I was thirteen years old before I knew what my Chinese Zodiac sign was (The Year of the Rat), and that it was based on the Southeast Asian tradition of the Lunar New Year. I found the existence of a whole other system for measuring time to be fascinating and mysterious. Worcester’s connection to the Southeast Asian community is vast; in fact we have the 3rd largest Vietnamese population in Massachusetts, and rank 3rd by percentage of 3%. Even without the statistics, the sheer abundance of Vietnamese restaurants from Mint Worcester, to Pho Dakao, to Anh Thu II, naming only a handful, demonstrates how integral Vietnamese culture is to Worcester’s cultural milieu. And every February the community gathers to celebrate one of the two most important traditional holidays for Vietnamese culture.
For some background information on the Lunar New Year I connected with Tuyet Tran from the Southeast Asian Coalition here in Worcester. Tran was happy to provide some historical background. “The Lunar New Year is celebrated in China, Vietnam, and follows the lunar calendar. The lunar calendar measures the year in increments of moon cycles, which are about 28 days each therefore it’s slightly different from the regular western calendar. Naturally it changes the exact Gregorian calendar date from year to year. For this year it’s February 10th, and is the Year of the Dragon It’s really a celebration of the beginning of Spring.”
The Lunar New Year celebrates themes of renewal, reinvigoration, and revival. In short it celebrates all things springtime. Tran explains: “According to the cycle of the moon. It’s spring and therefore time for family and gathering and happiness. My favorite part of our tradition in Vietnamese culture is the opportunity to clean the slate and start fresh with everyone. In our tradition, you let go of grudges from the previous year. This time of year, people reach out to one another make amends or smooth things almost no matter what. Any particular disagreement you might have had, like if you haven’t talked to someone because you had a falling out for some reason, you call and you fix things before the New Year. If you don’t, it’s considered a bad omen.”
In addition to behaviors associated with the New Year, there are also customs related to ringing in the spring and with it the new era. “We always set off firecrackers to chase away evil spirits. This is a big part of what we believe. You also want to start the new year with ‘new money’ so family members give each other these little red envelopes that contain one dollar bills to start the year with good fortune. The kids and the grandkids and everybody lines up and they wish the oldest in the family a year of health and good fortune.”
Another huge part of the celebration is the variety of food, traditional to the Lunar New Year. “There are many foods associated with the big event.” Tran explains: “There are basically two shapes that we make as part of the food offering, circle to represent the moon, and square to represent the earth. We use glutinous rice and mung beans and the cakes can be made sweet or savory. If we are making them savory there are versions that put meat like pork inside. That’s my favorite.” Although the Southeast Asian Coalition is having their big New Year’s event this year at the end of January, Tran is able to direct me to other local groups making celebrating this month.”
Mint Worcester is always looking for ways to celebrate and bring awareness to one of the two biggest Vietnamese holidays. Owner Trang Le says: “I always look for ways to educate people and spread awareness about our culture and traditions. Last year we brought dumplings at UMASS and everyone loved them so much. This year we are planning on bringing the dumplings to UMASS again. We are set to be there on February 9th, and anyone eating at the cafeteria at Memorial or University Park will be able to enjoy Mint Worcester dumplings.” It doesn’t stop there, however, because Le values the cultural education piece, she’s also offering a ‘dumpling’ making workshop. “We actually did one dumpling workshop last year and we sold out. This year we are going to offer two sessions, one of which will take place in February. On February 14th, we will invite people to come into Mint and make their own dumplings. The dumplings are shaped like silver and gold ingots and are said to represent fortune and prosperity in the coming year. The more dumplings you eat the more prosperous you will be in the New Year. It’s also a great Valentine’s activity.”
Across town in a rather unexpected pocket, Neelu Mohaghegh prepares her own homage to Southeast Asian traditions. “My own personal background is Persian. My dad moved here from Iran in the 70s and basically built his real estate business from scratch. I grew up doing martial arts and feeling really connected to Southeast Asian culture. Additionally, we have our own Persian New Year that happens in March, so I’m really sympathetic to non-mainstream New Year traditions. So we are hosting our own Lunar New Year Extravaganza here at Fuel in Grove Street.”
The Grove Street Fuel location opened its doors on February 10th of 2022 so celebrating its inception comes hand in hand with the Lunar New Year. “This year our 2nd birthday party will celebrate the Lunar New Year. We love being able to share something that means a lot to a lot of people. We’ve had people travel from as far as Rhode Island to attend last year. This year we will have red envelopes that contain traditional New Year’s wishes. Some of our new flavors for this year will be matcha, ube and black sugar. The latter is often traditionally used in Boba so it will be familiar. For entertainment, we are going to have “the Lion Dance” by the Eternals. Our event hours are 10am-3p and the Eternals will be doing their dance around 2pm as a kind of finale. We are inviting tons of local Asian owned businesses to partner with us and participate as vendors. Mochi Doh will be joining us as well, and we are in talks with Mint Worcester for them to participate. We are also partnering with the Worcester Center for the Crafts to paint stationary with ‘Year of the Dragon’ symbolism. It’s going to be great!”
But the celebration doesn’t have to end there. RICEMA (Refugees & Immigrants Cultural Empowerment Massachusetts) is a performance arts and education center, focusing on preserving the art and culture of refugees and immigrants through education and performing arts, connecting a rich cultural identity to the community and contributing to the American experience*. In line with their mission, RICEMA is hosting their own Lunar New Year event on February 17th. The festival will take place at the Boys & Girls Club (65 Boys & Girls Club Way) and will feature a Lion Dance, as well as several vendors and performances, including Mint Worcester, Nori, and Euphoria. I spoke with Boa Newgate to get the scoop.
