COLUMN: Understanding each other through art

Surrey and White Rock’s vibrant scene shares insight, too

While planning our recent trip to New York City, I knew I wanted to get a feel for the ‘real’ N.Y.C.

Real can be hard to define, especially of such a diverse city. People go to New York for all kinds of reasons: to shop in luxury stores on 5th Avenue where one can purchase a $30,000 handbag from Louis Vuitton, or to taste the world in one city, or to explore famous landmarks like the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and the bridge in Central Park.

But for this writer, the real New York had to be found in the voices of artists who share their lived experiences via poetry.

With the help of a newfound app and my old friend Google, I came across Nuyorican Poets Café situated in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. This gathering space for poets, actors, comedians and musicians is an institution of the Nuyorican art movement in New York City that originated in the 1960s by people of Puerto Rican descent.

Nuyorican is a portmanteau of New York and Puerto Rican, and is a term used to describe people who have ties to the island but are culturally different from the island-born Puerto Ricans. It’s also the name of the type of Spanish spoken by this group of people.

The Nuyorican art movement grew out of neighbourhoods such as Loisaida (the Nuyorican pronunciation of Lower East Side), East Harlem, Williamsburg and the South Bronx, and became a means of expressing the strife of this marginalized community.

I knew I would trade any shopping experience or a walk among really tall buildings for a poetry slam in this venue any day.

I had to step out of my comfort zone to get there – literally.

At this point, we’d only been in Manhattan for under a day, so we couldn’t even pretend to understand the public transportation system. My husband and I decided to walk the 40 minutes from Little Italy to our destination, armed only with Google Maps and limited data, eyeing the fading light as the day drew to a close.

We arrived at the entrance just as the sun set and took our place in line, an hour and a half before the show was to start. When a lineup starts that early, you know you are in for something great.

The long walk (made longer by the fact we got lost twice) was completely worth it; in fact, it was the highlight of the trip for me. I found New York in the voices of the poets: African-American, Puerto Rican, mixed race, gay, non-binary. The frustrated, the hopeful. The tired and strong.

In the poetry, I found resilience. I found pride. And once I exhaled, I found myself in the lines and verses of complete strangers.

Even without having lived what they have, art created that bridge for me to meet them halfway and try to relate or empathize. And the experiences I couldn’t connect with became a space to just listen and accept someone else’s truth.

It was powerful and it was exactly what I had come for.

When we go where the artists are, we are bound to see, hear, and feel the pulse of a place.

Surrey and White Rock have a vibrant arts scene (just flip a few pages in this publication to find the section of the same name). We have theatre and jazz, poetry and visual art. We live amongst authors, artists and musicians with stories to tell. Stories make up who we are, and who we are makes up our greater community.

The narratives may be different from our own; some may be relatable and others, not by a stretch. But as a collective, we are built on these stories, piled up from generation to generation, crossing cultures and languages and paradigms.

This summer, make it a point to check out an artist event and discover more of where you live.

Taslim Jaffer writes on multicultural issues for Peace Arch News.


Mahogany Browne hosts a Friday Night Poetry Slam in New York. (Taslim Jaffer photo)

Just Posted

Sources employment services to close in White Rock, Cloverdale

Transition to new service to begin next year

White Rock councillors speak out on art project

A $100,000 hospital sculpture, paid for by city, draws criticism

Fentanyl found at a Delta high school, district says

Warning issued after fake Xanax pills confiscated from a student were found to contain opioids

Metro Vancouver mayors vote to ‘develop’ $1.65B in Fraser Highway SkyTrain plans

Surrey will have to ‘compensate’ for the $56 million already spent on light rail

Delta Gymnastics sends four on tour of Japan

Coach, three gymnastists left Dec. 4 for a two-week trip to experience Japanese gymnastics, culture

Omar Khadr wants changes to bail conditions

‘My life is held in suspension’, says the former Guantanamo Bay detainee

Sissons scores OT winner as Predators beat Canucks 4-3

VIDEO: Vancouver battles back to earn single point in Nashville

Lions announce seven members of coaching staff not coming back for 2019

The operational moves come two days after the Lions announced DeVone Claybrooks as the team’s new head coach

$12K awarded to atheist family who oppose Christmas, Hanukkah in B.C. classroom

Gary Mangel,May Yasue said holidays, Remembrance Day and Valentine’s Day not appropriate in preschool

Coach accused of sexual assault says apology letter was misinterpreted

Dave Brubaker has pleaded not guilty to one count of sexual assault and one count of invitation to sexual touching

Give the gift of nature this holiday season

Please don’t be mad, but I bought you a moose

Aboriginal poet faces backlash for calling out NHL-themed totem poles

Rebecca Thomas says she received backlash for asking a drugstore chain to remove NHL merchandise

Some Kotex tampons recalled in Canada and U.S.

In some cases, tampon users sought medical attention “to remove tampon pieces left in the body.”

Sex-assault squad investigated eight incidents at Toronto all-boys’ school

The interim president of a Roman Catholic all-boys school rocked by student-on-student abuse allegations said the football program was cancelled for next year.

Most Read

l -->