Tag Archives: Immigrants

West Side Story Movie Review

Regardless of whether or not one is a fan of Broadway musicals, they are likely to at least know of West Side Story. To make a long story short, it is Romeo and Juliet taken from Italy in the 16th century and put down in New York City in the late 1950s.

The reimagining opens as San Juan Hill, a neighborhood in Manhattan, is being torn down to become what we know today as Lincoln Center. Not surprisingly, the residents of this neighborhood are people of color, immigrants, and low-income Caucasians.

The Montagues and Capulets have been replaced by two warring gangs of young men, fighting to retain unofficial control of what is left of their neck of the woods. Riff (Mike Faist) is the leader of the Jets, who are all White. Bernardo (David Alvarez) is the leader of the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks. Though he has a career as a boxer, he is equally concerned with protecting his family and his fellow Puerto Ricans.

Their fates are changed when Maria (newcomer Rachel Zegler) and Tony (Ansel Elgort) meet at a dance. Maria is Bernardo’s younger sister. Newly arrived in NYC, she is both idealistic and stubborn. Without their parents, the only maternal influence she has is Anita (Ariana DeBose), Bernardo’s girlfriend. Anita is spicy, whip-smart, and is eager to take advantage of the opportunities that lay before her. Tony is Riff’s best friend and his former second in command. After spending a year in prison, he wants more from life than being a hoodlum.

As the two fall in love and envision a life together, their relationship is tested by the violence around them. If they could get those closest to them to find a way to get along, Maria and Tony could have a chance at a future. But as lovely as that idea is, it will take a miracle to make it happen.

Kudos go to director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner. They took a chance on remaking a classic and succeeded. What makes it stand out from its 1961 predecessor is both the casting of Latinx actors and the understanding that socio-economic issues, politics, and racial strife is the backbone of this narrative.

The deliberate decision of seeking out and hiring performers who are from Latin America or of Latin American descent adds a feeling of authenticity that is missing from the original film. Even Rita Moreno, who is also Puerto Rican (Anita in the 1961 movie and Valentina, the co-owner of the pharmacy and widow of the late pharmacist in this adaptation) had her skin darkened.

If there is one performer who stands out, it is Rachel Zegler. In her first on-screen role ever, she shines as Maria. Her voice is absolutely stunning. Most young actors start out as background players or in small roles, slowly building up their resume. To come out of the gate in the lead role in a major movie and blow everyone away shows that she has nothing but a bright future ahead of her.

This narrative is as timely and powerful as it was sixty years ago. The problems have not changed, they just have different names and different faces. If nothing else, it reminds the audience that we have two choices. We can continue to figuratively shoot ourselves in the literal foot, or find a way to work tother.

Though it clocks in at a little over two hours, it is worth sitting through.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

West Side Story is presently in theaters.

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Filed under History, Movie Review, Movies, New York City, Politics, William Shakespeare

The Futility and Wasted Resources of Hate: Lebanon & Ron DeSantis

“Hate” is a word with a mixed meaning. It can be as benign as stating that you hate a certain type of food or color. Or, it can be as malicious as saying that you hate a certain group of people. We all know where this second statement can lead to.

In Lebanon, its been a year since explosion in Beirut. Instead of addressing the crisis that immediately followed the blast and healing the damage that it created, the neglect of those in power has added to the misery of the ordinary citizen. Both the government and the economy are collapsing. One might think that logic would come into play, but it hasn’t. The geniuses who lead this nation thought that the best use of their dwindling resources was to fire rockets at Israel.

If anyone can explain to me how this makes sense, I would love to hear it.

Earlier this summer, we started to believe that Covid-19 was starting to fade into history. Then the delta variant hit and the number of cases started to rise again. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has chosen to pretend that the virus is ancient history. He has removed all mask mandates, threatened to withhold funding to school districts that require masking, and is more concerned with his re-election campaign than the welfare of the people who reside within the state. He has also blamed immigrants for the increase in hospitalizations instead of looking to the fools who still refuse to get vaccinated. Covid does not care if you were born in this country or if you emigrated from another nation.

Blaming immigrants (or any minority group for that matter) has unfortunately been part of the human experience. The problem is that we never learn that this is belief is nothing but a myth. It is an easy way out instead of facing the issues that hold us back.

I know that we will never be able to answer this question, but when will we learn that hate is nothing more than a waste of time?

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Letters Across the Sea Book Review

War has a way to pulling us apartment, forcing us to see someone else as “the other”. It can also bring us together and remind us of our common humanity.