“The Lunar New Year is known as Tét, and it’s the most important celebration in Vietnamese culture. Tét celebrates the arrival of spring based on the Vietnamese calendar. During this time families reunite and honor their ancestors while praying for luck, health, and prosperity in the New Year. Our celebration will have many games, activities and performances throughout the day. We will also have Worcester’s first Ao Dai competition. If you have the best Ao Dai outfit/dress at the festival, you will win a cash prize!”
Historically reserved for lovers or the lovelorn, the color red takes on a whole new meaning this February. In Southeast Asian tradition, red is favorable for making your New Year dreams and ambitions come true. Worcester in February invites us all to think outside of the scope of western traditions and focus on what makes the shortest or coldest month around here exude warmth and shine. Recapture the magic of childhood glee and come out in support of our diverse tapestry of Southeast Asian culture by attending a Lion Dance, sampling some matcha flavored beverages, or even reaching out to old friends to make amends. It’s the Lunar Year’s end, and also its beginning. Let it be yours too.
George Annan is an artist who captures the world through the lens of a camera. George hails from Worcester and said that photography has not always been something that he did. But that changed when some college friends introduced him to their love of photography, and it was magical.
George has done a lot of great commission work for nationally known companies like Puma and Converse, but his deep love for urban agriculture and his family roots in the country of Ghana led him to become very involved with Worcester Environmental Council (REC), and 2Gether We Eat, two Worcester organizations that are focused on ways to cease food insecurity while also providing education and employment opportunities in the city.
From late summer of 2022 through September of 2023, George became involved in the inaugural Black Artist Residency program at the Fitchburg Art Museum (FAM), something that he says has been a wonderful experience for which he is very grateful. He said that he owes a great deal of thanks to FAM, whose staff was absolutely amazing in their help and support of him. His photo series part of this program is entitled “From Seed to Plates”, focusing on black farming. This is part of the current exhibit- “Dialogues, Diasporas, and Detours Through Africa”- at FAM, and is on display through January 14, 2024.
Among honors that George has received are being named an Outstanding Alumnus at Worcester State University and being featured a couple of years ago in Pulse as one of the People to Watch.
When I asked George about the differences or similarities between the United States and Ghana, he said that he hadn’t been to Ghana since he was 11 years old, but he remembers it as being such an expressive land. He also feels that way about the US and is thankful for his friends who showed him the beauty of the world of photography.
So, my next logical question was- what’s the next step, what’s next for George? He said that he moved to the Boston area in February of this year, so he is exploring the region and getting a taste of what it has to offer. He says he’s very curious, and loves the good energy around it.
And while he thought back, in sort of a flashback way, his photography he “spoke into existence” and “it’s not a finished product yet”. “There are still many dreams and goals, and the sky is the limit”. Well, I must say that if anyone can reach their goals, realize their dreams, and go to the limits of the sky, George Annan is the one who will do it. He’s an amazing, dynamic young man, whose future looks blazingly bright and brilliant.
To see more of George’s work, check him out on Instagram at koolaidgeorge, and also see his display at the Fitchburg Art Museum. Now if I may borrow a phrase from a famous movie, to George I say, “May the force be with you”, as you continue to rise above the moon and stars.
Another year, another influx of budding adults: Worcester’s incoming first years is part of what keeps our city current and alive. We at Pulse are here to give a helping hand and a guide to what newly minted adults might enjoy and engage with in their various locales.
If you’re coming into Worcester via Clark University, congratulations on joining the ranks of the city’s humanitarians, activists and artists. Nestled in Main South, Clark University is committed to seamlessly integrating the local community with student led missions. I spoke with recent graduate Brett Iarrobino, whose volunteer work during his undergraduate years included refugee assistance, and after school help to elementary school children. “St. Peter’s Church does homework for elementary school students. They pair you up with one or two different kids. It was a very cute way to engage and get some face time with some residents. Another volunteer spot was Main Idea Youth and Arts Nonprofit. Worcester Refugee Assistance Group also is a great place to volunteer. They are very active with the Korean, Afghan, and Burmese populations.”
Volunteering in the community is not the only way to engage with Main South. Just around the corner from campus there are several small eateries with a smorgasbord of multicultural offerings. “Formerly Acoustic Java, the new coffee shop nearest campus is now called Belen’s Casa De Pan, and it is a delicious Salvadorian bakery. The new owner is a former Clark University graduate herself. Further down, there’s Hacienda Don Juan. It’s a lunch and dinner spot with $1 pupusa for students.”
Emma Couillard completed both her BA & MA through Clark’s 5th year free program and had her own recommendations and fond memories to impart. “Right near campus, there’s Saigon as well as Mint. They are both Vietnamese cuisines but totally different vibes. Saigon is more casual and lunch, whereas Mint is over by Worcester Pizza Factory, and hosts a lot of college-student friendly events, such as trivia and karaoke. They also offer a lot of good deals for students. On campus, I loved the Hillel-run Midnight Bagel Events. It is exactly what it sounds like: Bagels and schmear at midnight, as a study break. One great place to know about on campus is the Traina Center. It’s a bit off to the side right on Park Avenue, but they host a lot of great events, including a small museum in the bottom floor, which runs exhibits of local artists, both students and non-students.”
If you’re coming to Worcester via WPI, congratulations on joining the ranks of the future engineers, problem solvers, and having the unique experience of Greek Life while on campus. WPI has the distinction of being in the most ‘trafficked on foot’ part of our city, and is packed to the gills with dining and activity options.
Right on Highland Street, there are various WPI student frequented haunts like Thai Time, and the Bean Counter Café. The Bean Counter is well known around these parts for their delicious vegan and gluten free baked goods. An easy place to sit down and get some work done, The Bean Counter also boasts one of the most active and current bulletin boards for local events.
