LaborArts


 
CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK / LABORARTS
MAKING WORK VISIBLE
2020–2021 CONTEST
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2020–2021 Contest Winners

A virtual ceremony once again, as the pandemic abates, but not quickly enough. The ceremony was continues to be a high point of the year—powerful and inspiring. Extraordinary young authors and artists bring us new perspectives on work with their thoughtful non-fiction essays, creative fiction, poetry and visual art. Many of them talk about work that is too often unseen, from the front lines of the new economy where precarious service jobs reign. Their efforts fulfill the goal of this CUNY/LaborArts contest—to expand student thinking about the history of work, and to provide opportunities to make links between individual lived experience and larger social issues.

Hunter College student Tetsuji Nishizono’s painting, Nurses at Central Park Field Hospital is but one example.


Nishizono writes:

Especially in this catastrophic infectious disease epidemic, they bet their lives in desperate times and continued to work day and night to save the lives of others. I thank them for giving great courage to many citizens.
 

We sincerely hope that these young authors and artists continue on with their work—their voices demand to be heard.

Now in its eleventh year, the contest is open to all CUNY undergraduates. Entries are judged according to originality, content and style. Guidelines used for this 2020–2021 contest are here. Student writers and artists draw upon history, their close observation of the world around them, and a wealth of first hand experiences to link their work to the spirit of labor arts. Every year professors judging the contest reflect on the value of providing opportunities for the students to seriously interrogate their own life experiences and that of those around them.

LaborArts is enormously grateful for generous funding for the contest from the Workforce Development Institute and for ongoing support from the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education.

All photographs courtesy of student awardees.



Megan Wright

First Prize, Nonfiction
Megan Wright  Urban Studies, CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies

Art is Work: A Dancer’s Reflection

Wright's article is to be published in the New Labor Forum in January 2022, and will be posted here thereafter.

~ Congratulations Megan.


Zayd Brewer

Second Prize, Nonfiction
Zayd Brewer  Creative Writing, Brooklyn College

Delivering for Amazon During a Pandemic

Alameda County Fire Department, March 2, 2019

I'd always prided myself on being reliable. There's a notoriously low bar for entry into the world of general labor but even given that, I never felt comfortable doing the bare minimum. I was a delivery driver for Amazon, and the most critical part of that job was showing up, literally. The company I worked for, Touchdown Logistics, contracted daily routes from Amazon in the mornings and would then dispatch its fleet of white mid-size cargo vans across Long Island and the outer boroughs of NYC to deliver whatever discrete necessities the consumers of New York desired. A common subject of the boss's ire was the frequency with which people would call out on days they were supposed to work. In the logistics business the profit is in maintaining the fluidity of the operation and last minute call outs meant Touchdown would have to forfeit the approximately $2,000 they made per route per day. He'd threaten to cut days, fire people, cut hours, basically whatever he could, but people kept calling out and the impotence of his threats became increasingly more pronounced. Guys took the job for what it was, a joke, and understood that the number of responsible people willing to endure the ritual subjugation delivering for Amazon entailed was limited, an understanding clearly shared by the boss. When you're working as a subcontracted delivery person for the largest retailer in the world even doing the bare minimum was unlikely to have many negative repercussions but still, I had my pride.

This prideful adherence to an absurd capitalist paradigm did not strike me as inherently counterintuitive. In fact, all things considered I was satisfied with my work. Sure, some days were tough but generally my shifts were spent listening to whatever music I wanted as loud as I wanted or soaking up an informative podcast or just quietly reflecting, and considering I didn't mind the exercise this was an agreeable enough situation. Until Covid hit. Initially we were all pretty uniformly prepared to confront what for all intents and purposes seemed like another media hyped health scare. We had worked through an Ebola scare and a Measles scare, so Covid 19 wasn't about to hold up the hustle. And indeed it did not, although as blue collar workers we were outliers. As the economy shut down, offices shuttered and people huddled in their homes through March, April and May of 2020, we continued to work as if nothing had happened. The experience of spending all day on the road during April of last year is something I doubt I'll ever forget, traversing deserted streets alone began to make me feel like Will Smith in I am Legend, every door to which I brought a 24 pack of toilet paper or 4 cases of water potentially separating me from some person infected with the mysterious and nefarious virus.

As I began to acclimate to "the new normal", making sure to tie my bandana around my face before work every day, using the company provided disinfectant wipes to sanitize every single surface in the van's cab before entering, ignoring the hazmat workers stationed around the warehouse, the bleakness of my standing in the world began to set in. I had never been preoccupied with notions of social status or generational wealth and so I had, on some level, come to accept what I perceived as a future in the labor field. Working with my hands, solving logistical problems, and relying on my spatial and situational awareness seemed like an agreeable lifestyle.

The pandemic changed that, and made me acutely aware of just how expendable our society views people like me. The patronizing way we were rebranded from "unskilled" to "essential" workers was a particularly insidious piece of propaganda seemingly designed to allow us to hold on to a shred of our dignity as we braved a novel respiratory disease to deliver bored office workers dildos and video games.1

The guy who ran the operation, I'll call him Sean given the historical nature of this project, had started out as a driver a few months before I had. Being almost double my age and brimming with type-A self-motivation, his status as a coworker of mine at our humble delivery operation struck me as somewhat dissonant. There were rumors that he had retired from a successful career on Wall Street and took up blue collar cosplay in his late 50s for sport and exercise. Though his overbearing insistence that the rest of the staff adhere to whatever new obtuse doctrine corporate Amazon sent down the pipeline that week was annoying, it also explained his rapid ascension from driver to dispatcher to shift manager to station manager. Noa, the Touchdown stakeholder who had established their franchise at Amazon Distribution Center NY 4, saw management material in Sean's monomaniacal drive to see 100% staff adherence to "the rules". Amazon paid Touchdown, Touchdown paid us, we should do what Amazon said: simple. This would be dubious calculus under the best of circumstances and the outbreak of Covid 19 certainly was not that. Sean clearly was an individual who maintained a sense of self by projecting adherence to structural norms, that these norms themselves may be detrimental to us, the workers, was of little concern to him. Amazon executives had worked out this bountiful business model, why second guess them in matters of logistical efficiency and personal safety? Noa, a fellow keen observer of human nature, understood Sean's ridiculous contradictions but as a business owner he also understood that a manager that granularly invested in complete employee conformity was invaluable to his bottom line.

At the onset of a once in a lifetime pandemic, the notion of establishing a new baseline of acceptable workplace norms seemed ornately absurd, especially given the solitary nature of our work. As we lined up 6 feet away from one another one April morning, receiving our van keys and work devices from one of Sean's subordinate dispatchers who was almost too scared of the virus to make eye contact with us much less risk breathing the same air, I remember a fellow driver muttering to me on the way to his van "Jesus, if you're scared to die just stay home". If there was one thing we proved we were not, it was scared to die. Or at least, not so scared as to offset the demands of capitalism. And so we endured, unsure of whether the hundreds of boxes we handled a day, many from China, had Covid on their surfaces. Unsure exactly how much time it would take to catch the virus in close contact with warehouse workers as we loaded vans. If we're all moving in close quarters breathing hard from exertion, how safe are these masks supposed to make us? I read online that only N95 masks protect against vapors, but we're in a warehouse with hundreds of people wearing flimsy surgical masks, what's the point? Dispatchers would humor my queries with varying degrees of patience but the ultimate answer remained the same, nobody knew, we were just following the protocol.

