Photo of Joseph Younghans, by and courtesy of Niamh McDonnell

Dear Neighbor,

In case you missed it, we launched a podcast! You can listen to our first episode here. Make sure you’re subscribed on your favorite podcast platform and stay tuned for episode two, which drops tomorrow and features elderly New Yorkers, their vaccine experience and a side of life advice. Also: Highlights of the District 25 forum; listen before ranking.

In other exciting news, Epicenter-NYC is hosting a livestream tonight at 8 p.m. with pediatricians about kids and the Covid-19 vaccine. Have your questions ready for Dr. Hai Cao and Dr. Danis Copenhaver from South Slope Pediatrics. You can tune in on our TwitterFacebook and YouTube pages.

We’ll also be featuring vaccine volunteers from around the country sharing their stories of what’s working and what’s needed. Join us; submit questions in advance to

This week we want to highlight a Queens-based street vendor. Antonio lost his job when the pandemic hit, and with no way to access government benefits, was only able to sustain himself by joining the informal economy. Epicenter-NYC writer Andrea Pineda-Salgado has the scoop.

Photo courtesy of Antonio


Antonio doesn’t usually tell people who he was before coming to the United States. In his home country of Ecuador, he worked as a lawyer and in pharmaceutical marketing, owning three successful pharmacies along with his late wife. More importantly, he is a father and a grandfather.

Antonio had a comfortable life in the port city of Guayaquil until he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. He underwent numerous treatments, and with nobody to run them, his pharmacies went out of business. On top of it all, Antonio was receiving death threats coming from a family member of a former client from his law practice.

With bills piling up, he packed up his life and moved to Machala, a city about four hours south of his hometown, in search of work. He found none. In 2017, he was finally declared cancer-free and decided to take a chance and move to  the U.S. It took him some time to secure a visa, but in February of 2020 he boarded a one-way flight to New York City.

The United States

Antonio initially found employment working as a dishwasher at an Italian restaurant in Flushing. But by March, as news of Covid-19 spread, his hours were cut.

“Work was getting complicated and we all had to wear masks,” he said. “I had to find a way because they were telling me to go for one day only, one day a week in Flushing. First for two days, then for one, then for one afternoon — that’s not work.”

Photo by Andrea Pineda-Salgado for Epicenter-NYC

Because Antonio overstayed his tourist visa, he is considered an undocumented immigrant, and therefore is not entitled to any federal benefits such as unemployment assistance and stimulus payments. With no idea what to do next, Antonio stumbled across a bike in the trash one day. He biked all around Queens until he found a man who was selling face masks in bulk. He bought several boxes for $75 each and began selling masks individually for $2.50 along Roosevelt Avenue.

“I liked that corner, the corner of Junction and Roosevelt because I sold a lot and there were more people,” he said. I stood there until and the lady who sells fruit [in that corner] told me ‘here I can give you a chair. Sell your masks here and bring some more.’ I stayed with the table they let me borrow, I had it for 15 days. Then I was able to buy my own table.”

Every morning Antonio wakes up and studies English using the Duolingo language app. Once his lesson is finished he hauls a cart with boxes that carry his merchandise a few blocks from his apartment to the corner of Junction Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue. At 60 years old, this is a tiresome job for Antonio. He has endured working outside throughout a harsh winter and a boiling summer; it’s much different from the life he had in Ecuador.

Photo by Andrea Pineda-Salgado for Epicenter-NYC

Hopes for the future

He doesn’t see himself doing this type of work for much longer though.

“In my country, I had an office and all that stuff.  I can’t afford that anymore. I hope I can get myself a good job. I have to look for one because this is not — this is only an emergency job, in my opinion.”

As the pandemic begins to end and restrictions are lifted, Antonio won’t have nearly as much business. He hopes to soon begin the process of revalidating his degrees. But first, he needs a work permit.

“We do have some rights, universally as humans, no one can take that away,” he said. “But life would be so much better with a work permit and the ability to work with dignity.”

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Ethiopian eats

If you’re not familiar with the cuisine from the Horn of Africa nation, we want to encourage you to try the rich, flavorful curries and complex veggies dishes that comprise it. Every meal is served with a sour, spongy flatbread known as injera. You eat with your hands (actually just your right) and injera acts as a vehicle to get the food into your mouth. We recommend Ras Plant Based, an organic farm-to-table Ethiopian restaurant in Crown Heights.