A few doors down from both these spots is Taqueria Del Pueblo, a lively food stand turned restaurant, offering affordable lunch and dinner options for students and faculty alike. Not far from campus there is also Worcester’s most beloved dive bar, Ralph’s Rock Diner. Ralph’s offers the grittiest Worcester, served with a side of 90s grunge. For students looking to unwind with punk rock or poetry, Ralph’s offers Slam Poetry nights on Mondays, and a smattering of local shows throughout the month.
If your interests are a bit more board game oriented, you’ll not want to miss the city’s Nerd Mecca a.k.a. That’s Entertainment. That’s E! hosts weekly Magic The Gathering, DnD, and more. It’s an easy walk through historic Elm Park, where the latest installation of ‘Art in the Park’ will enliven your stroll.
If you’re coming to Worcester by way of Holy Cross, congratulations on joining the ranks of elite athletes, young go-getters, and entrepreneurs. Holy Cross is a mini universe of its own. You’ll have to drive a bit to get off campus, but fret not because even on campus there is plenty to do. From Cool Beans, the on campus coffee house offering a social space to meet and collaborate, to the Seelos Film House, offering exclusive features, your cup will be full.
Should you choose to venture off campus, you will be less than two miles away from BirchTree Coffeehouse, one of the city’s most renowned and architecturally beautiful coffee houses and bake shops. They make some of the city’s best pizzas on Wednesday night and they offer student discounts. Situated right beneath BirchTree is the Crompton Collective, the gateway to Canal District’s most charming section. Local vendors, handmade goods and the biggest flower shop in town (Seed to Stem) await your perusal. To make a day of it, round the corner and take in a game of America’s pastime at Worcester’s own Woo Sox Ballpark, Polar Park.
If you’re coming to Worcester by way of Assumption, congratulations on joining the ranks of tomorrow’s healers, organizers, and entertainers. Congratulations also on having, in this reporter’s humble opinion, the most picturesque campus. You will be happily situated equidistantly to both the city and the countryside, with ample options on either end. A short drive from campus on Salisbury Street, and you will find the Worcester Art Museum, one of our more prized locales offering tours, classes and so much more. If you’re looking for more of the same, not far from the WAM there is also ArtsWorcester, a small gallery that packs a big punch. If you’re looking for some communing with nature, it will be easy to head in the opposite directions to hit up Moore State Park or the Cascades for a rigorous and very autumnal experience. Looking for coffee shops, there are quite a few within the mile radius, including Espress Yourself, a small European style café. Just up the street, there is Root & Press, if you’re looking for a more collegiate atmosphere. Root and Press does double duty as both bookshop and coffee/lunch spot. You can dine in or al fresco and pick up your extracurricular reading all in one trip.
If you’re coming to Worcester via Worcester State, congratulations on joining the ranks of local juggernauts who may or may not know Worcester just as well as I do. Worcester State’s campus and campus offerings are perhaps the most successfully intertwined with the local community, giving anyone who isn’t a local, a chance to blend in with ease. Located right on Chandler Street, one of Worcester’s thoroughfares, Worcester State students are very centrally located.
I spoke with recent graduate and current Assistant Director of Conferences and Events, Caitlin Kincaide for some insider tips. “My friends and I really like to try different places to eat, weekends or afternoon free time. If it was lunch and we wanted to study and do homework we would go to Nu Kitchen, The Mercantile, or the Boynton. We also went to a place called Blackstone. They do ‘flights’ of everything there, so you can try different menu times. On campus, there is usually one Halloween related fair, filled with Halloween activities. Also, in September, they bring a mini-farmer’s market on campus for a big health fair.”
To caffeinate, I would recommend the newly established Worcester Sweets, which serves the best Colombian coffee around, in an atmosphere that I can best describe as Barbie-core. While lunch spots are aplenty, I want to give a special shout out to Nu Kitchen, which is a well worn WSU hangout, always offering exactly what is needed. But within a stone’s throw, there are several options including Nancy Chang’s for a mom and dad sit down dinner, and Sushi Miyazawa, a surprisingly delectable hole in the wall. Make it a triple feature and stop into Tidepool Bookshop for the latest poetry reading, or book launch and you’ll feel like both a college student and a Worcesterite in no time.
Even though Worcester boasts the title of second largest New England City, we do not suffer the congestion of some of the bigger cities out there, and therefore all of these options are easily available. For this reason, it makes sense to set up a central list of Worcester 101, listed below:
While I understand that most first-years are unlikely to need this advice right away, it never hurts to plan ahead. Worcester is fortunate to boast a long list of breweries, and beer gardens.
Not least among them, is the Worcester Beer Garden (64 Franklin Street), offering beautiful open air dining, with a luxurious twist. You’ll forget that you’re not across the pond in some of their fantastically luxurious seating options.
Blue Jeans Pizza (270 Park Avenue) is another collegiate spot that just invested in their own beer garden, and it does not disappoint. Located in a rather heavily trafficked corner, you’ll get the most Worcester vistas, while enjoying a slice and maybe (someday!) a cold one.
My personal favorite brewing spot is Greater Good Brewery (55 Millbrook Street) offering both casual indoor and outdoor dining.
And last, but not least, because BarbieCore is having a moment, Femme Bar, Worcester’s answer to the gay bars of yesteryear. Featured on their very ‘on theme’ menu you’ll find sparkling wine on tap, and a can of ‘gay beer’.
Worcester has too many to name, but I’d like to mention those that might go easy on a college student’s budget the most.
First up Fantastic Pizza (910 Main Street) has the best falafel wrap, at the most reasonable price but they have pizza and mozzarella sticks too. While you wait for your order, you can play the old timey Galaga machine that still takes quarters inside.
