About Anastasio: Born and raised in Buffalo’s Lower West Side. He grew up loving film and moving images. He is a successful filmmaker, presently working a series called, “Yo soy Boricua.” He attended Brooklyn’s Long Island University and has been producing videos for the last 20 years. “In Their Words – Of Service and Sacrifice” is Rocco Anastasio first feature length documentary. His work can be found on several websites, including Facebook and YouTube. He was recently in Buffalo this past month interviewing several local Puerto Ricans for his “Yo soy Boricua” documentary series.
HINDSIGHT IS 2020
JANUARY 2020 Issue
Each January, with the arrival of a New Year is the coming hope of a better year than the one that just passed. In my forty-two years on earth, I cannot think of a more difficult year than the one that just ended. The year 2020 was one we may all need to put an asterisk next to. I like to call it the “Forgotten Year” of our lives.
Living through a Pandemic that lead to the recession affecting many American lives due to failed leadership in Washington, it’s very easy to see why many are excited to turn the page on 2020, especially with new leadership moving into our nation’s capital. I speak from experience as I was one of the millions of Americans who lost their job due to the pandemic. That being said, we still must be vigilant here at home.
At the time of this writing, our hometown Buffalo BILLS have clinched the AFC East Championship for the first time since I was in my junior year at McKinley High School, back in 1995.
Living here in Florida, I would be lying if I said I was not excited and wished I could go out and celebrate with fellow BILLS fans as they arrived back home in the winter night, to a crowd of thousands. Sitting here in my living room though, I saw footage of the “BILLS Mafia” celebrating their team at the airport, people crowded, circling cars as they drove by trying to get a glimpse of their football heroes. Two things I did not see much of was social distancing or masks.
We are still in a pandemic people! Regardless of what some business owners think, we need to be mindful of ourselves and the safety of those most vulnerable. Although we are all aware there are two vaccines that are being administered, there is no telling how this virus will mutate, as it already has in the UK. Celebrate your BILLS but do it at a distance, from home and away from others.
I would love to see the BILLS in the Super Bowl, but sadly, seeing the crowds of people cheering their playoff berth and AFC Championship, I cannot help but think there are folks in that crowd that may not survive to see it happen if the BILLS do reach the big game come early February.
Wear your masks. Keep your distance and celebrate the New Year with a better focus on eradicating this virus. Let us not bring in those 2020 habits with us into the New Year but leave them back in the year 2020 where they belong.
Let us make the phrase “hindsight is 2020” come true, and look toward the future with a safer, healthier mindset.
I honestly believe the year 2021 will bring on many great things, but it all of course starts with us here at home. Keep social distancing, keep safe and wear your masks and GO BILLS!!!
SIEMBRA COMO EL JIBARO SIEMBRO
December 2020 Issue
December is upon us, and while colder weather and the holiday season is in full swing, it is not too late to start planting or watering seeds. It is quite common practice while scrolling through social media to see folks engage in online “challenges” for attention. Some of these challenges start off with good intentions however many are just idiotic, and I usually scroll right past them. This however did get me to thinking of a new challenge: support a local entrepreneur or business.
Our people come from remarkably diverse backgrounds and experiences, and through these experiences our entrepreneurial spirit has always been strong. Unfortunately, many small businesses suffer early on before they can successfully turn profit due to the lack of support they receive from the people closest to them.
On my visit to Buffalo a few months back, I was glad to see many of “our businesses” on Niagara Street and elsewhere throughout the Puerto Rican West Side. Whether they were restaurants, small grocery stores, hair, and nail salons or even clothing shops, I am glad to see that entrepreneurial spirit live on within our people.
These seeds are not only relegated to businesses, they can also be ideas in the form of art or cultural programs. The term “starving artist” is well known in the English lexicon; however, it does not have to be. If you know an artist, share their work, buy their work and wares, and make sure you spread their art through word of mouth or social media. That exposure goes a long way, especially now with the holiday season in full swing. Buying locally produced goods from your neighbors would mean the world to an artist struggling to get by. It will help stimulate the local economy but more importantly, help stimulate the growth of a local business owner or dreamer.
The phrase “support your own” is one I have heard for years and I cannot repeat it enough. Support our people, be the cultivators of their dreams and wishes and spread their works so that others may enjoy it.
Do you know of a great hidden gem that sells amazing pinchos? Tell a friend! Do you know a lady who crochets awesome newborn baby outfits? Share their work! The Latino Community on the West Side is so full of talented people who have either planted seeds or have some in need of being planted and supported with sunshine, fertile earth, and water.