Unsurprisingly (although also somewhat counterintuitively) this protocol did come under some national scrutiny. In late March of 2020 Chris Smalls, an assistant manager at an Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island, was fired for what Amazon called "multiple safety violations" but which Smalls himself described as "targeted retaliation" for helping to lead a protest against the company's lack of Covid preparations.2 Smalls, who had worked at Amazon for five years at that point, claims to have witnessed the solubility of his workplace's safety apparatus and instead of simply toeing the company line, demanded that his corporate overlords take action. Needless to say, Amazon wasn't going to bend to the whims of some ground level assistant manager, and instead of gearing up to address the glaring issues regarding workplace safety that were being brought to the forefront, their company embarked on an acute campaign of character assassination to delegitimize Smalls and his message. While it would be an overstatement to say that they succeeded in that goal, the subtle messaging was still set firmly in place. Here was a young black man, an individual deemed worthy of the management track in their company, now raising awareness of the the callous nature of their business model, and their response was to describe him as "not smart or articulate" in "leaked" internal corporate memos3 and do their best to ignore the groundswell of support he quickly amassed, both within and outside of the community of Amazon workers and "essential" workers overall.

I met Smalls at a May Day protest outside of Jeff Bezos midtown Manhattan penthouse earlier this year. He was demonstrating with a handful of associates from "The Congress of Essential Workers", young to middle-aged men, mostly black, several of whom were subordinates of Chris during his tenure as an assistant manager. They were very willing to express their appreciation for Smalls not just as an outspoken leader against Amazon's campaign of exploitation but also for his support and encouragement as a manager, making sure to convey that he routinely used his position of relative status within the company to help workers feel respected and appreciated. This young organization, which has been campaigning for an Amazon union, first in Bessemer, Alabama and currently at Smalls' original facility on Staten Island, has gained support, both tactically and structurally, from individuals and groups long politically activated and invested in worker's rights. That Amazon is employing every dirty trick in the book, (up to and including anything from slick anti-union promotional materials being distributed on warehouse floors to allegations of straight-up voting fraud) and surely some so novel as to have not yet made the latest edition, comes as no surprise and yet seemingly has done little to quell the fighting spirit that underpins this burgeoning movement. The cynic in me continues to overpower the optimist, but it is movements like the Congress of Essential Workers that give the underdog a little more lifeblood in him yet.

It's been difficult to find the motivation to write this piece. My stint at Amazon is behind me now and were it not for my appreciation for a challenge I may not even have gone through the motions of sifting through past trauma for the sake of "the historical record". A government stimulus and some resourceful leveraging afforded me the ability to spend most of this year receiving unemployment benefits which are due to reduce sharply next month. I don't know what I'll do for work but I'm certain I don't want to return to Amazon. That they were a gargantuan economic force was a fact I was well aware of before beginning working there in early 2018, but that ultimately made it all the more demoralizing to realize how little this company cared for its workers. Recently, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, in a move recalling Gil Scott-Heron's classic poem "Whitey on the Moon" completed a sub-orbital joyride in the first manned flight of his private aerospace company Blue Origin. Upon landing, Bezos made sure to thank all Amazon employees for "paying for all this" which, frankly, I'm still unsure as to whether he meant explicitly as an insult or not.4 Regardless, the man and his ilk continue to rack up victories and "the little guy" is finding less and less room to maneuver between completely buying into his/their vision for the world and total societal ostracization. While it has proven to be a massive boon for the company, this pandemic still is not over. Often it feels as if the state of it being "over" moves further away into the horizon every day. And yet, somehow, the attendants of capital seem to be flourishing in spite of the pandemic, signaling to those of us who don't deem ambition a virtue that our lives will always matter less than those who strive at all costs. I suppose as neoliberal subjects we've all been conditioned to crave some degree of hierarchical social stratification, something tangible to grasp onto to assure ourselves that we're better than somebody, anybody. I guess I'll just try to find a place to work that makes it a little less obvious.

 

     

    WORKS CITED

  1. Jordan, Jerilyn. "Dildos Are Non-Essential, Amazon Worker Says, as Romulus Facility Protests Conditions amid Coronavirus Crisis." Metrotimes.com, Metro Times, 2 Apr. 2020, www.metrotimes.com/news-hits/archives/2020/04/02/dildos-are-non-essential-amazon-worker-says-as-romulus-facility-protests-conditions-amid-coronavirus-crisis.
  2. Ivanova, Irina. "Amazon Fires Worker Who Organized Staten Island Warehouse Walkout." Cbsnews.com, CBS, 31 Mar. 2020, www.cbsnews.com/news/amazon-fires-chris-smalls-walkout-staten-island-new-york-warehouse/.
  3. Wong, Julia. "Amazon Execs Labeled Fired Worker 'Not Smart or Articulate' in Leaked PR Notes." Theguardian.com, The Guardian, 2 Apr. 2020, www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/apr/02/amazon-chris-smalls-smart-articulate-leaked-memo.
  4. Harwood, William. "Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin Complete Successful Spaceflight." Cbsnews.com, CBS, 20 July 2021, www.cbsnews.com/live-updates/jeff-bezos-space-flight-date-time-live-stream/.

Candacia Moore-London

Third Prize, Nonfiction
Candacia Moore-London  Human Services, NYC College of Technology

Stalwart worker neglected during a Pandemic

Stalwart Worker Neglected during the Pandemic, Candacia Moore-London, August 2021


“This is not something in a million years I could have imagined having to do,” Mayor Bill de Blasio, announced, appearing visibly distraught. “This is an extraordinarily painful moment for City Schools. Due to the spread of Covid 19 all New York City schools must be shut down immediately.”

I was a Teacher’s Assistant at a private special education preschool in New York City. At this school, Speech Language Pathology, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Psychology services are provided to children ages 3 to 5 years old. My role as a Teacher’s Assistant at this private special education school entails getting the classroom ready for lessons, helping the classroom teacher manage the students' behavior, supervising group activities, sanitizing toys and clearing away materials and equipment after each lesson. It also includes reading to and listening to children read, taking part in training and helping in the planning of learning activities.I flourish in this role. It’s here that I learn teaching strategies in order to keep children engaged and happy at all times by making short, clear sentences for them to understand.

On March 13th,2020, I hurried down the subway to catch my A train to work. After getting out of the train, I walked a few blocks on Broadway Avenue to get to work. The smell of coffee filled the air along the busy street. Children hurriedly crossed the streets as the Schools' Crossing Guard commanded. Parents kissed and hugged their children as they hopped onto the B47 Buses. Tree branches swayed from side to side. Due to the heavy winds, I clutched my coat and walked faster.

As I opened the door of the school, the sound of Happy friday! echoed throughout the narrow corridor. Teachers and other staff hurried to settle in, so as to welcome their students. Stepping into my classroom, I began to arrange the purple rectangular tables and small chairs around them. Four children usually sit at one table. The white tile walls showcase the alphabet, numbers, feeling chart, weather chart, shapes, colors and their drawings. The reading centers, computer center, water center, sensory center with peapod chair, headphones and water beads were all neatly arranged. The bright colorful alphabetical carpet where circle time is usually held every morning was clean and waiting to be explored by our curious kids.

The yellow school bus arrived with sleepy kids. The matrons greeted us happily as she took the children off the bus and gave them to the teachers and their assistants. As the kids trickled into the classroom, the head teacher, Ms. Kelly, a slim, brown skin lady, Natasha, a slim, brown skin American lady who was also a teacher’s assistant and I greeted them. “Good morning friends” we said in unison. They placed their bags and coats in their assigned cubbies and proceeded to wash their hands. We helped ten students settle in. Isses, our unofficial princess, always wears a crown to school along with a necklace and ring. These accessories can never be worn in class, so we usually place them in her bag. Darmell, our strong boy, never likes to sit in the chair, but did so on this day. Malakai, the baby of our class, never shared his toys with anyone, but decided to do so on this day. We all cheered him for his kind and thoughtful gesture.