Or, head off to George’s Coney Island Hot Dog (158 Southbridge Street) for a classic at a reasonable price. It’s not just the hot dogs, but also the turn of the century time capsule atmosphere that’ll make you think fondly of your college years.
Shawarma Palace (20 Franklin Street) downtown offers the absolute best shawarma around, at lonely a fraction of the usual price.
And, lastly, if you’re looking for Vietnamese cuisine, Da-Lat (425 Park Avenue) goes easy on your wallet while absolutely pummeling your taste buds.
Worcester offers countless ways to spend the time, but I’d like to mention a few under the radar and perhaps uniquely Worcester options for newcomers to explore.
I have never lived anywhere else where I could watch wrestling live, and it’s all thanks to Wrestling at the White Eagle (116-120 Green Street). Every Thursday night at 8pm, any interested parties can see wrestlers from all over New England duke it out with impunity.
If you’re jonesing for old school vibes and 90s era arcades, do not miss out on Materia Machina (116a June Street). The owners are a dedicated duo, looking to bring the same joy of coin-operated games to the residents of Worcester. But wait, there’s more. Just a couple of doors down, its sister business, a budding ‘video store’ and event place is shaping up to be a hub for local news, and local politics.
If you’re a cinephile, you will do well to explore the Elm Draught House Cinema (35 Elm St., Millbury). It is a small but hearty presence, with the goal of keeping art house movies alive and on the big screen.
Last, but certainly not least, if you’ve ever thought you might write the great American novel, give the Worcester Writers’ Collective (20 Franklin Street at the JMAC) a chance. Their weekly Tuesday night meetings include a small but plucky band of artists, writers, and thespians looking to be a part of your journey.
So there it is, the Worcester of 2023. It will surely change and be changed by countless forces, and congratulations again on being part of our history and part of that change.
Stepping into Crose Nest Apothecary’s newly opened tea lounge- Evergreen Room, I felt the buzz of a kid in a candy store. The intimate space seemed to whisk my friend and I out of Hudson, MA and into the lo-fi beat videos that have dominated Youtube’ study-music niche: a vintage anime world with an aesthetic that’s eclectic, yet cozy and balanced. This is not the musing of a millennial on psychedelics—if you lost me at “lo-fi”, just picture a trendy, big little business with authority in its realm.
While Evergreen Room’s tea selection is intimidating for an apothecary novice, the staff is accommodating in helping you discover your new favorite herbs. The cocktail program is an extension of that, with description of the key herbs used in each beverage and their intended effects. I ordered the ‘Stay Gold’, a cocktail with a turmeric & spice infused rum, featuring birch beer, maple, lime, and mint, finished with a lemongrass stirrer. Stay Gold’s intentions are listed as: “soothe, cool, ground”. You will not find a better reading from an oracle, so don’t even try.
Prior to opening, their instagram profile seduced us with images of poached pear desserts, sourdough loaves from heaven, and graze boards with accoutrements that put other boards to shame. My friend demanded we go together for an all-out feast, but we couldn’t make it past the Evergreen Board. The board’s description cautions a serving for 2-4 people, but hubris told us to accept that challenge, and it was so worth the defeat. For those chasing the “perfect bite” in a meal, this board offered us many: mushroom pâté, pickled kumquat, sugared blood orange, artisanal cheeses, jams, pistachio and swiss chard pesto (and more)- all served with fresh bread and crisps. It was an indulgent observance of exquisite flavor. We sat there, on the best friend date ever, stuffed past capacity.
I impulsively marched to the counter to purchase two prix fixe tickets for their 4 course Lovebirds offering the same night, as if I hadn’t already lived like a king for the day. I was love drunk off of my wholesome meal and I wanted my partner to experience this. Budget be damned, I returned to Worcester to spread the gospel to my valentine. I barely digested the first meal before being ushered out of our house to return. The second drive to Hudson didn’t even matter.
The prix fixe was an amusement park for the senses. We cozied up on the couch with four courses of tea, merriment, and even a surprise aphrodisiac-herbed cotton candy stick served with a parsnip puree. Then, I reveled in my second (considerably smaller) Evergreen Board of the day. Our main dish selections were braised short rib, or a mountain of mushrooms, both rosemary scented- including beet parsnip puree, artichokes, and a pomegranate/schisandra reduction. We spooned a wall of lavender meringue out of their Mai Tai, aptly named, “Put a Spell on You”. My partner was in awe, from the bartender’s presentation to his flawless execution.
Owner Kinsey Rosene is the ‘head witch in charge’ (sorry, Kinsey) of this sorcery. She’s been sharing her style and holistic expertise through Crose Nest for seven years. Despite all of her team’s creativity, she’s crafted a humble space for anyone to expand their knowledge on herbs and cuisine. While the apothecary itself is worth a trip to Hudson, Evergreen Room deserves celebration. You may not have the same cult-like reaction as I did, but I assure you that the tea lounge is a fantastic date spot for friends, self, and lovers alike. It’s Kinsey’s gift to us all (but mostly me)!
The idea for this month’s column came to me while at a dispensary here in the city. I overheard a fellow customer talking about how Twitter will soon let cannabis advertising on their site. The budtender then retorted that they were aware of their company’s role as a major sponsor of another prominent neighborhood business. I feel like I’m not at liberty to mention the specifics of said sponsorship in this forum, but I will say it’s the first of its kind in our area. However, this raises the questions of how much sponsorship is appropriate and how well-prepared should we be for the onslaught of advertisements that are about to bombard our eyeballs?
