Culture

‘Bodega’ Is An Attempt To Whitewash What Is Very Clearly A Lifeline For Latinos And NYC Residents

As I scrolled my timeline, half asleep and with one eye open, the song “Warning” played in my head as I read this headline: “Hip Restaurant Plays Old School Hip-Hop Loved by Neighborhood’s Former Residents.” The immortal Notorious B.I.G.‘s lyrics summarize my outrage: What the fuck is this?/ Upsetting me at 6:45 in the morning/ Now I’m yawnin’/ Wipe the coal from my eye/ Wondering “who’s writing about gentrification and why?”

I read the article about a business proudly profiting off of a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, its previous minority inhabitants, its identity, its cultural essence. It angered me. Because that’s what’s happening all over New York City, my hometown of Brooklyn, and is even making its way uptown and into the Bronx. No one is safe anymore. Moments later, I realized that the headline was from “The Hard Times,” a comedy website. The article was satire. I was relieved.

I scrolled some more and saw another gentrification story in Fast Company. “Two Ex-Googlers Want To Make Bodegas And Mom-And-Pop Corner Stores Obsolete,” read the headline. “Damn, these satirical articles are popping today,” I thought. This one wasn’t a joke, though.

According to the Fast Company article, two ex-Google bozos started a vending machine company named Bodega. Apparently, they’ve never used Google to look up what a bodega is, but they felt okay using the word to name their business after it. The article made it seem like these app-operated vending machines were going to be the Uber of corner stores. And when it came to the potentially offensive name, CEO Paul McDonald said he wasn’t “particularly concerned about it” because his company did its due diligence.

“We did surveys in the Latin American community to understand if they felt the name was a misappropriation of that term or had negative connotations, and 97% said ‘no.’ It’s a simple name and I think it works,” he said.


CREDIT: Bodega

Wrong.

In New York, bodegas aren’t just a corner store. You’re on your way to school and need a hot baconeggandcheese breakfast for that gurgling belly? Bodega. You want yesterday’s newspaper for a school project, collage or to see what happened to the Knicks? Bodega. Need extra boxes to ship something to your family in Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic? Bodega. Need to just talk to someone and feel like a human being without having to buy a drink at the bar? Bodega. Middle of the night and you run out of pampers/ coffee/ tampons/ toothpaste/ cigarettes/ malta/ cereal/ condoms/ razors/ paperclips/ notebooks/ pencils/ handballs? Bo-fucking-dega.

To say I have an intimate relationship with bodegas is an understatement.

The bodega was where I once did a backflip and showed off some some dance moves. It’s where I’d walk up and down the three small aisles pretending I was shopping, so I could escape the summer heat for a minute. Where us kids would go in to ask for help turning on the fire hydrant so we could play. We sat on the bodega’s milk crates and pet the cat that naturally found the sliced bread a warm and comfortable place to lay when she wasn’t hunting for mice.

My bodega was where I once ran away from home because I figured, “Well, at least they have food there. And Marvel comic book cards, quarter-waters and a cat I can play with.” I was four years old. And sure, I was in big trouble when my family found me, but that’s where I thought to go. The safest place in my young mind was the bodega.


CREDIT: ackniculous / Flickr

My brother once got slammed into the glass of the bodega during a fist fight. The window smashed all around him. Jaime, the bodega owner, called the police but didn’t press charges and never came after my family for money. I did all the shopping there from then on.

The bodega was where I found out I was poor. I’d buy the bread and eggs for the house with food stamp bills that were brown, fuchsia, purple and turquoise. I’d compare it with other folks’ money, as they lay their crinkled green bills on the counter. I realized then that my money wasn’t “real” money. I learned to hold onto my rainbow-colored bills until other customers left. Jaime let me wander until they did. On the rare occasions I went in with actual cash, when a dollar was given to me here or there by family friends, Jaime would give me his undivided attention as I would belabor over what to buy. “Two Chick-o Sticks, um a Swedish Fish, one Sixlets and a plastic-wrapped caramel. Ooh, ooh or a Peanut Chew? Or no, how about a…” was how it would go for at least an hour at a time.

The bodega is where I’d spend my grandma’s last dollar for a bagel with cream cheese on the nights when she was too tired from working in the factory to cook, or just didn’t have enough money for a proper dinner. It’s where I’d bow my head as I’d hand Jaime an I.O.U. scribbled on a piece of crumpled paper and say “thank you” under my breath as he handed me a bag full of food and said, “Don’t worry. We all need help sometimes.” I held my tears, felt the heat of embarrassment on my cheeks and neck, staring down at my own little flip-flopped toes in shame as I accepted his kindness and shuffled out, the bell on the door ringing behind me. It’s where I’d go for candles on the nights where the electricity got shut off because the light bill didn’t get paid and I still had homework to do.