Make Music New York 

The annual Make Music New York event has been giving musicians an opportunity to be heard by their communities for years, and it seems more significant than ever given the predicament the pandemic has put them in. Music makers of all ages, abilities and backgrounds can register for the show, which takes place on Monday, June 21, at multiple locations across the city.

Family farm day

Brooklyn Grange, the urban rooftop farm located in Sunset Park, is welcoming the public this Sunday, May 23, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Expect family-friendly activities like farm tours, a farmer’s market, refreshments, a compost drop off, fitness classes and a plant sale. Learn more.

photo: @nehgov

This year marks the 100-year anniversary of one of the worst acts of racial violence in American history — an attack on Tulsa, Oklahoma’s, “Black Wall Street” by a white mob. The episode, which was relatively little-known until recent years, is the subject of an upcoming documentary, “Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre.” Join the directors and executive producers this Thursday, May 20, at 6 p.m., for an advanced screening and special panel with a descendant of Tulsa massacre survivors moderated by Jonathan Capehart, host of MSNBC’s “The Sunday Show.” Register for free here.

Movies on the waterfront
For the next three Fridays, movies will be screening with a backdrop of the East River at Astoria Park. This Friday, May 21, “Back To The Future” will be playing, followed by “Toy Story 4” on May 28 and “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” on June 4. All screenings begin at 8:15 p.m., and are free of charge. Learn more.

Photo courtesy of Socrates Sculpture Park

Planeta Abuelx
The newest installation at Socrates Sculpture Park is a solo exhibition by Guadalupe Maravilla, centered on ancestral, Indigenous and ritual practices of healing. The work serves as an homage to our elders, not only because they were disproportionately affected by Covid-19, but because they are the holders of curative ancestral knowledge, passed down through centuries. Learn more.


Run the world
What do young women need to succeed in the ever-changing workforce? Join a discussion hosted by The Unmuted and URL Media. Panelists include Lisette Martinez, executive vice president and chief diversity officer, Jefferson Health and Thomas Jefferson University;  and Vanessa Stair, social impact, at Facebook, among others. Register for the free event, which takes place Wednesday, May 26, from 4 to 5 p.m. here.

Rebuild Retro Pizza
Local family-owned business Retro Pizza in Astoria went up in flames last week, causing extensive damage. Help Daisy and her husband Leo rebuild by donating to their GoFundMe.

Dog treats needed
The Brooklyn location of the city shelter, Animal Care and Control, is in desperate need of dog treats! All unopened, unexpired treats are accepted, but Pup-Peroni is a favorite among residents. Treats can be purchased online or dropped off directly to the care center at 2336 Linden Blvd., Brooklyn, NY 11208

Massive Fundraiser
Brooklyn Raga Massive, a collective of forward-thinking musicians rooted in Indian classical music, just released Quarantine Dreams, a compilation album featuring 15 tracks performed by 32 musicians. All proceeds from this album will be donated to Oxygen For India, a charity getting medical oxygen to hospitals and patients at home and serving the immediate needs in India. Currently the album is available on Bandcamp. Members of Karavika, the group who created the theme music for the new Epicenter-NYC podcast, are also part of Brooklyn Raga Massive.

Sign up for our education-focused newsletter here

A full fall reopening
That’s almost one million students returning to classrooms. Parents and students are anxious about New York City’s ability to smoothly pull it off after the whirlwind that was the 2020-21 school year. Mayor Bill de Blasio has yet to provide families with a definitive plan on mask mandates, medical waivers for vaccines and remote learning options, among other concerns, less than four months from the first day of school.

Mask mandate stays in schools
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the state will follow the Centers for Disease Control guidelines on masks and social distancing, effective tomorrow, May 19. One of the exceptions is schools, where masks will still be required for students and staff, vaccinated or not.

Halal food coming to a school near you
The Department of Education has added 11 schools to the pilot program serving halal food, bringing the total to 43 across New York City. All community meal sites will continue to offer halal-certified options. Find locations here.

Brooklyn Museum art camp
Calling all young artists ages 8 to 13! Children can work across different mediums and showcase their art at Brooklyn Museum’s summer camp. Programs run weekly from July 6 to August 13 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The first week is $496 and all other weeks are $620 with special rates for members. Join the info session from 5 to 5:30 p.m. tonight to learn more. Scholarships are available.

