Diversifying New Year’s Day: Inside Philadelphia’s First Puerto Rican Mummers Troupe

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All photos | Bradley Maule

Sixteen-year-old Niurka Mojica stands in the center of the circle, a mass of blondish curls piled into a bun and accented with a red flower. As three drummers pound congas, she lifts the hem of her billowing red skirt up in the air, then shakes it down to her toes. She puts her hands on her hips and thrusts her chest out. She grabs the skirt again and swivels her hips. Around the circle there are singers and percussionists and other girls shaking brightly colored skirts back and forth. A couple of masked men in satin costumes bop along to the music, as does someone holding a gigantic satin-clad puppet whose horned head almost touches the ceiling.

All of these people at Christ Church & St. Ambrose at Sixth and Venango are members of Los Bomberos de la Calle, a Puerto Rican bomba y plena group that’s part of the new Philadelphia Division of the Mummers Parade, which was formed to increase diversity among the parade’s participants. Today’s rehearsal for the parade has swelled Los Bomberos’ ranks from about 10 to 20, and even brought some people — as well as the giant puppet — from Allentown. On New Year’s Day, group founder Tony Mendez estimates there’ll be 30 or 40 people marching, all of whom will make history: It’ll be the first time in the parade’s 160 years that a Puerto Rican group — or any Latino group, for that matter — will march. Leo Dignam, of the Department of Recreation, told division members at a meeting a few weeks ago, “This will be the big story of the Mummers Parade this year.” Read more »

28 Vintage Photos of Philadelphia During the Holidays

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The holiday season always makes me nostalgic for things I’ve never actually had, like that creamy root beer float at the soda fountain in Bedford Falls, or the smell of pine from that glorious tinsel-strewn tree Bing Crosby and I decorated together. I’ve never celebrated Christmas in real life, but the Margaret O’Brien inside my soul tears up every time she hears “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in a store.

Philadelphia is especially beautiful during the holidays, with all the unsustainable twinkling lights and smiling people who tend toward the curt during other months. The SEPTA employee I buy my train tickets from was wearing a Santa hat today, its oversized white pom-pom bouncing over her face as she went to take my cash. It’s a lovely time.

Has it always been like this? Well, as we discovered from doing a little historical research, the twinkling lights, SEPTA grace notes and gigantic public Christmas trees have been around for a long time. But other local holiday traditions have come and gone. Below, a selection of vintage photos from holidays past in Philadelphia, in no particular order, with no particular theme — just interesting moments in time that’ll make you nostalgic, too. Read more »

Mythbuster: Suicide Is Not More Common During the Holidays

Going "Home for the Holidays" can be chore — but it's no worse than during the rest of the year.

Going “Home for the Holidays” can be chore — but it’s no worse than during the rest of the year.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center at Penn has some good news for people who appreciate accuracy in media: Last year, for the first time in four years, there was a decrease in the number of news stories that falsely associated holiday time with suicide. Annenberg’s analysis notes that the lowest suicide rate is between mid-November and January, yet for many years the majority of news outlets tended to perpetuate the holiday-suicide myth rather than contradict it. Read more »

Of Course There’s a Philadelphia Accent in American Sign Language

A sample of the program Fisher and Tamminga will use to annotate their interviews. Credit: University of Pennsylvania

A sample of the program Fisher and Tamminga will use to annotate their interviews. Credit: University of Pennsylvania

When local writer JoAnna Loviglio described the Philadelphia accent for the Washington Post a couple years ago, she summed it up this way:

With apologies to comedian Jeff Foxworthy, you might be a Philadelphian if: you say beggle (bagel), wooder (water), tal (towel), beyoodeeful (beautiful), dennis (dentist) or Fit Shtreet (Fifth Street). Also, the name of your home town might sound like Philuffya, and you might call your football team the Iggles, you might pronounce “ferry” and “furry” the same way, and your rendering of “radiator” might rhyme with “gladiator.”

Native Philadelphians could surely add hundreds of examples to that list; personally, I was always dismayed by the way my relatives pronounced “egg” to rhyme with “plague.” And there are still words, like “hanger,” that trip me up on a regular basis because I can’t get the Philly out of them — those hoagie mouth remnants can be stubborn.

Read more »

Philly Adult Film Star Stoya Accuses Ex of Rape on Twitter

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A screenshot of Stoya from Clayton Cubitt‘s video art series hysterical literature.

Stoya, an adult film actor, podcast co-host and writer from the Delaware Valley, triggered a controversy this weekend with two tweets that suggest her pornstar ex-boyfriend, James Deen, raped her.