CREDIT: ianqui / Flickr

I fucking loved my bodega.

Bodegas are the original start up. Immigrants working hard and making something for themselves. Bringing up neighborhoods and creating community. Bodegas are already a brand.

Jaime, like many bodega owners, is both Latino and an immigrant. He’s a Dominican dad who I remember listened to “El Vacilón de la Mañana,” wore his hair in a small, tight afro and kept his shirt open enough to see his gold crucifix. I remember him tending to his customers with his cordless phone receiver glued to one ear, often speaking to his family back home using the long distance calling cards he sold in his store (one of the perks of running your own bodega). He was a small business owner, helping foster a sense of community while getting to know his customers. He was a friend and a neighbor, and a role model to his family back in DR, to whom he sent money, and to the kids in the area. Jaime was living his American dream, until gentrification priced him out of the neighborhood and he closed up for good. I don’t know what happened to him, but I know what it looks like when gentrification tries to scrub away the Latino and immigrant influences of a neighborhood.

What these ex-Google tech bros are trying to do, is the definition of whitewashing.

Their business sounds just like their bodega cat logo looks: flat and soulless. It’s nowhere near as representative as what it is trying to be. In plain Brooklynese: shit is wack, B.

Sure, fine, make a vending machine where you can buy things with your phone. That doesn’t even sound like a bad idea, but to call it “Bodega,” stick a damn cat emoji on it and claim to want to replace “centralized shopping locations,” effectively removing what they represent and who they benefit, which are people of color in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods for whom the bodega is a central part of their lives? Yeah, fuck you.

Down with your glorified glass cooler. They’re missing the most important element of bodegas. The people. They are what make bodegas special. These immigrant store owners (many of whom are Latino), have created spaces that feel like home, that feel safe and, most importantly, that feel like family.


READ: Two Guys Tried To Create A New Kind Of Bodega And Twitter Dragged Them All Over The Place


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Día De Muertos Takes Over The Sneaker World With New Collection By Nike

Culture

Día De Muertos Takes Over The Sneaker World With New Collection By Nike

Nike

Mexico’s famed Día de Muertos celebration seems to be everywhere these days. Following the James Bond film Spectre – which featured several scenes amid a fictional Day of the Dead parade – Mexico City created the parade just to satisfy people’s demands.

Now, Día de Muertos is being picked up by brands from all over the world as a way to pay tribute to the popular, traditional holiday (and likely make some money in the process…)

Nike is the latest brand to announce its own Día de Muertos collection and it’s already got fans of the iconic brand ready and waiting with their wallets in hand.

Nike announced its latest Día de Muertos collection which is set to debut later this month.

Last week, the footwear company announced it will be releasing its 2020 Día de Muertos collection later this month, ahead of the Mexican holiday where families gather to celebrate their loved ones who have passed away.

According to Nike’s announcement, the collection includes four styles of shoes including the Air Max 90, the DBreak Type, the Blazer Mid and the Air Jordan 1, all with unique designs that have “a modern approach grounded in art and culture.”

“Día de Muertos’s traditional ofrendas, or altars, serve as the design inspiration behind each of the silhouettes and apparel pieces, with colors, patterns and crafted details nodding to the delicate, handmade artwork of papel picado and flowers typically seen at an altar,” the announcement said.

In addition to the four noteworthy sneaker types that will be available, the collection also includes t-shirts and a sweatshirt, all of which will likely sell out fast – so have your wallet ready!

Nike’s Día de Muertos collection is known for its festive colors and iconic designs.

Credit: Nike

The Nike Day of the Dead sneakers are the sneakers that the swoosh brand launches every year to celebrate the Day of the Dead in Mexico. It is an annual celebration and remembrance, known for its striking iconography and festive colors.

Using the traditional Mexican Cempasúchil flower as a common thread and interpreting the motto “Para Mi Familia”, the four models are colorful tributes to the members of the family, both present and past.

Each pair is based on the traditional Day of the Dead ofrendas (altars), using bright color schemes and intricate details that salute the delicate papel picado and flowers that often surround them.

Some of the pieces — specifically the T-shirts, sweatshirt, the DBreak Type and the Air Jordan 1 — even have the phrase “Para Mi Familia” written on them, to bring the collection “back to the notion of family,” the announcement said.

The collection will even feature a special, limited edition Nike Air Jordan 1.

Credit: Nike

First up are the Nike Air Jordan 1 mid-cut shoe. It combines a white base with purple and gold overlays, provides a “Family” touch on the fender, special details on the tongue badge and insoles and a cracked leather around the neck.

If you’re looking for color, then the Air Max 90 will likely be your first choice.

Credit: Nike

The Nike Air Max 90 shoe is the most vibrant shoe of the bunch, covered from toe to heel in playful, swirling patterns that use multiple shades of red, yellow and orange.