It took Massachusetts less than a year to get from $3B to $4B in cannabis sales. The state had over 70 cannabis stores openings and the start of 3 courier services and 4 marijuana delivery businesses in 2022, resulting in over $1.4B sales. All this money and competition means that these organizations need to advertise and promote everywhere they can. I get it. And truthfully, I’m cool with billboards and I’m definitely a fan of the advertisements in wonderful magazines like the one you’re reading. The industry has long battled the restrictions put on them on where and what they can spend their money on. Even on the new, cash-hungry version of Twitter, cannabis companies can basically just announce that they exist. They can’t include any specific strains or available items, and there can’t be anything that could be misconstrued by an underage audience. With ad targeting becoming stronger and stronger, we should expect more of the social media blast. The permeation of the spaces and places where we go to escape being sold to, but instead are accosted by flashy lights and gotcha attention grabbers.
What I find especially interesting is that sales data from last year also showed that the state is generating more tax revenue from cannabis than alcohol for the first time. The biggest advertising day of the year was a week ago at the time of writing this. We saw ads from Budweiser, Crown Royal, Heineken and a bunch of other alcohol-based brands. And though we were not allowed to see the ad that Snoop Dogg wanted to air, I feel like it’s really only a matter of time before the Super Bowl is inundated with advertising littered with weed brands. It will also probably be one of those weird subversions of expectation ads where at first glance it looks like it’s a furniture commercial, but it ends up being about weed. Maybe Twitter can lead in this space as well and lift some of the restrictions for their advertisers.
Ultimately, what I’d really like to see happen is more investing in the community from these companies. I get excited about creative companies that are finding ways of supporting music, arts, and culture. Whether it’s as simple as being a presenting sponsor for a cultural event or continuing to spend money with local media companies, every bit helps maintain what we have while destigmatizing the industry.
I’m not suggesting that every venue should have a presenting sponsor, but if they could identify cannabis funding sources, they could end up with a lot of money to enhance their budgets, the stage setup, the lighting, and whatever else could be improved. The same defense may be made for any group of artists, craftspeople, or anybody else working in the community on projects that aren’t just for kids. These companies have money, and they want to support the community. Make it happen.
Nominated by the Pulse Magazine Staff Written by Irena Kaçi
Worcester, like all cities, is a veritable hub of talent and ambition. I had the chance to chat with some of them to talk about where they have been and where they are going. Here is a list of those who are crackling and popping around town and are looking to take this next year by storm.
Giuliano D’Orazio, Musician.
Worcester’s answer to Bruce Springsteen, D’Orazio moved to Worcester in 1999 and went through the public school system. He graduated Burncoat High in 2010, and feels well rooted in our fair city. D’Orazio attended Berklee College of Music and then moved promptly back to his adopted hometown.
D’Orazio is a proud multi-hyphenate, writing, performing, recording and producing his own music. He is passionate not just about his creative process but also about how it aligns with his values and priorities.
“As a gay artist, a major part of my mission is to present an example for young LGBTQ+ kids out there who may not see a wide variety of queer identities represented in mainstream media. When I was young, I was obsessed with classic rock and roll (and still am). I struggled to find role queer models like Bowie and Freddy Mercury in the here and now — especially locally. My identity takes center stage in my music because I wish I saw someone doing that in Worcester’s local music scene when I was starting out. I don’t think queer artistic expression should be expected to stay in our accepted “lanes”. We’re everywhere.”
“I try to avoid pouring my energy into anything that lacks passion. I feel very grateful to say that, and I recognize the privilege, in that not everyone has the support or ability to build a career that is so passion-driven. Still, it’s a ton of work filled with plenty of thankless, unseen, unpaid hours of labor, not everyone has that kind of commitment.”
Looking forward to in 2023:
“The funny thing about writing really personal music is that it shows you how un-personal a lot of it is, in that, no matter how lonely or unique your experience might seem, there are others who have experienced something similar and are willing to listen and unpack those problems together — whether its through deep conversations or simply a really fun, cathartic musical performance where both the people on stage and in the audience can get a lot of junk out of their systems. I think that’s my favorite part of my job, and I look forward to exploring that in new ways.
Lukas Therien, Tattoo Artist.
Therien was born and raised in Worcester and has town pride in spades. In fact, one of his side hustles includes making things for Worcester Wares. He prides himself in being able to help make the world and the people in it ‘more beautiful’. “Mostly, I just wanna make things that look cool. As a tattoo artist, you’re altering not only someone’s image, but also someone’s self esteem. If I can help someone look in the mirror and like what they see just a little bit more, I’ve done my job.”
Over the past year, Therien’s favorite event was a solo show at Electric Haze, set up by Chris Michelotti. “As someone who started out in the community as more of a traditional artist before making the transition to tattooing, it’s been a side goal of mine to merge these two scenes. I would love to see more tattooers getting involved in the local art scene and showcasing some of the incredible talent that’s in the local tattoo world right now.”
Looking forward to in 2023:
Because his interest in art and artistic expression is vast, Therien is interested in setting up more collaborative art events in the coming year. Collaborating with local creatives on both artwork and events. I’m not a great “planner” so just really taking any opportunities that come by me and continuing to cultivate relationships with local artists and seeing what comes out of it.
Claudio Eshun, a.k.a Don Claude, Photographer
Eshun or Don Claude was born in Accra, Ghana but grew up in Vicenza, Italy until the age of 9. In 2006, after only a couple of trial visits, Eshun and his small family moved to the United States. “The opportunity to travel to 3 continents, live in an under-resourced community, and endure traumatic immigration experiences as an African immigrant with a single mother all influenced my rigorous creative practice. My family history and its reclamation of a new home, positions me and them within a context where the construction and deconstruction of identities and tensions that occur as a result of adaptation, assimilation and our attempts to accustom ourselves with the notion of alienation has had a profound impact on my work.”