Letters Across the Sea, by Genevieve Graham, was published earlier this year. In Toronto in the summer of 1933, Hannah Dreyfus and Molly Ryan are best friends. Both the grandchildren of immigrants (Eastern European Jews and Irish Catholic respectively), they are friends in a time in which antisemitism is rising in their hometown. Though Molly only sees her BFF and has a crush on Max, Hannah’s big brother, other people are not so tolerant of their differences. Things come to a boil in August during the Christie Pits riot, forcing Hannah and Molly to go their separate ways.

Six years later, World War II is on the horizon. After years of toiling at any job she could get, Molly has finally gotten her dream job as a journalist. Men from across the country have enlisted. Among them are Max and Molly’s brothers. When the letters from the soldiers start to arrive, Molly must contend with the past and the unspoken truth that has been buried since that night in 1933.

This book is amazing. Graham’s eye for the historical facts while creating a fictional world is top notch. I was fully invested in the story, hoping that Molly and Max would get together while praying that the male characters would come home. It was a history lesson in the best way, learning about this time in Canadian history without feeling like the reader is sitting in a university lecture hall.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism, History, Writing

The Nanny Character Review: Yetta Rosenberg

*For the foreseeable future, some Character Review posts may not be published every Thursday as they have in the past.

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the television series The Nanny. Read at your own risk if you have not watched the show. There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations. The general on screen image of a grandmother is that of a loving, openhearted woman whose focus is her family. On The Nanny, Fran Fine‘s (Fran Drescher) grandmother, Yetta Rosenberg (the late Ann Morgan Guilbert) is not one of these women.

As a young girl, Yetta immigrated to the United States, where she was supposed to marry the man chosen for her. Though she fell in love with another man, she decided to marry her husband when the man her heart was set on disappeared. Later in life, she would travel between Europe and America, experiencing quite a few major historical events of the first half of the 20th century.

When we meet Yetta as a woman in her sunset years, her mind has started to slip. She is known to frequently smoke, in spite of her ailing health. Unaware that Fran is working for Maxwell Sheffield (Charles Shaughnessy), she believes that he is her grandson-in-law and that his children are her great-grandchildren. But if the viewer knows nothing else about Yetta, she loves her granddaughter intensely. When Fran eventually marries Max and brings their children into the world, she is there as a only proud grandmother can be. Yetta also re-marries before Fran walks down the aisle, creating a running joke. Her new husband is Sammy, played by the late Ray Charles.

To sum it up: Though Yetta is far from the grandmotherly character type we expect to see, she feels like she could be anyone’s grandmother. Her love of her grandchildren is obvious, her mind is not what it was, and she still has conflicts with her children.

Which is why she is a memorable character.

This will be my last character review post for the The Nanny. Come back next week to find out which group of characters I will be reviewing next.

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Filed under Character Review, Feminism, Music, New York City, Television

Thoughts on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2021

Change is never easy. Especially when the change is overcoming and dealing with cultural, racial, and religious stereotypes.

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Dr. King was one of many who fought for equality. Though his ultimate goal was equality for African-Americans, it spread to the rest of the country. Women, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and other Americans of color who have been disenfranchised heard his message and understood exactly what he was saying.

Though we can proudly say that we have made progress in the multiple decades since he was taken from us, it is more than clear that true equality is still too far off for many. I remember a cartoon in a book when I was in school. The image was of a tree had been cut at its base, but the roots were untouched. The analogy about racism and prejudice was obvious.

The fact is that we have a long way to do. Between the riot in DC almost two weeks ago and the murders of multiple African Americans last year, the dark side of the United States revealed itself in a way that was opening.

What Dr. King started almost a century ago, we have to finish. It is the only way to make his dream a reality.

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Filed under Feminism, History, Politics, Thoughts On....

I’m Writing You from Tehran: A Granddaughter’s Search for Her Family’s Past and Their Country’s Future Book Review

I don’t know about anyone else, but as the descendant of immigrants, there is a part of me that longs to know about the world my family knew before they came to the United States. But with no one alive to share those stories and that world long gone, it can be seen through documents and the work of fiction.

French-Iranian journalist Delphine Minoui does not need to jump through such hoops. The only thing she needs to do is buy a plane ticket.

Her new book, I’m Writing You from Tehran: A Granddaughter’s Search for Her Family’s Past and Their Country’s Future was published in the spring.

Translated by Emma Ramadan, the book is a memoir of the ten years that she lived in Iran. In the late 1990s, she was in her twenties and brand new to the world of journalism. She was also mourning for her recently passed grandfather. Her stay in Tehran was supposed to be a short ten-day trip. It eventually turned into a decade long residency.

