Christmas in Dyker Heights: A MHC Community Arts Project!

This is the Community Arts project done by Mike Ferrigno, Alex Hajjar, Amanda Strano, and Joseph Valerio, we hope you enjoy! It is a quick documentary on the wonderful Christmas lights of Dyker Heights in Brooklyn and describes their history, impact, and art form.


So sit back, relax, and enjoy!


PS: Sorry about the late upload, the youtube site took forever last night, so I slept while the video was processing.

A Throwback to the ‘Good Ole Days’

My mother loves to tell stories about her past. She called those days the ‘Good Ole Days’ where she would get together with a group of friends (about thirty kids) and play on the street corner until sundown. She used to weave her tales about how the kids back then could leave their front doors open and no one would mess with their houses (a concept not shared nowadays) or how they would play “stoop ball” on the sidewalks in front of their apartments. Life was carefree and people could play in the street without fear of getting hit by a drunken driver, or they could bust open a fire hydrant and cool off because air conditioning wasn’t readily available. The wonder of Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing is the preservation of the time period that my mother describes. I watched the movie with a silent, eager awe that made me wish I had a large group of friends that could hang out and that everyone in my neighborhood would know my name and call me out to play at will. I believe that this community “togetherness” is not often seen nowadays and I do wish that the “threats” of everyday society were absent and the carefree attitude could come back.

Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing also highlighted the great problem of racial tension of the time. The “colored” people and white people were not allowed to hang out with each other and in the movie, both groups stay separate.  There are also further tensions between the “colored” groups  of the Hispanics, African Americans, and the Koreans.

One great detail in the movie that I absolutely loved was the historical accurateness of New York during this era. In my People, Power, and Politics class, we learned about the Flatbush riots and the racial tension between the African Americans and Koreans in New York from the 70’s-90’s. African Americans boycotted Korean deli’s because they opened up rapidly and were consuming black neighborhoods. African Americans believed that the Koreans were government agents of racism and believed they were part of an anti-black conspiracy. In Do The Right Thing this racism is made apparent and is shown in perfect quality with the African Americans criticizing the Korean Deli owners. I believe that Do The Right Thing perfectly illustrates the time period of New York where there was heavy racial tension and changing neighborhoods.

A Different Shakespeare Experience

Reading the play, Richard II by William Shakespeare, I couldn’t help, but feel that this was lacking in quality compared to other famous Shakespearean plays like Romeo and Juliet, Othello, or Hamlet. The story of the tyrannical King Richard II and his acquisition and leadership of the throne is not as engaging as some of Shakespeare’s other well known works.

I find that, given the material of the play and the royal history of the text, Shakespeare was doing the best he could with the subject matter. Let’s face it, not many people could make a story like Richard II engaging, but Shakespeare still manages to build tension with such scenes as when the two combatants challenge each other to a duel. Also, sudden events like when Richard II calls off the duel leave readers wondering about his motives and what he’s thinking in his leadership. This questioning of authority allows the readers of the play to make their own opinion about Richard II’s leadership and if he is deserving of the title.

All in all, I feel Richard II is an excellent read, but I find it lacks the certain Shakespearean quality that other plays capture. I feel that the subject matter of the play is its most lacking point and that the text is not as engaging as some of Shakespeare’s other works.

Don Juan–A Connection to Religious Ideas

The play of Don Juan carries a very important message of morality, faithfulness and religious undertones. It is these religious undertones which guide the storyline and allow readers to understand the gravity of Don Juan’s actions.

Don Juan is what we would call in today’s society, a “player”. He knows how to manipulate women and he lifts their hearts up with the idea of marriage and then quickly leaves them as soon as he becomes bored. Don Juan believes uses the excuse that all women should have their beauty appreciated by him and that he should not confine himself to commitment. Throughout the play, Don Juan’s servant, Sganarelle, (who also attempts to teach Don Juan morality) points out that the action of cheating on women and abusing their emotions is a direct violation of the contract between man and the heavens. He tells Don Juan that surely the heavens will become angered and seek revenge against him.

As the play continues, Don Juan performs various selfish actions, most importantly:

-Stealing a country girl away from her fiancee

-Breaking women’s hearts after telling them he is to marry them

-Asking a poor man to beg for money and to swear his allegiance against God

-Lying directly to his father by saying he reformed his ways

-Mistreating his servant and abusing the trust of others.

Don Juan sets himself up on a downward spiral of lies, deceit and manipulation which is immorally correct. His great ability to control situations allows him to escape the consequences of these actions, and he lives his life by destroying the dreams of others. Eventually, Sganarelle, foreshadows the demise of Don Juan after he lies to his father, saying that a talking statue that they saw was a direct indication that the heavens wanted Don Juan to change his ways. Don Juan dismisses these claims and instead goes to eat dinner with the statue. This results in Don Juan being dragged to hell for his actions against the heavens and Sganarelle living without a payment for his services.

