Monthly Archives: October 2020

My Lower West Side Story

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.

Niagara Street view of City Hall and downtown Buffalo

Being back home after so many years away was a real eye opener to how much of Buffalo has changed. As I drove through downtown Buffalo, I was in awe with how much this city had evolved in 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, there was continued change. My eyes were amazed at the sight that the old Pine Harbor apartment buildings were now gone, being replaced by low income housing that will more than likely cost a pretty penny once all is said and done.

“Avenida San Juan a.k.a. Niagara Street”

The more things changed, the more they stayed the same however, and 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 viewed the same sights I saw when I left the city ten years ago. Abandoned, broken down homes. Corner stores with graffiti and folks loitering about. Different faces, but definitely 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 the site, with the influx of newer Asian and African immigrant communities that have added additional spices to the upper West Side, the lower West Side for the most part still felt very familiar. For all the gentrification the lower West Side has seen, some places remain stagnant and have not changed whatsoever.

This thought brings to mind the issue I have with those who remained on the West Side and how the politicos and 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 dad, Joe “The Barber” Anastasio and me, 1984″

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.

My father’s old barber shop. Unchanged for 35 years. On the corner of Maryland and West Avenue

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 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, if you want to call it that, 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. Don’t 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 very successful one. I spoke with a number of people making the best of their lives on the West Side. Although my film isn’t a documentary about Buffalo West Side Puerto Ricans, I needed to start there because this is a very personal film for me. My film is going to look into 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.

Rocco.


Rising from the ashes of the year 2020

It’s been quite a long while since my last blog post in 2011. Close to nine years in fact!

Since the time of my last blog post, my family has grown by one, as our youngest daughter was born in December of 2013. We have also moved to a larger home in a different city. We are still in Central Florida but closer to the Orlando/Daytona Beach metropolitan area.

I’ve also been blessed to have pursued my dream of being a filmmaker, having completed my first full length documentary film in 2019 titled “In Their Words – Of Service and Sacrifice.

The trailer from my first film

Available on Amazon Prime Video

These last few years have been great for me and my family, and although, as most families do, we have seen many ups and downs throughout the years, there have been more ups than downs for us as a whole.

After being away from this blog for so long, I’ve decided to pick it back up for a few reasons:

One, I remember writing my words down and filling a page was a very therapeutic exercise. At the moment, I am between full time work due to the nice pandemic we have been living with here in 2020. The Coronavirus or as it is commonly known, COVID-19 has really made the lives of many very miserable. Some have lost their health, many have sadly lost their lives and quite a few of us have lost our jobs. All because an administration refused to level with the American people.

The year of Our Lord, 2020 sure has been one that will probably be seen as a paradigm shift, the year where things changed so significantly, that the way we live our lives will be changed forever.

At the time of this writing, there are close to 220,000 Americans who have sadly died from Coronavirus, and unfortunately, since our leaders refuse to take ownership, there will be many more to come.

The second reason I decided to pick up the pen err keyboard, well, I was asked by a new friend if an old post I wrote years ago could be used for a publication he puts out monthly. The old post was titled “A letter from a son to his father….” and it honestly was a post I forgot I wrote. Going through my old WordPress site, I smiled at the thoughts the 2011 version of me was writing down, and although I wish I had continued writing these last nine years, I guess better late than never.

The third reason I decided to pick up my blog posts, was to document the filmmaking process of my current production. I’m in the early beginnings of producing my second feature length documentary project, a film titled “Boricua Soy Yo.” This documentary will look into the history of Puerto Rico, the resilience of the Puerto Rican people and also explore the culture and what it means to be “Boricua” for a Puerto Rican here on the mainland as well as those living on the island. I’m still in the early stages of this film however I’m planning to write blog posts of the process moving forward, to keep myself honest and sane.

In production

Lastly, the fourth reason for picking up my WordPress blog is, well, the year 2020. As mentioned above, this year has been filled with a ton of loss, and one of the losses I had this year was that of a dear friend, Rameer Green.

It was Rameer himself who, back in 2011, inspired me to start this blog after he started sharing his own blog titled “Shoot, Pass, Quibble”.

Rameer was an excellent writer and reading his ill abstract points of view pushed me to wanting to do my best as a writer, especially knowing that he would be reading my posts. Rameer was a dear friend, one of my best friends for many years, one I respected and looked up to. The type of man who never held his punches, one who would always tell it to you straight and many of his friends, myself included, loved and appreciated that from him.

Here’s to you Rameer. Your legacy lives on within all the young people who had a chance to learn from you. It lives on within all the friends who mourn your loss.

So there it is.

I’m looking to continue this blog in honor of all things mentioned, including as a small tribute to my friend Rameer. I may not be as swift with the posts, especially now that our children are in virtual school, and I’m producing this new film, however, I’m looking forward to updating you all from time to time, whenever time allows.

Until next time

Rocco