children and treated you like family. She relished telling stories with a mischievous smile and a raspy voice. And she was fiercely Puerto Rican – not Latina, not Hispanic.
“She is the last of her kind,” said Gloria Quinones, a lawyer and activist often on the far left of the senator. “She represented reassurance that the community had a fighting voice and someone who loved them.”
Ms. Quinones remembers when she finished law school and Ms. Méndez asked her if she wanted to become a judge.
“To get me out of the way,” she said.
“But she always asked me how my boys were,” she added. “She was like that with everybody. At the same time she was always calling and asking me if I was going to run against her.”
Others noted that while she had sharp political instincts, they were further honed when she married into the Méndez family, whose patriarch, Antonio Méndez, was the first Puerto Rican district leader in Manhattan. Her mother-in-law, Isabel, was equally political.
“She pushed Olga,” said Carmen Villegas, a family friend. “She knew how to move the chairs like chess pieces. She worked in the senator’s office until she died. And she never called her Olga. She always called her La Senadora.”
The two women were just as devoted to Holy Agony, staying active and donating statues to the church over the years.
An urn with her ashes was set before the altar, flanked by the United States and Puerto Rican flags. Two state troopers stood smartly on either side. The Rev. Victor Elia did the final blessing, and people applauded as the urn was carried to the waiting hearse for burial in the Bronx.
Outside, under a glorious sun, a group of elderly women broke into song as the hearse prepared to leave. Wrapped in the Puerto Rican flag, they intoned Rafael Hernandez’s “Lamento Borincano,” the unofficial anthem of Puerto Rico. It is a song about hardship, hope and heartbreak.
It can never be sung without tears.
For Immediate Release
September 25, 2007
Antonieta Gimeno (646) 672-1404, cell 917-981-1625
Janice Cruz (646) 672-1404
Seventh Annual NYC Brides’ March Against Domestic Violence
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Scores of “Brides” and Supporters Will March Through Manhattan and the Bronx to Remember Gladys Ricart and Other Victims of Domestic Violence
For the seventh year in a row, scores of women dressed in wedding gowns, along with men dressed in black, will march through the streets of Washington Heights, the South Bronx, and East Harlem to raise awareness about the devastating effects of domestic violence on Latino and other families and communities.
Marchers will start gathering at 9 a.m. in front of the offices of the Dominican Women’s Development Center at 251 Fort Washington Avenue where they will hear from some of the march organizers. The six-mile march will begin promptly at 10:30 a.m. and will end after 3 p.m. in East Harlem at the Bonifacio Senior Center, 7 East 116th Street with a speak-out and closing ceremony (see attached march route).
The Brides’ March, also known as The Gladys Ricart and Victims of Domestic Violence Memorial Walk, is an annual event that was started in 2001 to remember Ms. Ricart, who was murdered by a former abusive boyfriend on the day she was to wed someone else, and all the other women who have been killed or injured in domestic violence incidents (see chronology of events attached). Because the wedding dress, the emblem of happiness and everlasting love, has been forever tainted in the Latino community by Gladys’ murder, it is a strong symbol for the New York Latinas Against Domestic Violence (NYLADV), the main organizers of the March.
Marchers will be joined by Josie Ashton, a Dominican woman from Florida who originated the idea for the first march, after being strongly moved by the murder, slanted media coverage, and some community members’ insensitive response to Ms. Ricart’s murder. Ms. Ashton resigned from her job and sacrificed more than two months of her life away from her family to walk in a wedding gown, down the East Coast, from New Jersey to Miami, in an attempt to draw attention to the horrors of domestic violence.
Local government officials and community figures including Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer, Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, NYS Senator Erik T. Schneiderman, Assembly Member Adriano Espaillat, Commissioner Yolanda Jimenez from the NYC Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, Council Members Melissa
Mark-Viverito, Robert Jackson and Miguel Martinez, will also join the marchers and speak during the day’s events.
Dozens Of Deaths And Hundreds Of Thousands Of Domestic Violence Incidents Reported Each Year In New York City.
According to the NYC Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, there were 71 family related homicides in 2006 as of December 31, 2006. Family related homicide includes intimate partner homicide as well as homicide committed by other family members and includes children who were killed as a result of family violence. 83% of these cases had no known prior police contact and 6% of these cases had a current Order of Protection. At present, there are 2,081 domestic violence emergency shelter beds citywide, a 35% increase since January 2002.
In addition, according to the Mayor’s Office, the police responded to 221,071 domestic violence incidents in 2006; this averages to over 600 incidents per day. And teen dating relationship abuse continues to be a problem as well. The City Domestic Violence Hotline received 9,462 calls from teens in 2006.
Rosita Romero, Executive Director of the Dominican Women’s Development Center said “domestic violence is not a women’s problem; it is a problem that affects the entire family and our society as a whole. It is also connected to other types of violence in our society. We have to find better ways of relating to each other as human beings; on a more equal level and with more kindness and compassion. We need to educate ourselves more about this pandemic to make a bigger commitment to prevent it and eradicate it.”
Josie Ashton who will address the marchers during the rally at the Bonifacio Senior Center stresses that “we continue with our commitments to every woman, man and children to work hard every day to fight domestic violence. Our hope is that our government and members of our community will do the same.”
A partial list of sponsors for the 2007 NYC Annual Brides’ March include:
New York Latinas Against Domestic Violence, the Ricart family, Josie Ashton, Nuevo Amanecer, Violence Intervention Program, Dominican Women’s Development Center, The National Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence, Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation, Assembly Member Adriano Espaillat, National Dominican Women’s Caucus, Anthony Diaz from Fortune Society.