The moral of Don Juan is one of morality, faithfulness and religious belief. At the time this was written (1665), religion played an important part in society and women did not have any power unless they were married. By promising marriage to women and then leaving them, Don Juan ruined their lives because a woman’s status was defined through marriage. If a woman was not married, she was not considered powerful in these societies. Don Juan basically teased the women into happiness and then left them. The strong religious beliefs of the time prohibited lies about marriage because marriage was a Christian sacrament to be honored. Any act mocking marriage or acting against it would anger the heavens and thus the offenders were thought to have sinned and would face the consequences. Don Juan highlights the idea of a religious vow being broken and a punishment being enacted. The play ends with educating the reader that they should be faithful, or else they may truly be damned for life (as the women were when they were refused marriage).

A Mutual Relationship–The High Line

Here’s a short little poem and slideshow I made for the High Line project. Hope you enjoy!

A Mutual Relationship–The High Line


A Mutual Relationship

By Joseph Valerio


Separated from the chaos of the city,

Lies a park with unique power.

While urban life is usually gritty,

The High Line includes more, even flowers!

Majestic qualities of greenery,

Interact with unused train track.

Creating unusual scenery,

The High Line is one special pack!

A surreal community formed,

That breathes life into the park.

It’s a good thing the track was reformed,

It became quite a benchmark!

Offering tranquility,

Away from crazy society.

The High Line epitomizes stability,

And a heightened sense of variety.

This mixture of nature and urban,

Can only be found there.

It’s almost quite suburban,

But extremely addicting, beware!

The Metallic Serpent


Slithering through the night,

The creature speeds ahead.

Always such a grand sight,

From its tail up to its head.

The subterranean heartbeat,

Which keeps the city alive.

Is only made complete,

As long as the serpent survives.

The jungle of concrete,

Is the reptile’s home.

Sometimes hiding beneath the street,

Or not—the snake is free to roam.

The masses depend on it,

For day-to-day travels.

The animal leads the transit,

Sliding along the track’s ravels.

Never allowed to rest,

The being is always awake.

Greeting the lost, the weary, the stressed,

Comforting those who’s tired feet ache.

Most capitalize on its power,

Using it as a service.

The basilisk eagerly devours,

Yet no one seems to be nervous.

New Yorkers harmonize with the snake,

Its part is too crucial to be obscured.

Mutually, it’s a “give and take”,

The snake survives as the city matures.

But all through this,

The serpent is unfading.

It revels in bliss,

Always accepted, never degrading.

And so New York lives on,

While the train’s jaws cling to the track.

It rides past the stations—soon gone,

Moving forward and not looking back.

From Rags to Riches

Reading Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids, I removed the idea of her being a famous Punk musician from my thought process in beginning the reading. Patti Smith’s early portions of her life and her experiences in New York reflect a grasp onto hope and promise of succeeding in a land of opportunity. Smith writes how she was initially homeless in New York, scrapping the streets for food and begging for a place to stay. I find it amazing that even in this worst-case scenario, Smith never lost hope, she never gave up and always tried to push herself forward in life. She truly grasped the opportunity of New York and the American Dream to grow from an impoverished woman to a successful star.

Upon meeting Robert Mapplethorpe, Smith’s world is transformed as she meets her true soul mate who she could endure the hardships of the big city with. The fact that they relied greatly on each other and trusted each other in the harshest of times shows that true companionship is not material, but rather requires an emotional contact.

Together, the couple experiments (both positively and negatively) with the growing opportunities of New York. Smith finds opportunity in the artistic quality of New York, meeting new people and traversing its museums. Mapplethorpe contrasts her experiences by testing drugs, his sexuality and the underbelly of New York. Even though we may not fully agree with their preferences for experimentation, it was here in New York that the couple was able to truly find their identity and fully grasp it.

I think that at its base, Just Kids represents the idea of finding your identity in this life and exploring the options the world has to offer. Patti Smith may not have been successful if she had stayed home with her family and became a struggling waitress, but her strive to push forward in life allowed her to succeed. Smith and Mapplethorpe represent the rebellious subculture that America created, which gave birth to many creations such as new forms of art, expression and identity. By detailing her struggle, Smith truly shows that any rational dream can be achieved with the right amount of work and perseverance. Reading her early experiences, one would not think she would become a successful singer, but more likely a faltering artist or writer. In recounting her early life, she gives hope to the younger generations who read her book, and defines the idea of an American Dream–that people can do whatever they want when they come to America and succeed in doing so.