Pancakes, muffins, an apple and milk were served for breakfast. The children ate all of their breakfast with delight. Next it was circle time, it was done with ease, each child participated in every activity that day. They sang and danced to the welcome song “hello, how are you, hello, how are you, hello how are you today. It’s nice to soraya?” “Welcome friends,” the head teacher, Ms Kelly, said in her deep Caribbean accent as the kids sat in a circle. During circle time, the kids recite their alphabet, numbers, and colors, and talk about the weather and how they are feeling that day. “I'm happy Ms. Candacia,” said Isses. What color is the stop sign, asked Ms. Kelly?. “Red!” Shouted Elijah and Devon.

During reading time, the teacher, Ms. Kelly read a book to the children, A Tiny Seed by Eric Carle. This book talked about how a seed grows into a plant. The children listened attentively. At the end of the story, Natasha and I helped the kids place their seeds in a ziplock bag with a damp piece of paper towel to get ready for spring. These bags usually hang by the window so that the sunlight can help the seed sprout, so that a beautiful tiny green leaf and stem are seen coming out of the seed. As the day ended we said goodbye to our little friends. Ms. Kelly sang, “it’s time to go home, it’s time to say goodbye, we all had so much fun, see you again? .” and hugged the kids. We then placed them back onto the school buses for home. “Have a great weekend,” I said to Salim and Jovan. “Bye Ms. Candacia” they replied and waved while disappearing behind the seats.

As I climbed the narrow stairs back to the classroom, one of the staff announced that her daughter’s charter school had shut down due to Covid. Upon reaching my classroom, Natasha was already disinfecting the building blocks and magnetic tiles at the sink. I too joined in cleaning. I wiped the cubbies and stacked chairs on top of the other. PING! PING! the sound of a phone buzz as a message has been delivered to it. Natasha dried her hands and checked her phone. “Candy! Look at this video,” she shouted. I leaned in to view the video. It showed an Iranian deputy health minister coughing and sweating during a press conference. We learned minutes later that he had tested positive for Covid 19. “This thing is getting worse,” I replied as we both continued to tidy the classroom. Just then, Ms. Kelly entered the classroom and told us we have to plan an activity for St. Patrick’s Day which was to be held the following Wednesday, March 17, 2020. We gave Ms Kelly ideas on what activities to do, type of decorations that would be used in the room, snacks to share and most importantly we decided to send home a formal letter to parents asking them to have their children wear something green on that day.

As the clock edged to 2pm, Natasha and I got ready to clock out of work. We hurried to punch our names out and said our goodbyes outside the school. “Please remember,” I said as we waved to each other, “don’t hold the poles in the bus or train without a tissue.” Natasha nodded. I

picked up my children from school and was very happy that the weekend was near. Following the same advice I gave Natasha earlier, I too, did so as well on the bus and train home.

On Sunday, March 15th, while braiding my daughters' hair for the new week, breaking news was announced on the television. Mayor Bill De Blasio’s voice echoed through the television in my living room. All New York City schools would be closed, all non essential businesses have to be closed and we are in a stay at home order. This sent educators and parents scrambling to find a new way to teach their children.

On March 16th, Ms Kelly called and told us that we have to activate Microsoft Teams in order to teach children online and meet virtually with management. We were told that each of us would have to call three children to find out how they and their families were coping, during this difficult time. I was assigned to call Soraya, Jovan and Isatha parents. The next day I called each parent. Some parents answered and some didn’t. Jovan’s mom answered her phone but was reluctant to say much. “We are ok,” she said. “That’s great Mrs.Burns,” I replied in a happy voice. “We will be checking in regularly and also an update will be sent to your phone about online learning and other services for Jovan.” We said our pleasantries and bid each other goodbye.

For two weeks this was the regular routine. Clocking in and out of work was now done from my home on whatsapp group chat. The transition to online learning proved difficult for most parents, many were not equipped and or knowledgeable on the use of laptops and some didn’t have wifi.

On March 30th, during one of our daily meetings on Microsoft teams,our director, Ms. M, said that because direct deposits would no longer be available and we needed to go to the school to pick up our checks. “Call the office before you come and that the accountant will bring our checks down to you.,” announced Ms. M. Later that day, I did what I was told. I called and a time was set for me to pick up my checks. Ms. Ingrid, the accountant, called me back within five minutes of speaking with

her earlier. “Can you come in today, Candy?” she asked, “I'll be here until 3pm” she said. I paused and reluctantly said “I could be there in an hour or so.” A little over an hour later, I was in front of the school. I called Ms. Ingrid and said that I was downstairs. She then told me to come up and she buzzed me in. I questioned that command because of the earlier directions given to wait downstairs. “Thanks ok,” she said, Ms. M knows that we are telling you guys to come instead. Something is not right here, I thought to myself. Apprehensively, I went up the stairs towards the accountant office. The hallway felt lonely, absent of the busy little feet and giggles of the little children. At her office door, I greeted Ms. Ingrid with a smile even though she couldn’t see it underneath my mask. She stood up. “Good day candy, she said. “Ms. M said that all part time employees should apply for unemployment benefits.” Her tone was sharp and unapologetic. I was shocked at the low blow that was thrown my way. I took a long pause, looking at Ms. Ingrid’s tall figure towering over me, her round face, her dark complexion, her blue dress all became blurry in my eyes. I knew at that moment, I'd lost my job and there would be only one check coming home now. She noticed a tear I guess, then she began to say how sorry she was. Her tone was much more sympathetic now. “Due to the fact that no direct/ close contact services will not be given, the director decided to terminate some staff,” Said Ms. Ingrid.

At that moment more tears flowed freely and Ms. Ingrid, in a softer voice said,“ if anything changes I personally will call you.” She handed me an envelope and tissue to wipe my eyes. The room was quieter now. The tiled walls looked like a whirlwind to me, so I bowed my head to the carpeted floor so my tears could fall and disappear in them. Ms. Ingrid’s rectangular mahogany desk was neatly arranged with stacks of files on it. Her Apple computer played soft gospel music. “Sometimes discouraged but not defeated, Cast down but not destroyed, There are times I don’t understand But I believe it’s turning around for me?” This helped to bring some comfort to me. I was a little calmer now and as time passed in silence. It felt like hours standing there. We both felt awkward. I told her thank you and left with a broken heart.

I felt like discarded trash, thrown on a sidewalk. Covid had swiped my job. Covid had also brought betrayal of my own kind to the surface. Ms. M was from the Caribbean, but at that moment I was backstabbed by my own. My walk home was a daze. The regular hello from strangers went unanswered. This was unfamiliar, unfriendly and an unstable moment for me. Time stopped for me, but the buses and cars just went by quickly on broadway street. An ominous feeling just shadowed me. My mask was wet with tears.

Upon reaching my apartment door, I knocked reluctantly. My husband opened the door and I rushed into his arms. Only this time the sound of pain that was bottled up on my way home was now heard. I cried and screamed in his arms. In my ears he reminded me that I'm a strong person and we have weathered many storms together. My daughters came running towards us, they wanted to know what happened to mommy. Soraia, my youngest, said, “mommy don’t cry, it’s going to be ok.” She handed me a tissue. My husband guided me to the living room to take a seat. He then left the room and returned with a glass of water. I then handed my husband the check to open. When he did, it was $165.00. I was angry again. ”Cheap and inconsiderate boss,” I said out loud. “They didn’t even pay me for the two weeks that I was clocking in and out on whatsapp and microsoft teams I said,” to my husband. “Where is the $800 more?” I asked. My husband replied, “What do they think, this is the Caribbean they are in?” During those weeks I called parents and the work schedule was made for the kids. I also kept in contact with my head teacher, giving her feedback about the contacts that I had made with the parents. Also, I submitted a weekly report to the head teacher. “I would never work for them again,” I declared.

