The Gray Arrow to Jamaica
On this hot and toasty Friday, I woke up with the intention of visiting Jamaica, Queens, for the first time. I decided to wear comfortable clothes and shoes as well as to carry a cold bottle of water for my hour and a half journey coming from the Bronx. I found myself taking three trains: the 1, R and E. Interestingly, these were all local trains, which allowed me the opportunity to slow down the crazy pace at which we, New Yorkers, always move. This time was great for me to find information about the history of Jamaica, Queens. It’s fascinating to know that Native Americans populated this area before European contact and that its current name derives from the misspelling of a Native American word (Yameco or Jameco). It made me think of words in my Dominican Spanish that come from Taínos (indigenous people of Hispaniola). For example, word such as Cibao (northern part of the Dominican Republic) and El Yunque (a rainforest in Puerto Rico) have probably undergone similar transformations but are prevalent in everyday language. Further into this train of thought, I became conflicted with my initial idea of taking pictures “of whatever catches my attention.” Was I taking the approach of the tourist that takes a bunch of pictures without really experiencing the place in which she is? Upon my arrival at Jamaica Center, I resolved to simply walk in hopes of making the best of the 2 hours I planned to spend there, grasping some of the experience by walking along Jamaica Avenue, a bustling street that reminds me of my local Fordham Road. I observed the various shops from Roxy and S.O.S to the known GAP and Jimmy Jazz. In addition, it was super interesting to hear announcers/MCs in front of their respective stores with microphones in hand letting you know everything that is in the store, as well as the best sales of the day. I got a couple of invitations to come into the stores, which I turned down with a smile, but was attracted by the gentleman selling Dove soaps for $1.00. It reminded me that I needed to buy soap back at home. Also, I received a flyer (or special invitation I’d like to think, since I included the picture) to “Make Me Over Beauty Bar” (a full-service beauty salon) by a lady wearing purple eye shadow. I promised to come back and check it out.
I eventually turned away from Jamaica Avenue and was surprised to find myself in almost a completely different world. I was in more of a neighborhood area with houses and small buildings around. It became all of the sudden quiet and serene. Some gentlemen sitting under a tree on a sidewalk, ladies pushing their babies on strollers while eating icees, and police officers standing at the door of their precinct…probably hearing the alarm (inaudible to others) about the current tensions regarding police brutality and murders in our country that is going off in my head as I’m doing this action.
Towards the end of my action, I finally decided to take some pictures. I was impressed by the architectural elements on some of the buildings with a lot of baroque embellishments. I walked by at least four churches, an art deco style building that looked like a diner more than the dental clinic that it was. I also walked by at least ten nail salons and electronics stores, the Jameco Exhibition, the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, and York College. I became very attracted to a simple intervention that I found on the ground and from which I took pictures that I’ve included in this submission. Someone had decided to make an arrow with gray duct tape on the sidewalk, right on the corner of 160th Street and Jamaica Avenue. Was this the universe telling me something? I placed myself at the starting and ending points of the arrow because when I first embarked on this adventure to Jamaica, Queens, I didn’t know how it was going to be. I was excited to find beautiful people going about their lives and work, with smiles, with sweat, taking a pause on their day, eating icees and wearing pink eye shadow and reflecting on issues in society. I took notice, experienced and slowed down while in Jamaica, Queens. I found and learnt more of myself there.
About the artist
I was born and raised in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic on I am a multidisciplinary artist and an educator of youth. My favorite movie is Capote and my favorite ice flavor is cherry. I’ve traveled to different countries and lived in various parts of the U.S.A. In doing so, I’ve seen first-hand the importance of art to the preservation and advancement of cultures. While this experience has helped me comprehend more about the context in which artistic expression takes place and, in turn, how art influences and reflects society, I’d say that simple gestures/actions/interventions (like smiling, taking notice of the color of the sky and looking at the cracks on sidewalks) have brought me closer to my essence as a human being. Thus, both art and life have to be connected for my own delight and sense of purpose.
Photos: Francheska Alacántara