Live from the New York Public Library
“Which Side of History: Chelsea Clinton and Jim Steyer” is a discussion of new media and its impact on the mental and physical health of teens and kids. Conversation will be based on findings from the book, “Which Side of History? How Technology is Reshaping Democracy and Our Lives,” by Steyer with contributions from Clinton. Tickets are free. Register here.


We are thrilled that the Catskills Animal Sanctuary in Saugerties — about two hours north of NYC — has reopened to the public. The sanctuary sits on 150 acres and provides refuge for rescued farm animals. A founding tenant of Catskills Animal Sanctuary, which considers itself a “teacher sanctuary,” is the belief in “sameness,” that we as humans share much with other animals; their individuality, desire to live and the way they experience emotions. Public tours are family friendly, and in addition to learning about animals participants learn about veganism. For those who don’t want to make the drive in one day, the sanctuary boasts a 200-year-old homestead with rooms available for rent.

For a post-sanctuary bite, we recommend Black-Eyed Susie’s, which has plenty of vegan offerings.


We want to see, hear, feel, support your art and response to this moment. To submit a poem, short story, artwork or any shareable experience, email us.  If your work is selected, you will receive a $100 stipend and become part of our growing network of artists.

Amy Cheng, Untitled 2019-24, 2019, gouache and marker on paper,  9 x 12.5″. Photo courtesy of Amy Cheng.

This week we welcome Amy Cheng. Cheng was born in Taiwan and raised in Brazil, Oklahoma and Texas. She received a BFA from the University of Texas at Austin, and an MFA from Hunter College, City University of New York. She has exhibited her paintings nationally and internationally. She has completed a dozen public art commissions including projects at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the Howard St. El Station, Chicago and the 25th Avenue Subway Station, Brooklyn. She received a Fulbright Teaching Fellowship to Renmin University of China, Beijing, PRC in Spring 2017;  a P.S.122 Painting Center Fellowship in New York City for a 10-month residency in 2011-12 and a Senior Lecturer/Research Fulbright fellowship to Brazil in Fall 2008. She has been awarded two New York Foundation for the Arts Painting Fellowships, and an Arts International travel grant to China. She is a Professor Emerita at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

Amy Cheng, Untitled 2019-26, 2019, gouache and marker on paper,  6 x 9″. Photo courtesy of Amy Cheng.

“Albert Einstein said that time is an illusion. According to him the distinction between past, present, and future is only a persistent illusion; that in actual fact, everything that has happened or will happen is always occurring right now, at the same time, in the present.

Amy Cheng, Untitled 2021-1, 2021, gouache and oil marker on paper,  9 x 11″. Photo courtesy of Amy Cheng.

My current work — a series of patterned, geometric, abstract gouache and oil marker drawings — speak to the disruptive, surprising, and unpredictable aspects of time, and to the fact that we are always in transition. Each drawing contains a singular world with an internal sense of logic. These worlds contain flatness and space, solids and voids, light and color, emptiness and mass. There is movement, things are in transition, and yet there is stillness.

Amy Cheng, Squaring the Circle, 2014, oil on canvas, 62 x 90″. Photo courtesy of Amy Cheng.

My friend, the artist Thomas Mills, says the works have a hypnotic quality, and that if you “think of memory as being in the future … then these artworks are involved in some way with aspirational memory.” I don’t claim to understand what he means, but it pleases me that he calls me a mystic who makes contemporary, contemplative art that are also ancient…”

See more of Cheng’s work on her website and Instagram.

A special thank-you to our volunteers: We just sent some swag bags to the dozens of Epicenter volunteers who helped book vaccine appointments across the country. Special thanks to our sponsors: 

Lunar Hard SeltzerNew York Botanical GardenBubby’sClovis Point VineyardOkCupidMimi-For-Me-Yoga and Storm King Art Center.

We also thank: 

Squared AwayAirTableSlackSuperfly and G.C. Stationery in Jackson Heights.

Interested in sponsoring good people and good biz?
Learn how at 

This newsletter was written by Andrea Pineda-Salgado, Danielle Hyams and Jade Stepeney. Photographs and design by Nitin Mukul and editing by Robin Cabana. Did you like it or find it useful? Tell a friend to sign up. Support our vendors, freelancers and efforts by making a donation to our tip jar.

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