Don Claude has the ability to incorporate the competing visual languages in his photographs, using them to reflect and reimagine scenes from his own personal history. “I see images from Ghana and Italy and more recently from America. I incorporate all these visual languages into the images I create. As a once-stateless person who had to learn how to navigate institutions, cultures and languages, my work merges my distinct identities as an African, black, hypervisible, and invisible man in America. Performance, gesture, and costume allow me to conjure the people and places of my life. The tableaux I create provide a stage to elicit emotional registers of individual experience and the specific concerns of black individuals from a multiplicity of backgrounds. In creating these images, I am in conversation with my family and friends – I listen closely to stories about their experiences and lives that both overlap with and differ from my own – I am asked to challenge yet be sensitive to, the stereotypes in Western, African and afro-descendant portraiture. By assembling photographs of family and friends — found, collected, and made — I explore my multiple pasts and possibilities for the future.”
“Starting a dromo, an annual zine publication, I started back in graduate school where I was focusing on first-generation immigrants and independent artists. As a Ghanaian who speaks GA, I try to stay rooted in where I come from. The word “dromo” means grace. We sold out the first edition and I am excited and proud to continue to work on the next 5 editions. The second one is 80% done. I share this because I share dromo with mom, who came up with the title. My aunts hares her opinions on what will resonate with her as GA raised child in Ghana. My friends and artists provide their ideas, making the work with me, purchasing a copy, and promoting it on social media, it’s a community project.”
Looking forward to in 2023:
“Since I am bringing more play into my work by experimenting and breaking away from traditional inkjet printing, I’d like to do more screen printing on various African fabrics and materials shipped from my family in Ghana, riso work, digital negatives thinking of translation, and 4×5 wet plates as a time-sensitive practice in relation to what is present and lost. All these lead to attempting to place vinyl prints around the city of Worcester to bring the art to the community rather than having my work solely in a museum or acquired by private collectors.”
Christian Bachez,Digital Artist
Bachez arrived in Worcester in 2019 when he started attending the College of the Holy Cross. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great time to start college. After being sent back to his home in New York City to continue school remotely, Bachez began taking an interest in the city he had left behind. Thanks to a mural tour organized by Worcester Walls, Bachez researched local artists and murals in Worcester. His research and communications with local artists led to the “Who Is Worcester?” project and the rest just, in classic Worcester fashion, snowballed.
“During 2020, I became quite politically active and realized that there are many inequalities in our world that needed to be addressed. I saw a lot of wheatpastes going up in New York that revolved around these very issues that were important to me. I had recognized the power that art had to be an impactful political statement by itself. Although much of my work is not overtly political, it takes into account political issues that are important to me within the creation, composition, etc. When it comes to murals, I like to research the history of the location where I will paint and I thinkabout the best way to reach the people who are going to see the mural every day. I also tend to work with groups and organizations that do good for the community in one way or another.”
“One passion project that I’m super proud of is my mural at El Buen Samaritano. It was originally slated to be a part of a bigger project, but after things fell through about two weeks before it was supposed to be painted, I decided to just go for it. The design and location were super important to me for a number of personal reasons and there was a lot of passion that went into painting that. It was a really fun experience and I love seeing members of the community appreciate it, take pictures with it and send it to me on their social media pages!”
Looking forward to in 2023:
“I am looking forward to creating more art in general. I have been involved in six different research projects in six different departments. They include researching old Latin American films, pigeons in an Avian Lab, and the Nipmuc Nation and its presence at Pakachoag Hill. After graduating from Holy Cross, I plan on taking a gap year to focus on art which will include having a consistent studio practice where I can seek out more opportunities around the US and paint more murals!”
Domenica PerroneActivist/Community Organizer
Perrone moved to Worcester when she enrolled at Clark Universe as a graduate student. While at Clark, she worked as a program evaluator for youth programming at the Latino Education Institute at Worcester State, and was affiliated with the Collaborative for Youth and Community Justice.
She is most proud of her work in the Department of Health and Human Services, in particular of the youth led vaccination campaign #postVaxLife. “I got the opportunity to work with some of my favorite people: youth, creatives, and researchers (from UMass Chan Medical School’s Prevention Research Center) to create a public health campaign to inform young people in Worcester about the Covid-19 vaccine. I am proud of this work, in part because it was youth-led and centered, while also uplifting the creative work of our City’s incredibly talented artists (shout out to Worcester photographer George Annan and Worcester videographer Fernando Ponce). It demonstrated that collaboration between public and private sectors, government and universities, youth and adults can all come together to create something really awesome and exciting! (It also became a state-wide model for this kind of work!)” Perhaps less work-related, Perrone is also a proud paw-rent to her Australian Shepherd Elsa.
Looking forward to in 2023:
Deeply connected to the city as an Ecuadorian immigrant and an activist, Perrone is running for Worcester City Councilor At Large in order to continue her mission in public service. “I love how Worcester is full of community organizers, grassroots leaders, and mobilized groups that are invested in a culturally diverse, equitable, vibrant City. I have spent a lifetime in public service advocating and working hard to ensure all of our City’s families, youth and children have equitable access to the resources they need to have a happy and healthy life.”
Mark Borenstein, Attorney
Born and raised right here in Worcester, Borenstein is a 3rd generation Worcesterite and a very proud one. He studied his undergrad in UMASS Amherst, and went to law school in Springfield. Being away from home helped Borenstein see his hometown in a whole new light, and appreciate Worcester’s journey from a gateway city into a destination city. “I moved back to Worcester in 2014 and that was really the beginning of Worcester’s renaissance. It was a really exciting time to begin a law career.” Borenstein’s focus is real estate law and he’s been instrumental to the aforementioned renaissance. “I constantly think about how my work can help improve Worcester. I help developers bring new opportunities –commercial or private –into the city. I bring the home grown vibe; I understand the city and the neighborhood. I appreciate the tension between the communities that are deeply rooted in the city and the new development so I work hard to be hypersensitive to that and proceed with the understanding that Worcester’s greatest asset are its people.”