Later in the evening, I heard, through the regular gossip vine, that not all teacher’s assistants lost their jobs. The boss’s clique didn’t. “Did you know that Mikel and Ms. Daniella are still working?” Ms.T said, during our phone call. She was a short, tan tone lady, who also was a teacher’s assistant. She had an angry tone. “Friends and family,” I reply. That’s them. Looking out for her own party buddies. At that moment I remembered the

song that calmed me in Ms. Ingrid’s office. I told Ms. T that sometimes we may feel discouraged but not defeated, discarded but not destroyed and even though Covid had taken our jobs, it would turn in our favor soon. We end our conversation with well wishes for each other.

Two days later, my husband came home with a stack of mail. One of the envelopes was from the Department of Education. I opened it and to my surprise I had passed the GED exams that I had taken in February of last year. I was excited, I jumped up and down in my house with the mail in my hand, and it was at that moment I decided to continue my educational journey. I enrolled in the mathstart program with City tech. I was determined to be gallant and fight back against this ferocious storm that had risen up to derail my progress.

One year later, I received a call from the HR department of my former school, asking me to return back to work. “Hello Candacia,” a jovial voice came through the phone, “this is Ms. D,” “who?” I replied, “Ms. D” the voice said again. “Can you return back to work on April 6th?” I paused and rolled my eyes. No! I replied, “My children are home.” Okay she responded and the call ended. Feeling of anger and thoughts of a putrid boss filled my mind. Not even how are you doing? How is your family? Nothing!. NO! NO! NO! never again would i work for the like of you again, i said to myself and then out loud. I felt great about my decision


Liza Genao

Honorable Mention, Nonfiction
Liza Genao  New York City College of Technology

The Life of an Administrative Assistant

source unknown

I work for the Greater Ridgewood Youth Program in Ridgewood, Queens. The neighborhood consists of mostly Hispanic or white people. The population I work with are young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 who are currently disconnected from employment or school. Working with people in that age range is a bit interesting because my age falls right in the middle, so I definitely need to draw boundaries at my job. This program helps them learn work skills, professionalism, and how to keep a job long term.

This program interested me because I once was in a lot of the interns’ shoes. I ended up dropping out of high school and got a GED and got back in my feet. I want to be a role model for people in my age range because we are the future. My job consists of doing paperwork, filing, and also entering information on an online system from our funders, the New York City Department of Youth and Development. The program is a 12-week internship where the interns are at our agency 5 days a week for 4 weeks. During that time, they participate in workshops to learn new job skills, how to write a resume, cover letter, thank you letter, as well as things like anger management, healthy living, and how to budget money.

Also during that time, they are connected to a worksite that is as close as possible to their interest where they will be doing their internship from week 5 to 12. At the end of the internship, a ceremony is held to celebrate them finishing the program. However, they are still connected through something called a follow-up period for nine months, where they still keep in touch with their specified professional advisor until they find a job or go back to school. Even after the program, we have Alumni events where graduates come together and reconnect with us.

Before the cohort begins, we are in the recruitment phase which is when my boss and I stay at the office and handle people coming in to apply for the program, the rest of the team goes out to recruit in the neighborhood. My job is to guide the applicants to the application room and give them an application and self-assessment. Then, they meet with my boss for an interview. After the interview, if they seem like a good fit for the program, they are directed back into the application room to take a T.A.B.E test which tests for the adult basic education level of at least a 6th grader. If they pass the test, they are then connected to a professional advisor who first reads their self-assessment to get to know them and then does an intake assessment with then as well as an outcome goal chart.

The rest of my time during the cohort is spent collecting timesheets from 30 interns every week and calculating their hours in order to do payroll. Doing payroll is a very demanding task because you have to make sure everyone gets paid the correct amount of money that their timesheet reflects each week and you have to do it by a certain time, however, I like doing it. I also spend the rest of the cohort making folders for each intern to put all of their paperwork from the time they first came to our office to the time they graduate for DYCD to do an audit every few months.

On my first day of work, my boundaries were tested because one of the male interns tried to follow me for lunch and flirt with me. I expected this to happen because we are so close in age. However, I politely but firmly told him what my position is at my job and we have to keep boundaries. I was able to let him know from the beginning to not cross that line but in a way where he was still able to interact with me on a professional level throughout the cohort.

Another experience I had was when a participant tried to blame another coworker and I for her pay being delayed. She took her time sheet home, which is against the rules, and I was unable to verify her hours for that particular week. My saving grace was that my boss and I do payroll very closely and I am very open with him about what I do with paperwork and when I am missing things that I need. Also, she sent a text message to another staff member stating that she had the time sheet and then tried to lie to my boss. I took the situation with a grain of salt because my boss already knew the facts of the matter but also the fact that this participant likes to make up stories was already known by all staff and it was case noted as well.


Justine-Juliette Grindley

First Prize, Fiction
Justine-Juliette Grindley  Design and Animation, Hostos Community College

Life and Love on the New York City Subway

Life and Love on the New York City Subway,   Stanley Kubrick, 1946

I’ve never been as alone as I am in New York. I am sure that is true for most of its occupants—I know it’s true actually, I hear the story all the time in crusty dank bars by men who think their solitude is special and poetic. In between lines and shots, he sits across from me and looks at my chest and tries to make me love him for his sadness. It’s a curious thing that the more people there are, the lonelier they become. I tell him he says the same things to me every week and so do four other guys in the same bar. Never does he hear me. I am aesthetic and inanimate. I may as well be a cardboard cutout. I get up. I go outside. I smoke a cigarette and go home because I have work in the morning.

The morning arrives and I am at 149th Street Station, watching the rats do their dance in the stillness between trains. Air gusts from the chamber as the number-four train approaches the platform. The rats flee in violent fury to safety as if surprised by this phenomenon that occurs every five minutes. Two rats remain on the tracks, one slowly and clumsily dragging its wounded backside and another next to it watching, paralyzed in its resignation, the arrival of their final fate. It does not leave the side of its wounded friend. A screech and clinks and clanks. They are rancid angels now. But me? I have places to go. I can’t be late.

I board the train and I actually have somewhere to sit this time. I look across from me and, in one spectacular moment, time stands still and the angels shine through the windows of the train as if the underground network of tracks has suddenly erupted in a blaze of solar whimsey. You sit across from me. Your skin is covered in drywall dust but it looks soft as the breath of God, and with mournful eyes you look at me and then look away. You remind me of something I only know exists when it hurts. You are running out of places to look, so you pretend to go to sleep. We both know the rules here. I look across your face and I can’t tell if you are ugly or beautiful. At this moment you are perfect to me. I almost don’t want you to talk to me in case doing so breaks the spell and you start saying the sorts of things I hear in bars, but I need you to talk to me. You are my everything. My stop is approaching and I rise, stalling to give you the chance and the courage to look me in the eyes, but you don’t—You really are asleep. It’s okay, tomorrow I will fall in love again and forget all about you.

I get my coffee from the same place I always do and I am elated to hear the shopkeeper call me “Mami” for the first time because I suppose it means I am accepted at my favorite bodega. The jubilation sweeps past to make room for the reality of the next eight hours. I wonder if what I’m doing is a real job in a real city or if I am hallucinating the whole thing from a padded room. I muse on how strange it is to be an arbitrary existence and at the same time have so many responsibilities. My mind gloomily wanders to the two rats I saw earlier who died in each other’s arms as if one were not perfectly capable of fleeing from incoming death. It is reminiscent of something terrible—the inanimate facade of the mysterious white sheet and its contents. Please, let me explain.

Suddenly her eyes the size and color of beets sketch their likeness into my memory so sharply as to slit my veil of presence. Poor thirteen-year-old Rebecca crying to her dead winged-babies cradled in her arms, surrounded by packing tape and boxes, encapsulated by her broken dreams in the vast infinity of my emerging recollection—forever in my mind a puffy, sweating pubescent girl who ate cheese and crackers for dinner. The last vestige of a promised normalcy cruelly taken away. She thought this place would stick, that’s what her mother told her. She had a new dad and everything. The budgies were there to prove it. She held the bodies against her chest, it was like she thought if she held them tight enough, she could cram the things inside herself and then nobody could make her go away. She put them back in their cage and draped the white sheet overtop. I marveled at how that sheet always had the power to obscure reality with the mirage of lifelessness, except that time it was true, those hearts would never beat again. She told me “Budgies always die together.” She wanted to be like them. She said “At least love means something to them.” Oh God—thirteen is too young for thoughts like that. I didn’t know what to tell her so I just said “I know, a human is a crappy animal to be.” I told her things will get better and—yes—I was lying to her.