During the course of that decade, Minoui doesn’t just live in Tehran. As her journalistic instincts kick in, she experiences everything the city and the country offer at that time. By the time she leaves Iran, she has grown in ways she could not have imagined

I really liked this book. It shows that Iran is much more than it is perceived to be in the headlines. Which frankly, sometimes don’t tell the whole story. Each chapter is a letter to her grandfather, describing in vivid detail what day to day life was like for Minoui.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Let’s Talk About #JewishPrivilege

Antisemitism is a disease that has haunted humanity for thousands of years. Just when we think it has finally died down forever, it rears its ugly head once more.

This past week, the hashtag #JewishPrivilege has been circulating throughout Twitter in response to false and age old accusations. I’d like to talk about my own so called “#JewishPrivilege”.

  1. If this privilege includes having relations that were among the 6 million Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust, I want none of it.

2. My immigrant ancestors came to America in the early 20th century with only the clothes on their backs and whatever they could carry. No one helped them to become upwardly mobile, they had to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Whatever “privilege” someone thought they had clearly did not exist.

3. I wouldn’t define privilege of having to hire security during religious services. Or seeing the shootings in Poway or Pittsburgh in the news.

4. Privilege is not defined as hearing about nearly 1400 brothers and sisters of your faith murdered in their homeland due to lies and hate.

5. If privilege is constantly watching Israel being attacked in the press and in the UN for so called “crimes against humanity” while other countries receive a slap on the wrist, that is not “privilege”.

Privilege is defined as: special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.

Whoever thinks that the Jews are privileged needs to get their heads out the sand and read a history book.

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Filed under History, National News

American Oligarchs: The Kushners, the Trumps, and the Marriage of Money and Power Book Review

One of the beautiful things about American culture, is that one’s status within the society is not static. There are opportunities to grow beyond the circumstances of one’s birth. Unfortunately, with those opportunities, comes the risk that not every business venture is on the up and up.

Journalist and Trump, Inc. host Andrea Bernstein recently published her new book, American Oligarchs: The Kushners, the Trumps, and the Marriage of Money and Power. In the book, she starts with the immigrant roots of both families and ends with the current economic and political state of her subjects. Utilizing interviews, hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, Bernstein draws a picture of two families who would do anything (and I mean anything) to get a powerful place and stay in power.

This book is an eye-opener. Those of us who are news junkies are fully aware of the current press that surrounds both families, but the past press is often overlooked. The thing is about this book, is that it can be seen as partisan, depending on your perspective. As a Democrat who is more than ready to see you know who out of office, this book confirms everything that I believe about the current administration.

I recommend it.

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The Golden Girls Character Review: Sophia Petrillo

*For the foreseeable future, some Character Review posts may not be published every Thursday as they have in the past.

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the television series The Golden GirlsRead at your own risk if you have not watched the show.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from The Golden Girls.  to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

When it comes to women of a certain age, the impression is that time have taken their toll. At this point in their lives, they are living quietly, without the excitement of their younger years. Sophia Petrillo (the late Estelle Getty) on The Golden Girls proved that women of a certain age do not lose their lust for life just because their younger years are behind them.

Sophia was born in the first few years of the 20th century in Sicily. One of three children, she immigrated to New York as a teenager. After the death of her husband and being hospitalized for a stroke, Sophia moved in with her daughter, Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur).

The stroke took away Sophia’s ability to censure herself. This often led to conversations that ended with Dorothy threatening to send her mother back to the home. “Shady Pines, Ma” was often heard out of the mouth of an exasperated Dorothy.

Though she openly mocks her housemates, Sophia loves them as if they all were her flesh and blood. It is that love that sustains her, especially after Dorothy re-marries and moves in with her new husband.

To sum it up: It would be easy to create a character of a certain age who has taken a back seat to life. It is harder to create the same character, especially if she is female, with the same vibrancy and joie de vivre as a younger woman. Fans of The Golden Girls love Sophia because she is sassy, she is smart, but most of all, she loves her daughter.

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Filed under Character Review, Feminism, New York City, Television

Who is Going to Pay For the Wall? America!

Politicians are notorious for making campaign promises that are just that.

During the 2016 Presidential election, you know who made the following statement over and over again.

“Mexico will pay for the wall.”

The reality is that Mexico will not be paying for the wall. America will pay for the wall.

Last week, press reports stated that billions of dollars that were earmarked for various military projects will be used to pay for the wall.

So much for campaign promises. I guess he is a politician after all. Maybe now we have a chance of getting him out of office in 2020.

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