Nike’s latest Día de Muertos collection is already available at Nike stores in Mexico but it the collection will be available globally in the Nike App SNKRS from the 15th of October.

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This Brand Is Being Called A ‘Culture Vulture’ After Being Accused Of Gentrifying Latino Cooking

Culture

This Brand Is Being Called A ‘Culture Vulture’ After Being Accused Of Gentrifying Latino Cooking

Granddriver / Getty Images

As a kid growing up in a Latino household, pretty much everyone had a giant molcajete for grinding up spices and making salsas, or a tortilladora for whipping up homemade tacos and quesadillas. And as staple of pretty much any Latina home, they weren’t that expensive either.

Well, one online company has taken all of that and flipped it upside down to try and make a very hefty profit by bringing ‘artisan crafted’ products into people’s homes – helping them experience a ‘cultural journey.’

The store’s outrageous prices for such traditional kitchen items is generating tons of criticism alone from people calling them ‘culture vultures’ and accusing them of gentrifying Latino cooking and cultural appropriation.

Verve Culture is being called a ‘culture vulture’ for taking traditional Latino cooking tools and selling them at insanely high prices.

Credit: MiComidaVegana / YouTube

Verve Culture – an online store dedicated to bringing “you on a cultural journey” – is facing a series of complaints after profiting from traditional cultural products. The company sells typical products in the preparation of three traditional cuisines at very high prices: Mexican, Moroccan, and Thai.

In the case of traditional Mexican products, the company sells orange and lemon juices; accessories for making chocolate, blown glasses, and molcajetes. And at insanely high prices: a molcajete for $60, a tortilla press for $60, a Mexican chocolate set for $80, and a “Mexican hand juicer” for $15.

The company is obviously profiting off of traditional products of a culture that is too often denigrated – or on the other end of the spectrum, fetishized. Brands are no stranger to appropriating traditional cultural items to boost sales but this particular instance seems to have hit a major nerve with shoppers.

Like, for real?! A molcajete for $60 USD?!

Among some of the most outrageous priced items is a molcajete and tortillero set that goes for $60 USD. That’s literally 20 times more expensive than it should cost.

As someone who lives in Ciudad de México, and who does their shopping at local tianguis and mercados, I have literally bought the exact same set Verve Culture is selling. I paid $60 pesos for the set – not $60 USD – or about $3 USD.

Selling items like this at such inflated prices means Verve Culture is profiting off of the cultural and gastronomic identity of an entire country. So it’s no surprise that Mexican Twitter lit up in shock and anger.

The reaction on Twitter was swift and full of outrage.

A Tweet showing off the outrageously priced products and accusing the brand of “gentrifying Mexican kitchen cookware” already has 36,000 likes and almost 20,000 retweets.

Among some of the comments include one Twitter user who said “Take your site down. This is an insult to Mexican culture along with all the other cultures you’re profiting off. Our culture is not your home decor!”

Another user tweeted, “…not of them is brown so it should really be named stolen culture because they’re selling fancy versions of things traditional to Mexican culture. Having one is fine, profiting off of a minority or their culture is not fine.”

While at least one person pointed out that the people who craft these items have long been taken advantage of. In a tweet, she said “Culturally we’ve been taught that our incredible craft and culture are worth close to nothing for years now, I really wish we could just collectively erase this mindset but at this point it’s so deeply rooted that thinking differently even feels “wrong” most times.”

Many pointed out that if you want to respect a culture’s food, support actual locals and artesanos.

Shopping online from three women who are not from the communities they’re profiting off of, is now way to support that community. That should be common sense but that site seems to have many customers.

As one Twitter user pointed out, if you really want to support local trabajadores, you should be buying directly from them. Shop in your local flea markets, your Latinx-owned shops and markets, this is how you’ll best help artisans.

The company’s $60 tortilla press was even featured in a Buzzfeed article earlier this year.

In the article, the author points out that the “tortilla press is made in Mexico from old Singer sewing machines and other recycled irons! The cast iron should last you, basically, forever so it’s definitely worth your money.”

That’s all great but where is that money going? How much of the $60 is the Mexican, Moroccan, Thai artisan actually earning from Verve Culture’s sales?

So what is Verve Culture and what do they have to say about all of this?

According to their website, Verve Culture is “a women-run business spanning three generational groups from Baby Boomer, Gen X, to Millennial.” As founders, Jules and Jacquie are a mother and daughter team who have worked together for 27 years.

In the company’s about section, they go on to say, “We are in constant pursuit of life traveled fully.”

“Our vision is to explore the cultural richness of artisans and communities around the world – to educate and inspire, while honoring the traditions and heritage of their work.”

Despite these claims, Twitter has been loud and clear in its message: stop profiting off the backs of already underpaid and overworked artisans from around the world.

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