New York City

From Central Park Rumba with Love

Central Park Rumba is an internationally known music event. I first heard about it in Mexico City in 1980, described in great detail by Cesar Sandoval, a drummer who had lived in New York and frequented the rumba circle in the 1970s …When traveling to Havana to visit my family in the 1990s, rumberos (rumba drummers) and other musicians asked me if I knew their rumba friends from Union City, the Bronx, and Central Park. I arrived at my first CP Rumba the second week of
September 1994, my first week living in the city. There in Central Park, I was told that rumba was addictive. I got hooked! I became a regular to the scene.

First Person

My name is Julissa Vale, a native New Yorker born of Puerto Rican emigrants. I do not remember a time in my life when the sound of music was not present. I was raised on Spanish ballads, salsa, and the Jíbaro music typical of rural Puerto Rico. During the holidays, bomba and plena were also played at home. The songs played in my household weren’t just from Puerto Rico, but from all over Latin America.

Petanque in New York

First practiced in New York City in the 1930s (Pilate 2005, 109–10), the bowling game petanque has become visible in the public spaces of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, next to frisbee, badminton, volleyball, and tai chi. Today, this urban game is played by players of French origin (binational and expatriate), French-speaking immigrants of African origin, and increasingly numerous English-speaking players. This article uses ethnographic data I collected in 2009 and 2011 to describe petanque play in New York City, including different playing areas, the history of local petanque clubs, the hot moments of the annual calendar, ordinary practice, and the personal journeys and motivations of the players.


“Unwittingly,” writes New York Times reporter Somini Sengupta, “I have turned into a student of light. The August light that envelops the beaten-down old streets of Red Hook, I have learned, is more melancholy than the morning light during lilac season in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The sun sparkling on the crown of the Chrysler building is whimsical, ‘like a woman dressed for a party at high noon.’”

Bagels and Genres

Conversations about bagels have something to teach us about the nature of genres and the study of material culture. I realized this a few years ago as I was sitting in an Einstein’s Bagels in Las Vegas that was decorated with standardized murals imitating 1930s Bauhaus design. I remembered a conversation with a friend a decade earlier about the authenticity of modern-day bagels—or lack thereof. But as I glanced at the “traditional” preparation with lox and capers alongside the sun-dried tomato variants, it occurred to me that it might be a false competition.


As folklorists and educators, we believe the qualitative experiences of individual students are at least as significant as the quantitative data. Working in classrooms with new immigrants, we often work with students who refuse to speak at school—they’re often called “selective mutes.” Arts education is a way to change those behaviors. In the arts, teaching artists like George [Zavala] use words and attach them to something the students are doing—when you say the word “red,” you paint with red. We often see kids start to speak very quickly.

K’s Ghost City:

Anyone who has lived in New York for any time
soon becomes aware of “Ghost Sites,” places too soon
relegated to memory. As part of City Lore’s Place
Matters project and the Census of Places that Matter,
we struggle with how to think about and address
vanishing sites, especially during this COVID-19 era.
Our longtime friend, writer Kathryn Adisman has a
unique take on the subject, and we invited her to contribute
to City Lore’s guest blog for us, which we share
here with Voices, focusing, in part, on Bleecker Street
in the West Village.

A Visit to City Lore’s Archives

In September 2022, City Lore, located in Lower Manhattan, had a visitor who told us that she believed we might have a photograph of her mother in our archives. The image that she was looking for showed her mother working at their family-owned vegetable stall in New York City’s Chinatown, shortly after her parent’s immigration from Hong Kong in the 1970s. Fortunately, she knew who had taken it.


OK, maybe we’re not the “best book group” in all New York. But back in 2004, author Wayne Barrett nominated us to the Village Voice’s annual “Best Of ” list, and so the name Best Book Group (BBG) stuck… Alex Herzan and I were having a sushi picnic …. when this idea was hatched. I mentioned to Alex that I had decided to mark my 10th anniversary as a New Yorker by reading a year of books about NYC. I hadn’t come up with a list of books yet, but I had decided to start with Ragtime. Alex was excited about my plan and had the great idea to make it a book group.


You need to read this book [Annie Lanzillotto’s L Is for Lion: An Italian Bronx Butch Freedom Memoir} because it’s the most powerful depiction I have ever read of how a human being can draw on her folk culture, her humor, and her poetic insight to pull life-affirming meaning out of the gutter like a lost Spaldeen.

Raquel Z. Rivera

A portrait of an important Puerto
Rican traditional artist in New York City, Raquel
Z. Rivera, told in her own words—through a conversational
interview with folklorist Eileen Condon
and through excerpts from Raquel’s creative and
scholarly writing.

Hittin’ The Streets With The NYC Tranzformerz

For almost four decades, b-boying,
otherwise known as breaking or
break dancing, has been a staple of New
York City street life. B-boying is an artistic
and improvisational mode of non-verbal
communication and competition between
individuals and groups, usually in relationship
to music. It arose out of the streets of
the South Bronx in the early 1970s and, at
times, became an alternative to gang fighting:
that is, a non-violent resolution to the
problems of the street through the creative
use of the body, mind, and space without


Ned took to the sea as a teenager, first to Gulf
Coast ports, later to California, where he found
work as a caulker in San Francisco Bay shipyards
by day, moonlighting as a singer, accompanying
himself with the banjo. Eventually, and with
strong support from many maritime trades workers
there, he became a full-time entertainer. Back
in New York as a well-established performer,
Harrigan began to stretch vaudeville skits into
full-length plays. They were anything but static
pieces. He refined, added to, and reintroduced
them frequently.


On July 20, 1858, nearly 10,000 fans gathered at the Fashion Race Course in Queens to watch what may have been the most important game in all of baseball history…. baseball was governed by the rules and practices of an amateur association formed only the year before. Although this body called itself the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP), in truth, the new game was an exceedingly local affair, little played outside what is today the New York metropolitan area.


In my work as a folklorist, I have long realized
that we are not so much studying the
folks we interview and celebrate, but rather
documenting their work and partnering with
them. They are not our “informants,” a sorry
term often used in the discipline, but our
collaborators. We are not “studying them,”
but learning from them. Much of my work
as a folklorist involves documenting cultural
forms, but much of it, too, is about connecting
with kindred spirits from other walks
of life, and collaborating with them to find
creative ways to give out-of-the-mainstream
art forms and individuals the attention they