Now it is night and there is nothing to distract me because I have grown so accustomed to the noise that it has become quieter than silence. Insomnia is my one embrace. No wonder people hate the rats and pigeons here. Evidently, love is reserved for those closest to heaven and those closest to hell, not in the greyscale that paints a starless sky. This place certainly is no heaven, so let it be hell. Maybe that would mean you were awake after all or, if nothing else, Rebecca has place to go where they call her “Mami.”


Rosemarie Lamichhane

Second Prize, Fiction
Rosemarie Lamichhane  Criminal Justice, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Rosemarie Lamichhane

Uneven Progress, Consequence, and Parenthood,   Planned Parenthood, 1989

A day like any other, I feel drained, stained, and emotionless, but I have no choice but to face the day. The sunlight penetrating through the window and the bird songs are not improving the mood either. Urg! I feel disgusted by their singing. I throw the blanket over and roll out of bed. I have not slept well in the last six years; my eyes and headache are a sellout anyway. I wish I had someone to share my predicaments with, but who would want to be with such a broken soul.

I reach for my phone and check the calendar; I have a flight to Chicago in two hours! How could I forget, this is the most important appointment of my entire life. I expect the contents of the reminder to cheer me up, but I feel heartbroken and guilty as never before. Anyways, there is nothing I can do about it. I begin getting to leave; time is not on my side.

Two hours later, I’m on a flight bound for Chicago in the next six hours, then head to Loyola University Medical Centre, where I will undergo in vitro fertilization (IVF). Am I making the right choice? Am I ready? Do I need it? Shouldn’t I persevere the punishment and move on? Millions of questions race through my mind. However, before I could answer any, the events from over 15 years ago clouded my mind.

I try to read No More Lies by Linda J. Cole, but I seem to be reading the same phrase over again. I tell myself that this hard choice is all my fault, and I have to deal with it for the longest time. What if it’s not? What really happened? Let me tell thousands of people about my abortions. In case you are wondering, it’s plural, abortions; I have had four.

The initial abortion was when I was 16; the others I was married to the love of my life. For three of these, I made a choice. In one case, my husband made a choice for me. But the initial one was due to unavoidable circumstances. What made you take away an innocent child’s life? You may ask.

I was sixteen, young, ripe, and beautiful, living in a normal neighborhood. It was a few days after my sweet sixteen, I was going home from the Miller’s mansion, where I worked as a maid. As always, I trekked home alone. However, I had to change from my usual work uniform so that my parents would not know what I did after school. My mother believed I used to study at Amanda’s place, a close friend. But seeing how my parents were struggling to take care of my four siblings and me, I had to step up. On this day, I was happy since I had received my salary and was looking forward to surprising my parents and siblings and letting go of my working secret.

However, this was not the case (spoiler, sorry). As I was closing home, I saw my dad’s boss, a middle-aged man with a funny-looking mustache. My dad used to work in a clothing factory as a casual laborer. “Well, hello, Miss Lila Grace,” he said with a grin. I replied and continued walking. “I am looking for your father; the factory is letting go of some of the workers, including your dad; I wonder how you are going to survive,” he said. “You can save him, though, you sumptuous piece of meat.” I knew that these words were not a comforting message but a threat and abuse. “Did you hear me, I’m firing him tomorrow,” he shouted.


Mariyah Rajshahiwala

Third Prize, Fiction
Mariyah Rajshahiwala  X

Tires to Bridges

Workers scaling one of the cables on the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan and Brooklyn, New York, 1881   The Museum of the City of New York Print Archives (www.mcny.org)

A child is running barefoot across a dry field with a thin stick in one hand. He is losing the tire race today. He flicks the tire again with the stick, propelling it forward only for it to get stuck on cow dung. "Arey yaar! I'm disqualified'" he thinks to himself. It is too early for him to go back home. His mother and sisters would be in the middle of completing chores, and he didn't want to get stuck helping them.

He decides to sit on a rock and complete his textbook problems again. The school can't afford to get new textbooks this year, so they've been using the same ones for the past two years. For some time now, he's been solving the same problems repeatedly, experimenting with how to get the right answers using the wrong methods. Sometimes, he bribes the older boys with stolen fruit or information about his sisters, so he can get their questions.

It's his favorite time. Sitting on a high rock, clouds above him, book and pencil in hand. He spends hours writing equations, switching numbers, and conducting practical applications.

Fareed realizes he has reached home too late when he sees Baba's bicycle leaning against the side of the outhouse. He paces outside the door, contemplating whether he should go in. Baba will either beat him, make him sleep outside or beat him and then make him sleep outside.

The sound of Fareed's shuffling alerts his father to his arrival. "Fareed, stop wasting time and come inside! We have a guest" his father bellows, making him abruptly stop. He slowly opens the door and peeks his head inside. There is a large man in a suit sitting on the only table they own. Baba and Amma are sitting cross-legged in front of him, and his sisters are behind the curtain, preparing dinner. "Greet him, you insolent boy!" his father harshly whispers.

"It's ok, leave the boy be. He must be surprised at getting a visitor so late in the day" the fat man says loudly.

Fareed is still standing by the doorway. His mother gets up and guides him to where she was sitting. She whispers in his ear, "Be a good boy. Bade-saheb hei. He will take you to the best science school in the capital."

***

Fareed, always a lean child now stands as a tall, skinny man with straight hair combed to the side. His black pants are always marked with chalk, an occupational hazard for an eager engineer.

Fareed had recently started feeling comfortable in the large city after 6 long years. He reprograms everything about himself to survive here. "Don't walk like that. Don't eat like that. Don't breathe like that. Don't speak like that" was all that he ever heard. He no longer acted like the country bumpkin he once was.

His newest project is a collaboration between his university and the Soviet Union. Well, his newest project is funded and, for the outside world, conducted by the Soviet Union. Despite being a student, the head researcher allows Fareed to work independently on many aspects of the satellite model. He doesn't understand why his country depends so heavily on the USSR. He wants to design satellites and space stations for his country, not for the USSR. He knows that they are far behind compared to the USSR or the US, but he would like to be a part of the first satellite launch for his nation.

A few months later, the conservative party wins all the votes. There are whispers that they are backed by an outside force, allowing them to rig the elections. Along with the furniture in the PM's house, millions of lives are changed along with Fareed's. He had graduated with honors from his engineering college, but there are no longer any jobs for people like him. This country had once been a meritocracy, but with democracy came the era of connections and bribery. Despite being brilliant, Fareed is a poor, unemployed graduate stranded in a ruthless city. He has only one option left, to return home.

***

Hearing the whistle, Fareed climbs down the impressive ladder. In the beginning, he used to count the rungs- 120 up, 120 down. It had made the arduous climb easier. But, as the years passed by, the climb became mechanical.

Much needed shade awaits Fareed at the bottom. "He was never so soft," he thought to himself as he reached the bottom. He used to be able to work 10 hours shift up on the drilling rig before needing any sort of break. Since he became the manager-well, the assistant manager-he could only work for a few hours at a time under the hot sun. It no longer bothered him that "manager" and other supervisory positions in the AC offices are reserved for the Kuwaitis. After all, it is their country; despite their economy's dependence on immigrant labor. Fareed and the other immigrants work on the surface of and inside the rig. His engineering degree came in handy. He stayed inside the rig mainly, checking up on the structure, ensuring a smooth operation.