A partial list of participating individuals and organizations include:
Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, State Senator Eric T. Schneiderman, Congress Member Charles B. Rangel’s Office, Seny Tavera Special Counsel to Lieutenant Governor David Patterson, Crucita Medina Martinez, Bonifacio Senior Center, NYC Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, NYC Mayor’s Office on Immigrant Affairs, New York City Police Department, New York City Department of Sanitation, Assembly Woman Noemi Rivera, Council Member Miguel Martinez, Council Member Robert Jackson, Council Member Helen Foster, Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, Jorge Abreu from Heritage Health Housing, Reverend Luis Barrios from the San Romero de las Americas Church, Reverend Hector Laporte, Lucy Pizarro of Levántate Mujer, Planned Parenthood, CONNECT, In Motion.
UMEZ AWARDS LANDMARK GRANT TO EL MUSEO DEL BARRIO
$2 million grant is largest in museum’s 40 year history
New York, NY – Yesterday, Congressman Charles B. Rangel, joined by Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, Luis Miranda, a member of the Board of Directors of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corp., (UMEZ), and Julián Zugazagoitia, Director of El Museo del Barrio, announced today that the organization has awarded the museum a $2 million grant to implement a strategic plan that will complement renovations to the museum that are currently underway.
The announcement was made during Summer Nights at El Museo Del Barrio’s 2007 concert series at Teatro Heckscher, with Tito Puente, Jr. as the evening’s performer.
El Museo del Barrio was founded in 1969 by artist-educator Raphael Montañez Ortiz in response to the interest of Puerto Rican parents, educators, artists and community activists in East Harlem’s Spanish-speaking El Barrio, the neighborhood that extends from 96th Street to the Harlem River and from Fifth Avenue to the East River on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The contexts of El Museo’s founding were the national civil rights movement and, in the New York City art world, the campaign that called for major art institutions to decentralize their collections and to represent a variety of non-European cultures in their collections and programs.
El Museo del Barrio is among the leading Latino and Latin American cultural institutions in the nation. The New York Times recently characterized El Museo as “the first stop on Museum Mile,” an institution offering “some of the most beautiful and disquieting art there is.” One of only a handful of Latino museums in the United States with a permanent collection, El Museo maintains the most comprehensive collection in the eastern region and one of the most varied in the country.
The Museum recently embarked on a long-term, multi-million dollar capacity-building program, the “Re-Envisioning of El Museo.” It consists of a five-year strategic plan and institution-wide programmatic expansion, for which El Museo has already raised a substantial amount of leveraged funds. At the same time, the Museum is undergoing a physical transformation through a $20 million capital renovation project.
UMEZ helped El Museo lay the foundation for organizational development and expansion by providing the Museum a technical assistance award of up to $50,000 to complete a strategic plan. The plan addresses the Museum’s programming, educational offerings, community engagement, theater programs, membership program, and governance and board development. Full strategic plan implementation will require $5.5 million in funding. The Museum had already secured over $2 million toward project costs prior to the $2 million, three-year UMEZ investment.
As a result of UMEZ’s three-year investment in strategic plan implementation, the Museum will create ten new jobs, deepen its relationships in its founding community, increase its earned income, and establish its first formal marketing and communications department. A re-invigorated El Museo will serve as a driving force in revitalizing cultural tourism in the East Harlem community and help brand el barrio as ‘the center of Latino culture and a tourist destination.’
Mr. Miranda, who chairs UMEZ’s Cultural Industry Investment Fund (CIIF), said, “The history of El Museo del Barrio is not only inextricably
linked to the history of the East Harlem community, it is also linked to the history of our great City. Through its many outstanding exhibitions and programs, this unique museum has helped to enlighten the world in so many, many ways. That’s why we at UMEZ are pleased and proud to be able to provide financial support to this fine institution.”
“It is an honor for El Museo to accept this $2 million as it represents the largest grant ever received in our 40-year history,” said Mr. Zugazagoitia. “This funding from UMEZ marks an investment in El Museo and El Barrio at this transformative time for both our community and our institution, and will ensure that the museum will continue to excel in providing the best in Latino cultural resources to New York
Over the past two years, UMEZ has approved investments in East Harlem Business Capital Corporation, Taller Boricua, Art For Change, La Fonda Boricua, PR Dream, and East River Plaza. The East River Plaza investment, which totaled $55 million, is the largest single investment in UMEZ history.
UMEZ believes that investments in East Harlem will have a positive impact throughout upper Manhattan in terms of its economic impact, the creation of jobs and improvements to its infrastructure.
ABOUT THE Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone DEVELOPMENT CORP.
UMEZ seeks to revitalize distressed communities by using geographically targeted public funds and tax incentives as catalysts for private investment. In Upper Manhattan, the communities that lie within the Empowerment Zone’s borders include Harlem, East Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood.
ABOUT THE CULTURAL INDUSTRY INVESTMENT FUND
UMEZ’s CIIF celebrates Upper Manhattan’s rich past while creating new legacies. The work of the CIIF is two-fold: community building through a cultural and economic lens; and, a marketing of place that repositions Upper Manhattan as one of New York City’s primary cultural districts. The goals of the CIIF are sustaining the local economy by promoting development, revitalization and tourism; making strategic cultural investments; and, strengthening the cultural ecosystem.
The CIIF provides support to cultural organizations that use the arts as a tool for economic development, job creation and growth of cultural tourism, within the five communities of Upper Manhattan. Primary means of support include funding and provision of technical assistance.