This From the Field Feature is courtesy of New York Folklore Community Field Worker – Edgar Betelu. Since late 2021 he has been working with immigrant and refugee communities in the Capital Region.
New York’s Capital Region and upstate are home to an increasing number of Karen who have settled in the area since the 1990s. Commonly, as refugees escaping political violence and persecution in Myanmar, previously called Burma. Thanks to immigration and refugee organizations today it is estimated that around 5,000 Karens call Albany and the Capital Region home.
As part of my fieldwork in the region, I have had the opportunity to meet several members and artists of the Karen community. In August of 2021, I was invited to the Wrist Tying Ceremony, which is held annually in different cities of New York State. Last year the event took place in Rensselaer, New York, and was attended by members of large Karen communities from Utica, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse among others.
The annual Wrist Tying Ceremony is a centuries-old tradition that typically takes place in August. It is secular in nature and celebrates the cultural identity, tradition, and bonds within families and the Karen community. The ritual also serves as an expression and wish for the spiritual and physical well-being of a person.
During the event, elders of the community tie red and white threads around participants’ wrists and place cooked sticky rice, sugarcane, leaves and bananas in their hands while reciting words calling on the spirits to act graciously, bring good health and ward off evil.
Last year the event was a wonderful and festive social gathering held in the field behind the Gethsemane Karen Baptist Church in Rensselaer. It was a hot summer day and the rain threatened to spoil it, but fortunately only a few drops came down and the sun finally came out. There were lots of people. Entire families from grandparents and young children. Men and women walked around the grounds, sat to chat, laugh and eat. A group of men rolled betel nuts in leaves to chew. Everyone wore the traditional colorful longyi.
There was also lots of delicious food and cooking. Fish, vegetables and several soups. I had a delicious bamboo soup with vegetables on top and shrimp. There were also dance groups and young children performing traditional Karen dances alongside musicians. I had the opportunity to meet Pinya Aung, a Tenaku harp player and his wife Ehsue Aung who is a dancer. They are both very active in the community and one of the earliest families to arrive in the Capital region in the early 2000s. During the last two years, I have had the pleasure to continue to work with the community through presentations and workshops. In a couple of weeks, I have been invited to participate (literally) in a Karen Soccer tournament with teams from the Capital Region and other cities upstate. Happily, I was told I could participate with the elder teams. I am very much looking forward to the sporting event although I believe I will be found closer to the food stands.
This year the Wrist Tying Ceremony will take place in Syracuse on September 3rd.
Are you a New York State folklorist or community scholar? We would love to publish your “From the Field.” Email Anne, [email protected] to be featured.
The Mohawk Hudson Folklife Festival is BACK for its second year! Join is on Sunday, October 2nd for another year of artist demonstrations, musical performances and new this year – cooking lessons! The festival will begin at 11:00 am and end at 5:30 pm at the Washington Park Lakehouse Amphitheatre.
Celebrate the moving tapestry and rich cultural traditions of the Capital Region. Join us for a fun filled day of music, dance, art, food, crafts, and food demonstrations. Artists will demonstrate traditions like henna, pysanky, embroidery, and blacksmithing. Engage and participate with practitioners and the living traditions right here in the Capital Region. Practitioners hail from New York, Republic of the Congo, Greece, Myanmar, Afghanistan, and more! New this year is a series of food demonstrations by community cooks. Members of the Congolese, Karen. and Caribbean communities of the Capital Region will showcase their favorite dishes.
Two Young Karen girls dance at the 2021 festival
Musical performances will be on all day by folk favorites like the The Desi Trio and Capital Region staple, Mixed Roots.
Food Demonstration Schedule
11:30 am -12:15 pm Karen fried gourd and fish with Saw Dabu
1:30 pm -2:15 pm Dominican empanada with Santa Cabrera
3:30 pm – 4:15 pm Congolese Samusa with Huguette Tshiamua
11:05 am- 11:30 am Karen Music and Dance by Pinya and Eshue Aung
11:45 am -12:30 pm Puerto Rican Music by Tony and Rosario Madera
12:45 pm – 1:30 pm Pakistani and Desi Music by The Desi Trio
1:45 pm -2:30 pm Albanian Dance with Tatijana Gjergji
2:45 pm – 3:30 pm Congolese Music by Wa Lika
3:45 pm – 4:30 pm Puerto Rico and Afro-Cuban with ArtPartners/Tsehaya & Company
4:45 pm – 5:30 pm Mixed Roots
The full festival program is: TBA
The Upstate Regional Initiative is a program initiated by the Folk Arts Program of the New York State Council on the Arts. The project was developed to conduct field documentation and programming in counties underserved by the Folk Arts program of NYSCA, with the goal to serve as a catalyst for community-based projects and to identify artists and cultural traditions within these regions. The initiative continues in 2022 in the Greater Capital Region. The Festival is sponsored by NYSCA, Discover Albany, HumanitiesNY, and the City of Albany.
Pysanky by local artist Sarah Bachinger
The diner on Cohoes’ Ontario Street has been a staple for the city’s residents and working-class people. Soon it will be home to Chris “Champ” and Cindy Peralta’s Chee-Bog restaurant. Chee-Bog is well known in the Capital Region for its pop-ups featuring Filipino cuisine.
Champ immigrated from the Philippines in 2013, He met his wife Cindy in Chicago in 2014. After the birth of their first child in 2018, they moved back to upstate New York to be near Cindy’s family.