The job paid well. It paid better than being unemployed in his home country and slaving after his uncle in Kuwait. A few years after returning home, his uncle had called him over to help out with the business. Young, with a wife and two kids, Fareed had no choice but to leave them behind and take a job in Kuwait. What had seemed like a lucrative enterprise in his uncle's letters, was nothing more than a roadside stall. Luckily, through his friendship with other immigrants, Fareed had landed a job on an oil drilling rig. He eventually was able to call his wife and kids over.

Now, years later, he stands an established man within his community. His kids study well and are brilliant as he is. For once, he is comfortable in his place in life.

***

He had promised his wife that he wouldn't get like this, but he couldn't help it. Fareed is filled with a venomous bitterness. His life felt like a joke. Once an engineer on an oil rig, now he pumped gas for a few dollars an hour.

At the age of 44, Fareed had believed he would be spending his nights surrounded by his wife and children: eating good food, giving his kids life lessons, and relaxing to the sounds of gazal. Instead, he is managing a gas station every night, being exploited for his illegal status. It was only a few years ago that he felt at the pinnacle of his life. A well-respecting job, a healthy family, and a satisfactory amount in savings. He couldn't help but spend most nights wondering how did he end up like this?

Upon hearing the rumblings of trouble between Iraq and Kuwait, Fareed had reached out to relatives. "Should they move back home? Should they go to the US? The land of opportunities. He had a distant cousin there. They would lose everything here." These were the conversations that had kept him and his wife up most nights.

Shortly after, Fareed and his family managed to escape Kuwait before it had embroiled itself in the Gulf War. The first few weeks in America passed with them moving from relative to relative's houses, feeling more and more like a burden each time. Fareed struggled to find a job.

One can only be an unpaid guest for a temporary amount of time. But, no one would hire him. In the eyes of this country, he had a degree from a mediocre recently freed country.

When a fellow immigrant offered him a position as a manager of a gas station, it seemed like his prayers had been heard. But, now, Fareed stands, chewing furiously on a candy bar, while pumping gas in the middle of the night. Candy bars. Something he had recently discovered, to the detriment of his teeth, in this new country. Crisp shortbread cookies with a line of caramel covered in milk chocolate, he was quickly becoming addicted. He knows that for the past few months, this man has manipulated him into working countless hours for an unfair wage. But Fareed is desperate and stuck. He needs the money for his family. So, he resigns himself to working nights while studying for the engineering exam that will give him some sort of credibility in this strange country. A country meant to be inviting to immigrants but stripping them of everything but the identity they carry at their fingertips.

Two years later, Fareed brags at a celebratory dinner that "Luck is written in my stars. I stand here today as a legitimate engineer and a company's offer to sponsor my family and me. Not just any company, but New York City's Department of Transportation!" He bends down to kiss his wife on the cheek, ignoring the shocked expressions around the room. His wife pushes him away, disappearing to the kitchen to grab dessert.

Fareed has moved past the anguish and guilt that consumed him some years ago. Later that night, while Fareed and his wife are in bed, he tells her, "This country, this city isn't like the one back home."

"How so? What do you mean?" she asks.
"The system isn't out to get me. No one is going to steal my title, my place from me."

"Of course not, they have rules here."

"Exactly! They have rules here. And, I followed those rules, so I got the job. But, no one will take this job from me now. I was a poor villager back home, and that allowed them to steal my position, my research. If I work hard, do my job properly, no one can take it from me. You know? There is security here."

"I'm glad you no longer hate this city. I've always told you, be patient and keep an open mind."

***

"Nanaji, look the bridge! Tell us the story again!" his grandchildren scream from the backseat. The Brooklyn Bridge begins appearing in front of them. The impressive cables and splendid arches standing silent yet proud, as if proclaiming the history of this great city.

Fareed has repeated this story every time his grandchildren see a bridge. "Beta, not again. Nanaji has said this story so many times. Nanaji and I are having a conversation, na? Go back to watching your movie," his daughter says, trying to quell their demands. The children are adamant and Fareed doesn't mind retelling the story. He adores his grandchildren.

"Acha, ok. I'll tell the story. But, no interruptions. So, ten years ago..." "Was I born yet?"
"No, you dummy. You're only five, and this happened ten, t-e-n years ago." "Eh! What did I say about interruptions?" Fareed says sharply.

"Sorry," they both say at the same time.

Fareed continues, "Ten years ago, I used to work on the Brooklyn Bridge. In the middle of the night, we close almost all the lanes in the bridge and fix it. When you walk across the bridge at night, it goes up and down, up and down." Fareed makes a wave-like motion with his hands to show them.

"Woah! That's so cool!" the youngest says, mimicking Fareed's hand gesture.

The story takes Fareed back to his first days at DOT. During his first walk across the bridge, Fareed became doubtful of the bridge's sound construction and lies down on the road, fearing the bridge's collapse. The men laugh at him, telling him to believe in the physics he has studied.

In the rearview mirror, Fareed sees his grandchildren making bridges with their hands. As he drives, he recalls the bridges and tunnels he has worked on. When he looks back on it all, he can't believe that the young boy that played with a tire and stick has overseen the maintenance of such vast structures.

***

A box containing a mug, two picture frames, an assortment of pens, and an engineering degree is carried by a pair of brown, wrinkled, slightly arthritic hands. The sleeves of a shabby, old-fashioned brown suit end at the wrists, disconnecting the hands from the rest of the body. The hands are bare except for a ruby ring on the right pinky finger. The arms seem to strain under the weight of the box, evident by slight tremoring of the box. Below the box are a pair of cracked, worn, leather shoes that have tassels in the front. Wide-legged pants hover slightly above the shoes, casting them in a constant shadow. The bottom of the pants is frayed with little strings touching the floor. The strings of the pants create the same shadows as the few hairs on the head. With every gentle breeze, the hairs are lifted from the scalp, like dandelions in the wind. Fareed looks up the windows, one after another. Like these windows, he has moved from one phase of his life to another, one after another. From a bright student to a young engineer to an assistant manager to a gas station clerk to a senior engineer to an auditor.

He lets out a deep breath, knowing that where one journey ends, his life will take him on another one.


Liza Genao

Honorable Mention, Fiction
Liza Genao  New York City College of Technology

The Life of an Administrative Assistant

source unknown

I work for the Greater Ridgewood Youth Program in Ridgewood, Queens. The neighborhood consists of mostly Hispanic or white people. The population I work with are young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 who are currently disconnected from employment or school. Working with people in that age range is a bit interesting because my age falls right in the middle, so I definitely need to draw boundaries at my job. This program helps them learn work skills, professionalism, and how to keep a job long term.

This program interested me because I once was in a lot of the interns’ shoes. I ended up dropping out of high school and got a GED and got back in my feet. I want to be a role model for people in my age range because we are the future. My job consists of doing paperwork, filing, and also entering information on an online system from our funders, the New York City Department of Youth and Development. The program is a 12-week internship where the interns are at our agency 5 days a week for 4 weeks. During that time, they participate in workshops to learn new job skills, how to write a resume, cover letter, thank you letter, as well as things like anger management, healthy living, and how to budget money.

Also during that time, they are connected to a worksite that is as close as possible to their interest where they will be doing their internship from week 5 to 12. At the end of the internship, a ceremony is held to celebrate them finishing the program. However, they are still connected through something called a follow-up period for nine months, where they still keep in touch with their specified professional advisor until they find a job or go back to school. Even after the program, we have Alumni events where graduates come together and reconnect with us.

Before the cohort begins, we are in the recruitment phase which is when my boss and I stay at the office and handle people coming in to apply for the program, the rest of the team goes out to recruit in the neighborhood. My job is to guide the applicants to the application room and give them an application and self-assessment. Then, they meet with my boss for an interview. After the interview, if they seem like a good fit for the program, they are directed back into the application room to take a T.A.B.E test which tests for the adult basic education level of at least a 6th grader. If they pass the test, they are then connected to a professional advisor who first reads their self-assessment to get to know them and then does an intake assessment with then as well as an outcome goal chart.