With the holidays coming, the best gift you can give someone could very well be the support they need to continue growing their businesses or ideas. Be the water or sunshine that helps that seedling spout. Cultivate their ideas like our ancestors worked the cane fields, machete in hand, sowing the fruits of their labor that fed their communities.
This community here on the west side will only go as far as those who support one another. Siembra Como el Jíbaro Siembro.
MY BUFFALO LOWER WEST SIDE STORY
November 2020 Issue
In early October I returned to my hometown of Buffalo to film interviews for my next documentary project, and to spend a little time with my mother at the home I grew up and was raised in on West Avenue. Being back home after so many years away was a real eye opener to how much this city has changed. As I drove through downtown Buffalo, I was in awe with how much this city had evolved during the ten years since I relocated to the state of Florida. I told my mother that if I were to be dropped off, blindfolded on Chippewa between Delaware and Elmwood, I would be completely lost once my eyes were free to see the views of new structures replacing old gas stations and open lots.
Continuing my drive up Niagara Street through Buffalo’s Latino corridor on the Lower West Side, the changes continued. My eyes were amazed at the sight that the old Pine Harbor apartment buildings were now gone, being replaced with low income housing that will more than likely cost a pretty penny once all is said and done.
However the more things changed, the more they stayed the same-this was evident as I left the main arteries and started driving through neighborhood side streets which told a different yet familiar story. Driving up from the lower West Side on Plymouth or Prospect, I saw the same sights I had seen when I left the city ten years ago: abandoned, broken down homes corner stores with graffiti, and folks loitering about. Different faces, but the same people.
Although some homes have been fixed up, for the most part, many of the same street corners have not seen the “revitalization” other parts of the City of Buffalo saw.
Visiting Grant Street was quite a site, with the influx of newer Asian and African immigrant communities that have added additional spices to the upper West Side. But the lower West Side still felt awfully familiar. For all the gentrification the lower West Side has seen, some places remain stagnant and have not changed whatsoever. This thought recalls the issue I have with those who remained on the West Side and the politicos and who outsiders determine where this part of town is headed. You may ask yourselves, “Who is this guy to talk about the West Side” since I no longer live there. My friends, I was born on the West Side. My father had his barber shop on West and Maryland. My mother still lives in the house we owned on West between Virginia and Maryland. Although I left the West Side my blood has never left. Which is why I was so surprised to see the sight of white joggers running up and down West Avenue as I sat on my mother’s porch, across from this new building that now sat in the place of the old advertising agency grounds and open lot I played football and boxed as a child. I’m not against improvements and progress. I have no issues with homes being revitalized or new buildings being built for growing populations. I am however disappointed that many of the West Side residents who have contributed to the flavor, added the Adobo, Sazon and “Soulfrito” to the makeup and identity of the lower West Side will continue to be forgotten.
We as a people on the West Side must not let the identity be erased. We would be repeating the same mistakes Italians made when they abandoned the West Side many years ago, for North Buffalo and the Tonawandas.
I was very happy to see cultural displays, murals and even “El Batey” dance studio. These institutions are important as they promote the culture and identity that many Puerto Ricans who have settled in Buffalo either had lost touch with or never knew they had. Puerto Ricans in Buffalo need to positively promote and support one another. We are each other’s keeper and all related in one way. For too long we have been separate in our own little worlds and allowed the politicians sitting in City Hall to make decisions for a part of town that was somewhat forgotten, until folks recognized its low cost homes and prime location, close to downtown.
I don’t fault those who have sold their homes to the highest bidder and left for greener pastures. No one should have to feel guilty for making the best financial decisions possible, especially when outsiders are offering to pay well above what West Side homes used to go for. My plea is for those who are still there living on the West Side, to please continue to fight for your place in this special part of town. Do not let those outside forces price you out and drive you away, particularly the culture.
Make sure your voices are heard politically. As I write this, we are only days away from the General Election and I can’t help but shake my head at how little representation Buffalo’s Latinos, more specifically Puerto Ricans have with local elected office.
My trip back home was a successful one. I spoke with several people making the best of their lives on the West Side. Although my film isn’t a documentary about Buffalo’s West Side Puerto Ricans, I needed to start there because this is a very personal film for me. My film is going to investigate what it means to be “Boricua” and in capturing that meaning, since this is a somewhat personal film, I needed to start at the place I started — My lower West Side, the Puerto Rican Lower West Side to be exact. —— Until next time…