Deen denied the allegation on his own Twitter feed: Read more »

Porngate Prosecutors Get Their Sensitivity Training

Seth Williams, left. Paul Meshanko, right.

Seth Williams, left. Paul Meshanko, right.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams released a statement today detailing the sensitivity training his staff underwent in the wake of the “Porngate” scandal — and probably none too soon. In recent weeks, a growing chorus of elected officials and activist groups have called on Williams to fire three of his prosecutors who’d been involved in the sending and receiving of pornographic, homophobic and racist emails while employed elsewhere. Williams said he wouldn’t fire the men–Frank Fina, Patrick Blessington and Marc Costanza–but he would implement training.

According to Williams, Paul Meshanko, president and CEO of Legacy Business Cultures, led the training. (According to his Facebook page, he’s the former CEO, but other sites describe him simply as CEO.) Legacy is headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, but Meshanko lives just outside of D.C. He is the author of The Respect Effect: Using the Science of Neuroleadership to Inspire a More Loyal and Productive Workplace. The “neuroleadership” part of Meshanko’s theory is based on the notion that respect primes our brains to do their best work, and that the brain responds more happily—with serotonin and oxytocin—to respectful behavior in the workplace. When we are disrespected, this triggers cortisol and adrenaline and other negative mojo that unpleasantly drugs the prefrontal cortex. Read more »

Search Is On for Cheltenham High Grad Who May Be Armed

Jacob Marberger. Photos | Facebook

Jacob Marberger. Photos | Facebook

Everyone is looking for Jacob Marberger, but this is no ordinary missing persons case. Two campuses — that of his high school and college — have been on alert since November 16th, when Marberger allegedly took a gun from his parents’ home in Cheltenham and disappeared. His university, Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, has cancelled classes and shut the campus down until November 29th. Cheltenham High was locked out on Monday. A warrant is out for his arrest, and he is said to be “despondent.”

It’s unclear when trouble started for the 19-year-old but the difficulties certainly reached their peak last month, when he was suspended from college for allegedly getting drunk and brandishing an antique gun at his fraternity house. The action resulted in his being kicked out of Phi Delta Theta, and he resigned from his student government position. Though the suspension only lasted a week and a half, he still faced the possibility that he’d be expelled. Read more »

Love in the Time of Dog DNA Testing

Birdie. Photograph by Claudia Gavin

Birdie. Photograph by Claudia Gavin

This is my third Chihuahua. That’s what I used to say about my dog, Birdie, until this summer, when I got her DNA tested. That’s right — I paid nearly a hundred dollars to ship some glorified Q-tips to a laboratory in Lincoln, Nebraska, so that Science could tell me who my dog really is, deep down in her soul. I wouldn’t have done it 10 years ago, but then, no one did. In 2015, though, this is where we are: Dog DNA testing is so common, its popularity was spoofed in a Funny or Die video in which a dog owner is peer-pressured into the test. Some people do the test for pragmatic reasons — pertaining to health or behavior — and some people do it for fun, as a novelty. Me? I did it for love. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let me start at the beginning. Read more »

Milton Street Finally Brought Porn to City Hall Yesterday — and It Was the Right Call

Yesterday the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women gathered at City Hall with several City Councilwomen to demand that District Attorney Seth Williams fire three of his employees: Frank Fina, Pat Blessington and Marc Constanzo. The three men, now prosecutors for the City of Philadelphia, were all involved in Porngate, the snappy name for the scandal that erupted after the discovery of a glut of pornographic, misogynistic, racist and homophobic emails written and distributed on state computers.

In reviewing the conduct of his employees, Williams has said that he will not fire them; rather, he’ll have them go through sensitivity training. The members of NOW and the five City Councilwomen feel this is not enough. The question, if you boil it down, is whether these men can perform their jobs responsibly, fairly and effectively — including prosecuting sex crimes — given the attitudes reflected in the emails. Williams says yes; NOW and the Councilwomen say no.

Yesterday one woman after another stood behind a podium to talk about the old boys network, the lack of judgment, and why women need to be respected. There was a lot of back-patting: I’d like to thank Cindy for this, I’d like to thank NOW for that, etc. Despite all the words, not much was said. One TV cameraman starting packing up to go even while one of the women was still talking. It was an earnest presentation, but it lacked impact. For a discussion of porn, it was really quite boring.

I don’t say that to be flip. I say that as a former hell-raising activist who spent many hours in meetings about the most effective tactics for making change. Standing behind a podium and talking in generalities was never on the list.  Read more »

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