The rest of my time during the cohort is spent collecting timesheets from 30 interns every week and calculating their hours in order to do payroll. Doing payroll is a very demanding task because you have to make sure everyone gets paid the correct amount of money that their timesheet reflects each week and you have to do it by a certain time, however, I like doing it. I also spend the rest of the cohort making folders for each intern to put all of their paperwork from the time they first came to our office to the time they graduate for DYCD to do an audit every few months.

On my first day of work, my boundaries were tested because one of the male interns tried to follow me for lunch and flirt with me. I expected this to happen because we are so close in age. However, I politely but firmly told him what my position is at my job and we have to keep boundaries. I was able to let him know from the beginning to not cross that line but in a way where he was still able to interact with me on a professional level throughout the cohort.

Another experience I had was when a participant tried to blame another coworker and I for her pay being delayed. She took her time sheet home, which is against the rules, and I was unable to verify her hours for that particular week. My saving grace was that my boss and I do payroll very closely and I am very open with him about what I do with paperwork and when I am missing things that I need. Also, she sent a text message to another staff member stating that she had the time sheet and then tried to lie to my boss. I took the situation with a grain of salt because my boss already knew the facts of the matter but also the fact that this participant likes to make up stories was already known by all staff and it was case noted as well.


Isabella LeGrand

First Prize, Poetry
Isabella LeGrand  Sociology, City College of New York

Mom

Mom   Isabella LeGrande, October 2021

"Mom!"
A voice carries across the house, past the living room, up the stairs, breaking through the cracked office door. I pause in the middle of reading another email telling us we'll be back in the office soon.
Back to work soon?
Who has the money for daycare? I can't leave the kids home alone.
"Mom!" the voice drags out. They elongate the O to drag it out longer, and with it I follow to the crying voice.
The title repeats, the main job title.
Mom.
Always starting with mom.
Mom, the wifi isn't working.
Mom, I'm bored.
Mom, my computer crashed and I have class can you help?
Mom!
Mom, can you help me understand this math problem?
Things I haven't done in years.
Online classing is forcing me to clear out that dusty shelf of memories locked shut.
This online stuff isn't working for them, I can see them falling behind.
Do we have the money for a tutor right now?
I could maybe get a second job?
  MOM!
Mom, are you working right now?
When am I not working?
I'm clocked in for the rest of your life kiddo.
Mom, we don't have those thingies I like can we go to the store and get them? Will we have enough money for groceries in the next few months?
God, I hope we do. I cant see them sad.
      MOM!
Mom, the camera isn't working for class can I use your office computer?
Mom becomes a computer tech, fixing wifi, learning new programs, and understanding how a 7-year-old could get so many viruses on one laptop.
Mom is the live-in chef of the pickest teen the world has ever seen.
Mom the maid.
            MOM!
Mom the businesswoman trying to keep a roof over their heads.
Mom is so stressed but she can't stop. The second she stops the world falls apart. Mom the circus director trying to keep them entertained
A mom that never gets a break, not now, not when the world is struggling.
I have to keep pushing. Not for me, but them.
                          MOM!
    It will get better when the world is back in order.
                                        MOM!
        I got this. It's going to be okay. Right?


Esart Buzo

Second Prize, Poetry
Esart Buzo  Finance, Baruch College

Walking the Walk

"Untitled #1" [Shuttle],   James Grosso, 2019

Dirty shoes are often sign
of a getaway adventure or,
telling from his crooked spine,
struggles of another nature.
Filthy beyond repair
they're allowed to cover his feet.
One cannot help but stare,
at a living sacrifice holding onto its seat.
Hands comforting each other:
Those Grand Canyon-looking cuts
of a skin that could've been another's,
for they don't share feelings as much.
Eyes half closed in patience,
falling in and out of sleep.
Flashing dreams mix with passing stations
he keeps count as jumping sheep.
One can tell he is far from home,
although his home not far from him.
A future—he owes to his son,
the humble present to redeem.
Let the young sing the songs he couldn't;
walk paths paved in gold.
And for that, rest he shouldn't
even with shoes covered in mold.


Zena Mohamed

Third Prize, Poetry
Zena Mohamed  English, Baruch College

Who is He?


He is awake when the sun is asleep
The birds' chirp, executing their dawn choruses
Instructing each other that it's time to forage
He is also awake, striving to provide for his family

Craving a few more minutes of rest
Verily, he is cognizant of the detriments
He puts on his coat, slowly closing the door
Leaving a subtle creak in the distance

He arrives at a garage in downtown Brooklyn
Where all the pushcarts reside
Picking up freshly made donuts, muffins,
and bagels some of the best he can provide

Exerting a tremendous amount of force,
He strenuously pushes the cart
Far from home he goes,
Praying for his family's safety while they're apart

Surrounded by those who sell chicken over rice
And the classic bacon egg and cheese
His daughter calls him and says she arrived at school,
to put his mind at ease

During the winters, work must go on
Putting on layers of clothing before he departs
The truck has fed his family for years
There must be so much essence behind this cart

The grill keeps his overworked palms warm
as the smell of brewing hot coffee fills the air
It makes him feel at home where he'd often drink 'qahwa'
where the coffee beans are handled with care

How are you able to do all this? One may ask
He replies, there isn't anything I haven't done!
I came from Egypt where physical labor is customary
Although most of the jobs I've had weren't always fun
I've worked as a merchant
Then came to American and washed cars
I've picked fruits and worked on countless farms
It's evident that each occupation carries its own scar

Creating a safe and loving home
Strength and resilience is what he has shown
Doing everything to put a smile on my face
He recalls everything his mind could possibly trace

The inevitable struggle of an immigrant's life
He's endured so much pain to support his kids and wife
Yet he explains waking up at dawn was never a bother
He, is my father


Cinthia Encarnacion

Honorable Mention, Poetry
Cinthia Encarnacion  LaGuardia Community College

The Women of my Family

Collage by author, March 3, 2019

work, for me there is no better way to describe it than the image of my mother every day getting up at 5 am to take the bus, then the train and walk a block to her work. Her perseverance and fighting spirit when she leaves for another job and when she finally arrives home disheveled, with her feet swollen and her eyelids drooping, she still has time to give me a smile and help me in whatever I need. The image of my grandmother preparing the food, serving the table, washing the dishes in a house that is not hers, because that is her job, taking care of others with vocation and dedication, but who cares for her on the way home? When the cold winter breeze hits your face and the long way home wears your bones. Just as my aunts take care of my little cousins, they wash and iron each piece of their little clothes with love and devotion, bathe them, dress them, fix their hair every day, prepare their lunch boxes to take them to Daycare before going to work. They do all this and much more without neglecting their role as mothers, daughters and sisters, they are still women and for me there is no better example of overcoming, work and effort than they, the women of my family … Dedicated to my mother who teaches me every day to get up and raise my voice for what I think is fair, to my grandmother for her good example of persisting and never giving up, but especially to all those other women who like women of my family are “Home Attendant” because that is much more than just a job.


Tetsuji Nishizono

First Prize, Visual Arts
Tetsuji Nishizono  Studio Art, Hunter College

 

Nurses at Central Park Field Hospital  oil on canvas, H 49” x W 79”, 2021

This work called Nurses at Central Park Field Hospital (2021) is oil on canvas. The dimensions are 79 in x 49 in. It shows three nurses, one doctor, and one patient. Needless to say, in the once-in-a-century pandemic from the beginning of 2020, the medical professionals worked hard. In New York, from March to April, serious new cases occurred every day. Doctors and nurses were busy at each hospital. The number of beds in the hospital was insufficient, so a field hospital of tents was built in Central Park. People who couldn't fit in the hospital were treated there.

