As we are confronting the coronavirus crisis, City Lore, in New York City, is putting out a call to collect creative responses to the crisis in song, poetry, video and other forms. New Yorkers are famous for coming together in community after September 11th. There were many creative responses to this sorrowful and challenging time including singing together and communal memorials on the street. Today we can’t get together and hold hands to sing — but we can be creative in other ways.
Bernice Falsone Hotchkiss, of Mt. Morris, NY, has been preparing a St. Joseph’s Table for more than 50 years. Originally learning from older women in her family, she prepares more than 15 distinct dishes of fried vegetables, fish, salads, pasta, breads and sweets to comprise a full meal. Her expression of the tradition has a unique twist: from about 1990, because participants had aged and could not always travel to her home, she had transformed her table into a take-out affair. Bernice, her sister, and several women work for two to three weeks to prepare all the dishes. Then various children, grandchildren and friends deliver the meal to shut-ins, friends, and family. Her highest number of deliveries was in 2012, with just over 200 meals. She currently prepares between 70-80 meals.
Originating in Sicily in the 16th Century, the Feast of Saint Joseph is celebrated as one of the Saints’ Days within the Catholic Calendar. In a day dedicated to the family, Saint Joseph is honored through the creation of an elaborate altar of breads and baked goods, made as an offering to the Saint in recognition of his assistance at a time of family crisis.
Below is a video portrait of the making of a St. Joseph’s Table, filmed in 2019 by Christine Zinni:
Annually, Grupo Folklórico de Poughkeepsie (GFP) brings the culture of Oaxaca, Mexico to the Hudson Valley at its La Guelaguetza festival. La Guelaguetza festival celebrates the unique folklore of Oaxaca, Mexico, which is a region of Mexico noted for its various indigenous communities.
The festival provides a window into authentic Oaxacan dance, music, and food, that is held in “Oaxakeepsie” (the nickname given to Poughkeepsie because of its large number of Oaxacan immigrants). GFP began presenting La Guelaguetza in 2008, as a grassroots effort to bring the festival to the local community.
The festival begins with a parade of all the dancers, dressed in colorful traditional costumes and led by the Corn Goddess. Each group represents a different region of Oaxaca. Because La Guelaguetza is a celebration of harvest and sharing, offerings of fruit and flowers are shared with the audience throughout the festival.
After the introductory parade, the dancing and music begins. The colorful costumes and traditional props are breathtaking. Bilingual masters of ceremony provide the festival’s context by introducing and explaining the meaning of the dances. The lively dance performances and live music allow the audience to see, hear, and participate in the traditional customs of Oaxaca, Mexico.
La Guelaguetza Poughkeepsie is truly a community effort. GFP (under the direction of Felipe Santos) works with Arts Mid-Hudson and Dutchess County Tourism to provide this festival free to the thousands of people who enjoy it. La Guelaguetza immerses enthusiasts of traditional music and dance in the rich traditions of Mexico’s Oaxaca state. In 2020, the festival will take place on Sunday August 2, at Waryas Park on the Hudson River waterfront. Please follow them on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pokguelaguetza
Perhaps more than any other single aspect of the discipline of folklore, the collection, study, and analysis of narrative arts, storytelling, and storytellers has been a central part of folklore scholarship since the field was founded in the mid-Nineteenth Century. European collectors such as Perreault (France – seventeenth century) and the Brothers Grimm (Germany- eighteenth century) collected and published many of the well-loved “fairy tales” known today, including Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Hansel and Gretel. In the twentieth century, American collectors Zora Neale Hurston, Roger Abrahams, Alan Lomax, and others expanded the storytelling canon to include tales with Afro-centric origins. Stories with characters such as Anansi the Spider, Papa Bwa, and the Soucouya, were introduced to a wider audience beyond solely Caribbean and African American communities.Today’s fascination with storytelling is encouraged by the “me” story, fueled by Story Corps, reality TV, Facebook, Snapchat, and a host of other social media that encourages one to tell one’s “story.” This current focus on the individual marks a significant cultural shift away from the historic role of traditional story and storytelling as shared collective expressions intended to stimulate and encourage ideas about family, community, political, secular, and religious values.
If you would like to experience the performative nature of stories, two events are taking place in the Capital District that will provide opportunities. On February 29 (Schenectady) and March 1 (Troy), Nazmo Dance Company will join with folklorists Kay Turner and Rose October-Edun to explore European and Caribbean tales as interpreted through modern dance. Performances will take place at the Schenectady Light Opera and at the Arts Center for the Capital Region in Troy. Tickets can be obtained here: www.nyfolklore.org/grimm.
A second opportunity to hear live storytelling will be the annual conference of Northeast Storytelling. “Sharing the Fire 2020” will offer three days of performances and workshops at the Gideon Putnam Spa and Resort in Saratoga Springs. More information can be found at www.NEstorytelling.org.
As we close the books on 2019, I want to thank everyone for a fantastic and celebratory 75th anniversary year. New York Folklore was founded in 1944 by Louis Jones and Harold Thompson, two close friends and folklore colleagues who had a vision for a folklore organization that would draw together academics teaching folklore, students of folklore, tradition bearers, and local enthusiasts. Founded in October 1944 at a meeting of the New York History Association at the Albany Institute for History and Art, the New York Folklore Society was instituted and immediately convened a day-long series of presentations about folklore in New York State. This activity continued with twice annual gatherings and a journal that began publication in 1945. We haven’t stopped since! Predicated on a vision of cultural equity and inclusion, the nascent New York Folklore Society aligned itself with social justice and social action movements of the time, including the Progressive Education Movement and the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s. I am proud of the organization’s seventy-five year legacy of promoting cultural and social justice and I am pleased that this vision remains a vital part of the organization’s mission.
We began our 75th celebratory year with a birthday cake on June 6, 2019 that was handed out to anyone passing by outside our offices and gallery at 129 Jay Street in Schenectady. We were able to share this event with our visiting guests from the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. The celebration continued with a 75th Anniversary party that was held on November 16, 2019 at the Bethany Arts Community in Ossining. More than 110 guests were in attendance to wish us well. As President Tom van Buren and Vice-President Kay Turner declared, the ongoing vision of New York Folklore – to promote and nurture community – was in evidence. Of the guests attending, New York Folklore’s friends and constituents were in attendance, including folklore colleagues, folk and traditional artists, leaders of allied folklore organizations and folk arts specific organizations, former and current staff members, former journal editors, and former and current board members. Celebration participants came from as far away as Maine and New York’s St. Lawrence County, and from as near as Ossining and New York’s Westchester County.
While this was a grand year, we intend to continue into 2020, as next year will be the anniversary of our publication that began as New York Folklore Quarterly and today is known as Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore. To keep abreast of events and other anniversary initiatives, connect with us on Instagram and Facebook, subscribe to our blog, and visit our website. And please join us as a member so that New York Folklore can remain strong for the next 75 years!