“I’m really proud of helping with (formerly) POW WOW Worcester, now Worcester Walls. I joined that committee in the second year and we really helped that grassroots organization expand its reach. There was a lot of legal work that needed to be done in order to take it to the next level. I helped draw up contracts with artists, and getting permits for equipment. It was a great opportunity to do something community focused, and I am very proud of having helped with it. I was in what they called the #nofuncommittee but it was fun for me.”
Looking forward to in 2023:
“I would love to continue doing more of the same and continuing to expand Worcester to reach its potential.”
Ulysses Youngblood, Mogul
Youngblood moved to Worcester from Bridgeport, CT in 2006, as a first year college student at Assumption. “During that time I got in trouble at Assumption for something marijuana related, and then got into a dispute with the local police. I was a victim of police brutality and moved back home instead to finish college.” Youngblood got his undergraduate degree, and then went for his MBA at Northeastern in Boston. During his graduate degree, he began living in Worcester again. “Worcester has been my home for over 8 years now. I think going back to that incident, it was a lot of learning about who I was. I did not want to let something like that define my life. I figured it was, instead, a lesson that I could learn.” Youngblood started his own company and his business Major Bloom, a truly local dispensary, in 2016, and teaches part time at Clark University.
“I am a dad to two boys, and I’m really proud that I am able to have open and honest conversations with them about what I do. We talk about it in age appropriate ways of course, and they’re not allowed in the store, but it’s important to me to have that open dialogue with them about marijuana. Regarding my business, I’m proud that we have home delivery. We deliver people their orders for free. It’s a nice service.”
Looking forward to in 2023:
I am looking forward to learning more about the product and continuing to make it accessible for everyone. We just got our community host agreement, so I’m looking forward to putting it to good use.”
Christopher Ly, Business Owner
Christopher Ly moved to Worcester 10 years ago and developed an interest in the old mill buildings, for which Worcester is rather famous. “I stayed and started to build Wooden Noodles, among other various projects. Work weaves pretty intimately with my values. The culture we have set at Wooden Bar is carefully cultivated and curated. We’ve always cared for what we were putting out into the world and how it would affect things. We tried to take feedback and make adjustments every time. How we treat each other and our workers is a constant practice of communication and we try to adapt to the dynamic problems that come our way. We try to have fun learning, and when it’s not fun, we push through and learn from that too.”
“Wooden Bar is the obvious passion project that has had the most traction so far. But we are only where we are because our friends and community trusted us to do so. Although we are trying to provide a space that adds our particular flavor of carpentry and cuisine to Worcester, we are heavily influenced and straight up carried along by the people around us. I’m proud of our choices and we hope that our compass for business and commerce stays true through the years.”
Looking forward to in 2023:
We look forward to doing more carpentry.. which will in part tie into Wooden Bar. We plan to do more timber framing (how we met and bonded). We also have built a few wooden saunas, steam baths, and hot tubs throughout the years. Although I am focusing on food and drink right now, I hope to also shift my attention towards bath culture and the very idea of quality leisure if the future permits. Worcester works hard, it deserves a way to deal with the aches and pains of the day too. A healthy idea of leisure lets us work harder and fuller, all the while not becoming so one dimensionally focused on production and numbers
Spencer Mewherter, Business Owner
Mewherter moved to Worcester about a decade ago, as many have, in pursuit of a college degree, but he stayed for the interesting community projects. Inspired by projects like Woodaddy Waffles and Duck Yao, Mewherter and his friend Chirstopher Ly, joined forces to create Wooden Bar. “Those places showed us the possibility of creating fun and exciting food in the city.”
“Wooden Bar is a pretty active and exciting project, it’s been great being able to work with our excellent team.”
Looking forward to in 2021:
“As our business hopefully grows and expands I’m looking forward to collaborating more and adding more special events. We’ve already hosted popups with the amazing chefs at damgeuda and it’s been a pleasure to be a small part of bringing their food to Worcester.”
Xaulanda Thorpe, Poet
Thorpe moved from bustling Dorchester, to a quiet Worcester suburb when she was 13 years old, and even though it was a bit of an adjustment, she took to it and now feels that Worcester is very much her home. Her love for the written word took root here and it continues to grow. “At the heart of all the things I do, is a love of sharing. I strive to put out into the world the things that are important to me, that spark conversation and bring people together.”
“I am always so excited to talk about the Worcester Black History Project and all the work that we do. I’ve been a member for two years, and the WBHP connected me to Worcester in ways I didn’t know possible. The individuals I met, and the things wouldn’t have happened without the WBHP.”
Looking forward to in 2023:
“I am looking forward to more poetry shows. I hope to do more shows in Worcester, of course, but also branch out and work with artists in different cities or even different states.”
Rebekah Etique, Paralegal, Aspiring Documentarian
Rebekah was raised in Waterbury, CT and moved to Worcester, MA in 2017, after she was accepted at Clark University. She studied Community, Youth Education Studies as well as Political Science American Government. I graduated cum laude and with a published praxis thesis. During her secondary schooling, Etique experienced a variety of educational approaches, which led to her interest in law and public policy, with a focus on education.
“Being campaign manager of James Amorello’s State Senate campaign in the new Worcester and Hampshire District was an invaluable experience; it allowed
me to analyze the policies inherently effective to our people. Amorello received a 46% share of the votes, representing an excellent showing for a first-time candidate against a 20-year incumbent, and that is something of which I am very proud.”
