Safety and Immigration, More than Soda Size, Worry Mott Haven Residents

At Camaguey Restaurant, customers voice concerns more pressing than soda and styrofoam, such as gun violence and education. (Photo by Marc Fader/City Limits)

For customers at the Camaguey Restaurant on 138th Street in Mott Haven, Mayor Bloomberg should redirect his concerns from large soda sizes and styrofoam containers to education, violence and immigration. Joe Hirsch collected their sentiments in an article for City Limits.

Loyda Lopez moved from Mott Haven to Pelham Parkway, but on visits back she finds that some things still haven’t changed.

Although nostalgic about the familial feel of her old neighborhood compared with more buttoned-up Pelham Parkway, she lamented that some of the problems she left behind three decades ago are unchanged.

“They need after-school programs,” she said, adding that residents “have nobody to help them with their kids.”

“Guns are all over the place,” she said, adding that the mayor’s gun control policies have fallen short. “Talk is cheap. How do they still find a way to have these guns?”

Gloria Cruz, a major local anti-gun violence activist, credits the mayor for starting “a lot of great programs” on gun control and education, adding “it would be sad if the next mayor doesn’t follow through.”

Cruz says residents involved in grassroots advocacy campaigns too often lose focus.

“People want to put a Band-Aid on it. We need more than a Band-Aid,” she said, adding the new mayor should establish local long-term task forces in high crime neighborhoods.

Carmen Aquino, the volunteer co-vice president of the 40th Precinct Community Council, called Mott Haven safer than before, after high-profile drug arrests last year.

“Crime has gone way down,” she said, adding she no longer hesitates to go out evenings, as in the past. The number of murders in Mott Haven fell from 21 in 2011 to 12 in 2012. Felony assaults were also down, from 456 to 390, according to crime statistics published by the NYPD.

Still, Aquino added, the city often forgets “small communities” and should implement more after-school programs.

As a parent coordinator in a Mott Haven school, Aquino points to immigration as another area of concern to local residents.

Africans, Mexicans, Central Americans and Ecuadoreans have made Mott Haven home in recent years.

Estela, a 35-year-old Mexican woman who declined to give her last name, grills corn outside Camaguey’s entrance, then sells it for $2 an ear, from early morning until late nights, with her 2-year-old daughter by her side. On a good day, she said, she makes $100.

For Estela, there is one pressing concern: immigration reform.

“All I want are my papers,” she said, adding she has no interest in city politics.

Fellow precinct Community Council member, Gabriel De Jesus, criticizes the city for how it treats a neighborhood plagued by poverty and crime, and essentially ignoring its problems while simultaneously “dumping” centers in the South Bronx.

He says parents often ask “Why is the juvenile justice system taking our kids away from us?” and he doubts concern over poor communities like Mott Haven are what compelled [President Obama] to emphasize gun violence in his State of the Union address.

“The only reason we’re focusing on guns is because of what happened in Connecticut,” he said, referring to the Sandy Hook school shooting.

The city continues to show its disregard for the South Bronx in other ways, dumping social programs here that are unwanted elsewhere, such as “the overwhelming amount of methadone clinics and shelters,” he added.

For those that do have an interest in New York politics, De Jesus has some advice for the candidates.

“It’s going to be a very interesting race,” De Jesus said of the coming mayoral election. “They’ll need to focus on concerns the people have, not their own agendas. Let the people speak about what’s bothering them.”

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