-Joseph Valerio

A Foreign World

Reading Shaun Tan’s “The Arrival”, I could only think of one story I was told which I actually discussed for my Found Art presentation. The story is of my great-grandfather who immigrated to America from Italy around the period of the 1920’s. My great-grandfather left his hometown in Italy to come to America with the hope of finding the American Dream. Always hearing stories that the streets were “paved with gold”, he was excited to become successful and the rumor of the time was that America was the country to go to for prosperity.

Upon arriving at America’s doorstep on Ellis Island, my great-grandfather soon discovered that prosperity was not an easy task. America was a foreign country to him, people spoke different languages and finding a job and a place to stay were the biggest challenges he faced. Thankfully, he settled on early into an Italian neighborhood where he worked for a well known Italian shop owner. With this early job, he was able to acquire money and a place to stay to start off his new life in America.

After years of saving up and working, he fell in love with the shop owner’s daughter, but was prohibited from seeing her. So, my great-grandfather–in an act of bravery– collected his life savings and ran off with my great-grandmother to form a life of their own in America.

Shaun Tan’s “The Arrival” reminds me heavily of this story that was passed down in my family because of the depiction of an immigrant man leaving his family and coming to a foreign looking city (assumed to be New York). The man’s objective is to eventually bring his family from their own hometown which is under siege from a darkness–depicted by snaking tentacles. After arriving at the city, the man undergoes routine checkups and has a hard time adapting to the culture and the new society he is thrown into. I can only imagine that the grand city of New York looked just as foreign to my great-grandfather as the city is depicted in this book.

Going to a new land must be hard for all immigrants. The adaptation of a mixture of cultures, unfamiliar people, hundreds of languages and a vast empire to explore are just some of the obstacles to face. Shaun Tan depicts all of these hardships in “The Arrival” by showing how the main character learns to settle in to his new life. Eventually, the man becomes confident enough to try the food, mingle with the locals, learn the in’s and out’s of the city, and eventually acquire enough to bring his family over. This simple idea of adaptation to the American culture and the dream of a family is what the American Dream is. “The Arrival” depicts in beautiful picture form what the American Dream is believed to be for foreigners and what our ancestors had to endure to settle on our shores. Although the drawings may sometimes be abstract, I can’t help but feel my great-grandfather experienced many of the main character’s events in “The Arrival” and that the experience depicted is the same for many people who have traveled to the great country of the United States.

-Joseph Valerio

The Limits of Being Tasteful?

The act of being tasteless is defined as lacking in politeness, seemliness, or tact. One of the easiest ways for a subject to be placed in a category of tastelessness is to talk negatively about a tragedy soon after it happens. This raises the question, does the article “The Limits of Remembrance” by David Rieff qualify for a category of tastelessness?

Some may argue that “The Limits of Remembrance” details the truth in its rawest form. The idea that the horrific attacks on September 11th, 2001 would lose their strength in the minds of Americans is a powerful statement that could possibly happen. Rieff’s comparison to a diminishing remembrance of Pearl Harbor is an example which holds weight when compared to the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Both events were extreme tragedies in American history and both also had political connotation. Rieff describes the use of the 9/11 memorial in a political way–to never forget that there may have been an attack on American freedoms (instead of a dislike of the American actions around the world)– and in doing so he brings to light that the attack and the memorial also have connections to politics.

Personally, while I find David Rieff’s view to definitely hold weight, I believe that the ten year anniversary of 9/11 is too soon to be mentioning how it will be forgotten or how political the memorial will be. As a New Yorker who experienced the events of 9/11 while in my household, I still remember the day to be traumatizing to my family (especially to my mother who previously worked at the World Trade Center buildings). The attacks of 9/11 still linger in the back of the minds of every New Yorker and possibly every American.

When we step foot onto a plane and we need to go through extreme security measures, we’re reminded of the attacks.

When we look at the New York City skyline and see the two towers missing, we’re reminded of the attacks.

When we see a plane fly overhead close to the ground, we’re reminded of the attacks.

When we see terrorist activities in other countries, we’re reminded of the attacks.

Some of us may be reminded almost every day of what happened on that day, some of us may be reminded once a year, but when most New Yorkers remember what happened that day, their first reaction is not to think of politics. Most New Yorkers remember the videos of the people jumping out of the building, the ash covered businessmen running in fear down the street, the firefighters who ran into the building minutes before it collapsed, the clergymen at the scene of the attacks giving religious service to those in need, and most prominently, the video footage of the plane going into the actual tower.

While Rieff could be correct about the political connotation of the 9/11 memorial, I believe it’s too soon to be making statements of that nature. When that day comes on Sunday, we will gather together as a united American people to remember what happened ten years ago. I believe it is a time to honor those who sadly perished and to not be thinking about how the event will lose its gravity as the years go on in the future of the United States.

So yes, while Rieff does have a very strong argument that is solidified by historical events, I also believe he is tasteless on the basis of his impoliteness toward the ten year memorial of the attack. It’s too soon to be thinking of moving on from the event.