During that time, Uncle John’s Diner ‘s diner was helmed by Jackie Reavey, her husband, “Uncle” John Reavey had passed away a few years prior. Jackie, with the help of a friend, kept the diner going. Jackie explained that the diner was John’s dream, but after his death in 2014 and the COVID 19 pandemic it became too much. While talking with New York Folklore Jackie reminisced about her years behind the counter:
“Some people just come in just to hear a voice sometimes, cause they live alone. There was always a lot of discussion … it was nice to encourage conversation back and forth. and I think they liked that, even if they didn’t agree.”
Jackie herself is a community scholar of sorts, she has been collecting photos, stories, and history about thediner, Cohoes, and her family, long times residents of the city. Chee-bog will be a primarily takeout set up inspired by Karinderyas, or small local eateries and food stalls found in the Philippines. In addition, they will honor Uncle John’s legacy as a gathering space through monthly events and traditional Filipino gatherings. The famous counter where countless meals have been eaten will be put on wheels. This will give Champ more space behind the counter and allow for the hosting of Boodle Fights (or Kamayan) – a communal feast where food is served on banana leaves and eaten without utensils. In addition, Champ will be serving Uncle John’s famous breakfast sandwiches, one of Jackie’s favorites to serve her customers.
Champ learned his arsenal of Filipino recipes from his mother and grandmother. Recipes like Lumpia (Filipino spring rolls), Adobo (Pork or chicken in a garlic, soy sauce marinade), Pancit (Rice Noodles), Lechon Kawalli (brined pork belly) are staples of the Chee-bog menu.
The Peralta Family outside Uncle John’s Diner
The diner is no stranger to immigrant cultures. Before Uncle John’s Diner, the restaurant went by the name of Edelweiss, and was owned by a German immigrant named Helen, who had a formidable reputation in Cohoes. Before Edelweiss, the diner was called Art’s Pourhouse. The history of the diner goes back further, to at least the 1920’s, but searches for more details by Jackie have turned up little.
You can learn more about Chee-Bog on their social channels https://www.facebook.com/cheebogtroy/
*Blog Photos are Courtesy of Chee-Bog
This From the Field Feature is courtesy of New York Folkore Staff Folklorist – Anne Rappaport Berliner. Since late 2021 she has been working with beekeepers in the Mohawk Valley.
The Mohawk Valley has a rich history of beekeeping. Moses Quinby, an important figure in beekeeping history, lived and worked in the valley. Today there are Mohawk Valley beekeepers carrying on the legacy. Many are members of the Southern Adirondack Beekeeper Association, an important group in the area. However, anyone who is anyone will tell you that Carl Jurica was the center of a tight knit beekeeping community.
The hive smoker was invented by Moses Quinby in 1873.
Carl was a lifelong beekeeper in Johnstown, NY. He passed away just a few weeks after I interviewed him in October 2021. His legacy lives on through his mentees, students, friends, and of course his bees. In addition to Carl’s community, I recently started interviewing beekeepers in other parts of the Capital Region, “BEE” they backyard or commercial keepers. I have learned about bees themselves and of course, tried lots of honey. The dark honey – called wildflower, produced by bees in the fall is my favorite.
Scott Hart locks up his beeyard.
If you spend more than a few minutes talking to a beekeeper, you will hear them talk about their “girls” AKA the bees! Most bees in a hive are female – no matter their job, nursing, gathering, or building. It is unlikely you will find a keeper who doesn’t talk to their “girls.” Experienced beekeepers can tell how the hives feel based on their sound and behavior. Conversation between the bees and their keepers are common!
When a bee leaves their hive in search of food, it returns to its hive by recognizing the visual attributes of its home. Because of this, beekeepers often paint their hives bright colors. I have seen rainbows of hives as well as individual images. One of my favorite hives is in the keeper’s home. The bees naturally found their way into the house, and the keeper fitted the hive with glass cover so it can be viewed from the inside!
I’m hoping to continue expanding my interviews past the Mohawk Valley and into the greater Capital Region. I have been asked by many of the folks I meet if I’ll ever keep bees, and though I’m not ready yet, I get the feeling it is just a matter of time. I do love honey!
Are you a New York State folklorist or community scholar? We would love to publish your “From the Field.” Email Anne, [email protected] to “BEE” featured.
The featured photo is a painted beehive by Carl Jurica
At our 37th annual New York Folklore Arts Roundtable, we did things “new” in an old-fashioned way! A new and old hotel, a new and old format, and new and familiar faces! We excitedly welcomed Roundtablers who attended last year and colleagues like George Ward and Ruby Marcotte, who joined us for the first time in many years.
Monday morning, we gathered in the recently refurbished Queensbury Hotel – first opened in the 1920’s. “What You’re Working On Presentations” harkened back to the first years of the Roundtable – devoid of audio visual materials. In just 5-minutes participants presented on their current projects and solicited feedback for the breakout discussions that followed. The format was well accepted, letting each person the hear what everyone else was working on. Those with an affinity for technology, created short videos in lieu of an oral presentation. The videos were an excellent way to end our second day, before turning the Roundtable attendees loose to further explore the city of Glens Falls.
Monday and Tuesday morning gave Roundtablers the chance to explore downtown and the Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library. Todd DeGarmo Center director, welcomed us to learn about the archiving, programming, exhibiting and other productions. We heard briefly about the Farm 2 Library by Comfort Food Community. The project brings fresh produce and food to those in need.
Comfort Food Community Food Recovery Manger, Zach Bain, joined us as a guest to discuss Land Stewardship, Agriculture and Food Sovereignty. Along with Zach we welcomed Jinah Ahn of Sunhee’s Farm and Kitchen and Peter Jemison and Angel Jimerson of the White Corn Project at Ganondagan State Historic Site.
As always, we ended the Roundtable with an overview of the work done by New York Folklore. Remember you can always find information about Mentoring and Technical Assistance on our website at https://nyfolklore.org/mentoring-professional-development/