Nurses at Central Park Field Hospital (2021) inherits the spirit of labor art by depicting the hard work of medical professionals. This work is realistic and reveals the valuableness of medical labor with the power of painting, an artistic tradition. Especially in this catastrophic infectious disease epidemic, they bet their lives in desperate times and continued to work day and night to save the lives of others. I thank them for giving great courage to many citizens.


Sara O'Brien

Second Prize, Visual Arts
Sara O'Brien  Studio Art, Hunter College

 

Essentially, overlooked  Oil on canvas, H 24” x W 18”

I knew that when starting this piece I wanted to capture and acknowledge two elements of these trying times, essential work and the solitude they face. Essential workers are often overlooked. This idea is represented through multiple factors in my piece, including attention to detail, an open composition, and color. I used details in other aspects of the painting to draw attention away from the worker; he is merely organic blocks of color; even the broom he holds and the trash that accompanies him have more detail. I then futur this through his scale in the composition, he's a small fraction of the picture, but is arguably the most important or valuable. Through color he blends in with the mute atmosphere, besides his yellow t-shirt and gloves, which at a first glance are often mistaken as part of the yellow seen in the store front. Furthermore I communicate the idea of solitude through a very cold and liniar atmosphere (that being the structure of this area and most areas in Manhattan), the brick wall that boxes him in, and the simple fact that there is not another soul to be found. He is in fact seen as just another "brick in that wall", a metaphor for the vast workforce of this country. They make a solid foundation for many other things. Essential workers that essentially are overlooked.


Piero Penizzotto

Third Prize, Visual Arts
Piero Penizzotto  Fine Art, Hunter College

 

At a Glance  Acrylic on masonite board, H 24.5” x W 18”

“At a Glance” is a painting emphasizing on the importance of the essential workers that New York City depends on to get to work, school, home, and anywhere else that we need to go. We often don’t take the time to stop and pay attention to the unsung heroes that make our lives easier on a daily basis.The world shouldn’t have to wait until a pandemic occurs for these heroes to finally get the thank you that they’ve always deserved, for jobs that are labor-intensive and underpaid. Usually we look at these workers from afar, we don’t know them by name nor have a personal connection with them, but for the few seconds that they open their window to check for our safety, I’m always thankful for their service. “At a Glance” was painted in a figurative style and created with acrylic on masonite board.


Shuki Hasson

Honorable Mention, Visual Arts
Shuki Hasson   Business, Borough of Manhattan CC

 

Falafel  Graphic design for print.

As an Arab Israeli Immigrant to the US, I wanted my work to relate to as many people from as many backgrounds possible; I wanted to pay tribute to our New York culture, inspired by my own upbringing.

The work is a street sign that can be found at every corner of this city, it is simple and intuitive. The black and dark yellow stripes resemble the markers of a construction area, a place where every hard laborer has the same color regarding of their ethnicity, one that is a mixture of dust & sweat.

The word “Falafel,” written using three (3) languages (Arabic, Hebrew & English), has three (3) meanings. The first is the diversity that makes the human fabric of New York. The second is the hard labor it is associated with—the street corner vendors standing inside clouds of smoke, serving food full of flavor, originating far from New York yet has its own home here. And the third is the “A,” Larger than the rest of the letters, at the heart of this sign, connecting those who’ve been in this land before it became the US, all the way through generations to those who are setting foot in it as you are reading this, for the purpose that drives us every day beyond the basic survival—AMERICA!—A place for dreamers & a home for doers.


 

Background & Credits for 2020–2021

The CUNY/Labor Arts contest rewards students for thinking and writing and making art about labor history, broadly defined, and is open to any undergraduate attending a CUNY college. Begun in 2010, it encourages students to write creatively and analytically about work and workers, to make art about work and workers, and to link their efforts to the spirit of LaborArts.

We would like to thank all of the students who submitted work for the 2020–2021 contest, and to congratulate the authors of the prize-winning essays and poems and the creators of the visual art featured in this exhibit. All CUNY students are encouraged to begin considering possible themes for entries in next year's contest. Guidelines for the 2022 contest will be available in January 2022; the guidelines used for this contest can be found here.

The contest is sponsored by LaborArts, with major funding from the Workforce Development Institute. It was organized this year by Rachel Bernstein and Evelyn Jones Rich (LaborArts) and Patrick Kavanagh and Arelis Berroa (CUNY).

Special thanks to the judges: Professor Marcelo Viana Neto (Visual Art), Lecturer Matt Arnold (Poetry), Lecturer Drew Pham (Fiction) and Director of Graduate Studies Patrick Kavanagh (Non-Fiction). Many thanks to the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education's director Lucas Rubin and his extraordinary staff, particularly Associate Director Anselma Rodriguez.

Due to the pandemic, a virtual Awards Ceremony was held on November 16, 2021, with keynote speaker Rose Imperato from the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies. All photographs are courtesy of the student awardees.


 

2021
Making Work Visible—A Labor Arts Contest
How to enter the  2021 Contest 

Jonathan Yubi GomezThis contest is about work and workers. Written entries (poems and essays) need to include a link to an illustration (there are many choices). Keep in mind that paid work and labor unions are only part of the story—entries about unpaid work, immigration, family and community are also encouraged.

Who? Open to CUNY undergraduates.

What? Four categories – Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry, and Art

How much? Two prizes in each category – First prize $1,000, Second prize $500

When? The deadline for the 2021 contest was October 18, 2021. Check back in December to see the winning works.

How to enter? Entries should be about work and the experiences of workers. Each written entry needs a link to an image. Each art entry needs a written explanation.

Written entries need a link to an image related to the themes in the writing. The image can be one of the images below, OR one of the images from the LaborArts gallery, exhibits, or collections OR you can provide your own image.

  • Sample 1
  • Sample 2
  • Sample 3
  • Sample 4
  • Sample 5
  • Sample 6
  • Sample 7
  • Sample 8

Visual art entries need a paragraph (100–250 words) explaining how the work shares the Labor Arts spirit. The statement must include information about the medium (painting, collage, sculpture, etc) and the artistic tradition in which you are working.

SUBMIT YOUR ENTRY HERE

Judging? Entries are judged according to originality, content, and style, by professors who teach undergraduates at CUNY. Prizes will be awarded at a ceremony in November 2021. Successful entries show thoughtful, original work on subjects relevant to work, to the experiences of working people, and to the labor movement.

MORE ABOUT HOW TO ENTER - IF the contest entry page is confusing, here’s a step-by-step guide to that page:

1. Guidelines tab - read the guidelines.

2. Participant information tab - enter the information (your name/address/e-mail/social media/mobile #/campus/major/CUNYFirstID/title of submission/category (poetry, fiction, non-fiction or visual arts))

3. Poetry, Fiction and Non-Fiction Submissions tab - If you are submitting written work use this tab (and then skip the visual arts submissions tab).

   ♦ upload your entry (make sure the title page of the entry includes
     the image you have chosen to accompany it

   ♦ in the “Affiliated Image” box:

→ list information about the image you have chosen: title of image, date it was created, name of artist

→ if the image is from the LaborArts.org website list the URL (link) in the box that says "image selected"

→ IF the image is from somewhere else click the box “image from Source other than Labor Arts,” and then insert the URL (link) in the box that says URL (if available)

→ ONLY if your image is not available online do you need to upload an image file.

4. Visual Arts Submissions tab - Skip this tab unless you are submitting a visual arts entry. To submit a visual arts entry: upload your artwork; list the media you used, the dimensions, and the year created; paste your description in the box. The description should explain the work - how does it share the LaborArts spirit? Why did you choose this medium? What artistic tradition are you working in?

Questions? Just ask - we are here to help - Patrick Kavanaugh and Arelis Berroa at mwv@brooklyn.cuny.edu