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Feet in 2 Worlds: "Bolivian Immigrants Celebrate ‘Alasitas’ Festival by Making Big Dreams Small"

Miranda Shafer

I published this multimedia story for Feet in 2 Worlds in January 2014. You can hear the original story here.

Blanca Morales pulls out bins of miniature statues of cars and houses and bags of money at her home in Corona, Queens, for the upcoming Bolivian festival known as Alasitas. During Alasitas participants buy miniature representations of the things they want in the New Year with the hopes of getting the real thing.

For the second year in a row Morales is organizing the Alasitas festival. In Bolivia and Peru the festival typically runs for two weeks, but the Queens version is a one-day event, this year on Jan. 25. And while participants were once more likely to buy miniature foods and other basic necessities, Morales’ bins contain tiny houses, cars, money and diplomas—just a handful of the offerings for this year’s Alasitas.

The indigenous festival of “wishes and dreams” was first celebrated in New York 12 years ago when the president of the Bolivian Civic Cultural Community, Mirtha Cabrera, began hosting Alasitas in her house with her husband, Eduardo Medrano. The festival quickly outgrew their home and expanded to the couple’s restaurant in Elmhurst until Cabrera and Medrano handed over leadership to Morales.

At noon on Saturday the festival will begin at the Veterans of Foreign Wars building on 108th Street in Corona, when a local priest will bless the miniatures, a job once reserved for a shaman. Vendors will be on hand to sell miniatures, souvenirs and traditional foods. The Bolivian community in Queens is small enough that organizers spread the word through emails, flyers and word of mouth.

Ekeko, the Andean god of prosperity and luck, presides over Alasitas. He is most often represented as a short, portly man carrying multiple bags of food, houses, cars, land, and money. Morales’ Ekeko is about a foot tall, with gold teeth and a green bow tie. He carries a yellow car and a bag of confetti hangs from his back, and an orange house is slung over his shoulder. He has a satchel filled with money and an additional basket with a Ziploc bag of money, which Morales calls “dream money,” and an even tinier car.



Feet in 2 Worlds: "Maria Cano and Auria Abraham: Creating a Legacy for the Next Generation"

Miranda Shafer

I produced this story for Feet in 2 Worlds. You can hear the original story here.

This summer Maria Cano (aka the Arepa Lady) moved her thriving Colombian street-food business into a storefront in Queens, N.Y., her first brick-and-mortar restaurant. For Cano, 70, it was a measure of hard-won success after selling arepas (cornmeal “pancakes”) from a street cart for more than two decades.

For Auria Abraham, 45, success has come more quickly—she launched her Malaysian sambal business last summer, after working as a jingle producer in the advertising industry for more than a decade. Her unapologetically spicy condiment is already on store shelves throughout New York City, and plans for new products are in the works.

Speaking through a translator, the two women note the importance of using their food businesses to create a legacy—both cultural and financial—for their children.

“It’s been a lot of hard work but it feels very good,” Cano tells Abraham. “The thing that feels the best is to have my kids involved and see them accomplish so much. They picked up the flag and they’re carrying my business.”

See what happens when you bring together female food entrepreneurs from different generations and different ethnic backgrounds to talk about food, business, and flavor.

Audio produced by Miranda Shafer. Translation by Natalia Perlaza. Photos by Lily Chin.

Feet in 2 Worlds: "What I Carried, Vol. 2: The Family Milkshake Machine"

Miranda Shafer

I produced this story as part of "What I Carried," a project created by Feet in 2 Worlds to explore immigration to the U.S. through objects that symbolize migration.

Adam Klein 33 but he could be mistaken for a college student. He is tall and angular. Although his apartment is warm and inviting it is also spare.

In New York City space is limited, and even kitchen appliances have to be ready to multitask, but Adam's 15 pound milkshake machine only does one thing. It makes milkshakes. Despite the fact that it is awkward and heavy, Adam has brought the antique appliance with him each time he has moved (7 times) in the past 15 years.

“This isn’t the kind of thing I can put in a box with other things. It’s always been something that I’ve had to carry by hand in a taxi or a car; I don’t trust movers.”

So why does Adam carry it with him? His family lost everything once; maybe that’s why he understands the importance of the things that make life sweet.


Feet in 2 Worlds: “Karen Tappin: Living a Version of the American Dream”

Miranda Shafer

Karen's story is part of a larger project (by Feet in 2 Worlds) about immigrant business owners and the American Dream. This story was published in April 2014.  

"At the time I didn't think much of it, but I realize now that [my mother] just sort of expected me to be great."—Karen Tappin

Karen Tappin started producing her line of natural hair-care and skin products in her kitchen while working as a high-school history teacher; today, her products, Karen's Body Beautiful are sold nationwide at Target.

Tappin's parents are from Guyana. She got a head start on her entrepreneurial career when her mother asked her, at age 15, to help with the home health-aide agency that she was starting. Karen did all of the research, footwork and paperwork while her mom was at work. The experience gave her the confidence to start her own business in college (preparing care packages) and later Karen's Body Beautiful.