Looking Forward to in 2023:
“My praxis thesis, published online in 2021, focuses on an element of inequality in our education system. The two years I spent between researching and interviewing various communities on the matter gave inspiration to my current project. I am now in the developmental stages of launching research for a documentary which will focus on the present education policies damaging
student’s learning process. It’s something that I have been wanting to invest myself in for about five years now and I’m thrilled to finally have the resources and full capability to dive in.”
Sha-Asia Medina, Organizer at The Village
Medina grew up in Worcester’s Bell Hill neighborhood and was a ‘Village Baby”. “I had many extended aunts, uncles, and community members who all contributed in big and small ways to my understanding of who I am and what my role in the world is.” After graduating from Worcester Tech, Medina studied at Bucknell University as a Posse scholar, but even while away, she knew she wanted to come back home and reinvest in her hometown. “My upbringing instilled in me the importance of knowing my history and culture, advancing
racial and social justice, and striving to come from a place of love when interacting with others. The work that I do with OurStory Edutainment and The Village Worcester strives to teach folks about true Black history and culture, create a safe space for those who descend from enslaved people in this country to be acknowledged and affirmed, ensure that folks have the tools they need to be firm and confident advocates for racial equity and social justice, and lastly, bringing healing and positive vibrations and intentions to any space we step in.”
“I am incredibly proud that myself and a team of folks were able to reclaim, rehabilitate,and reimagine a purpose for 4 King Street. We worked hard for 7 months to re-establish relationships with neighbors and community members, repair damages to the building, and finally open our doors to the community. Since opening, we have created magic in the space and are proud to support 11 different grassroots & non-profit organizations on a daily basis. I have been most proud of our Afrocentric Saturday School program that taught children ages 7 to 13 Black history starting in precolonial Afrika and ending with contemporary events like the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbury and too many other Black folks at the hands of the police/racial hatred.”
Looking forward to in 2023:
“I would love to provide opportunities for community members to both see the
beauty in their own city and explore the work being done in surrounding areas to preserve the history and culture of Black people. In addition, I am looking forward to creating more opportunities for folks to engage with cultural history and racial/social justice at the intersection of art, music, dance, poetry etc.”
Laura Martinez, Consultant
An immigrant from the DR, Martinez learned firsthand the importance of community and helping the most vulnerable in our society. “I went to public school while learning English as a second language (ELL), and speaking Spanish in the early 1990s was not well received. I had some very difficult challenges navigating systems, but I also knew that the local neighborhood around me and the Worcester community as a whole always provided me with resources, safety, and a sense of belonging. Because of my lived experiences, my values and priorities live within me. My values as a human have led me to confidently express concerns and voice inequities within my community. So I left my 10-year career in the auto industry to pursue health equity work. In 2019, I launched my own company, Mart Consulting LLC. The organization is a public health consulting firm that works with health, government, and human services agencies to make transformative strategies and models that lead to systemic change.”
“The Training Institute is the project I’m most proud of from all the ones I’ve been able to work on. These workshops against racism are part of an ongoing project that brings together well-known people from Worcester. As a facilitator, this project gives me the chance to help people learn more about how to get rid of racism at its roots by pushing them to the edge of what they know.”
Looking Forward to in 2023:
“I will be graduating from Georgetown University the week before I turn 40 in May ‘23. Mart Consulting’s goals are organizational development, financial justice, building coalitions, making policy strategies, diversity, equity, and inclusion. My hope for the future is to someday bring these services on a federal and international level.”
Emmanuel Qlynton Carboo, Artist,Fashion Designer
Born and raised in Accra, Ghana, Carboo immigrated to the US by way of NYC, where he lived for almost three years. “t was a hustling lifestyle where having a regular job wasn’t enough to fulfill my goals and future dreams. Therefore, I started trading shoes, buying sneakers off cheap sellers, repurpose them or customize them in my own way. This experience taught me to always look good for trust and understanding the current era we live in, because people go by looks first then listen to what you have to say.” Carboo moved to Worcester in 2015 and worked as a cashier at Lowe’s. “I used to draw cars, outfits, shoes, etc. on receipts customers would leave behind. One of the customers saw my art and he invited me to one of Worcester’s Fashion Shows where it inspired me to do totally the opposite and that’s when everything started, in 2016 I established my brand “Wavvznewage”
“Create your own Vibe was one of the projects I was proud of because that really unified a lot of the youth with fashion, modeling , music and art . Before and after the pandemic, we held a Model casting with the help of Jaribel Carela who is my fiancé. stART on the street was a wonderful experience where Jaribel and I with the collaboration of the creative hub Worcester were able to set up a start-up for sewing workshops and teaching kids and adults how to make tote bags .”
Looking Forward to in 2023:
“While uplifting the next generation with my events and projects, I would love to have a Worcester fashion week just to bring more attention to Worcester to enlighten the fact that there are more talented and hardworking artists in the city. After being in multiple fashion shows and weeks, I believe we can hold our fashion shows with the help of the city.”
“I’ve always heard if you’re good at something, focus on it,” Joe Haddad, owner of Haddad Enterprises tells me. Haddad started out five years ago with a pickup truck, mowing lawns on his own. “It transpired into sending crews out to mow the lawns, then we got into the construction aspect of things with walkways and walls.” Haddad added commercial plowing as well as commercial and residential dumpsters to the company too. A savvy business owner who rolls up his sleeves and gets the job done, Haddad is definitely on his way to to the top.
Some of my proudest moments from this year have to be supporting the community. After five years in business it’s great to be on the other end and be able to help others whenever we can. Getting involved and giving back is part of our core values.
Looking forward to:
The transformation the city has experienced in recent years is astonishing and we couldn’t be happier to be a part of it. We love, live and want to grow with Worcester.