New Writer Welcome: Erick Sierra

Please join the COA family in welcoming our newest writer, Erick Sierra! Erick’s bio is available on our ‘Our Roots‘ authors page.

In what part of New York City did you grow up?
I grew up in the fascinating Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg. As I will explore in a piece on COA, the neighborhood transformed from a multi-ethnic working class haven into the global polestar of hipster cool. It was fascinating to experience the whole transition and to feel myself transforming along with the neighborhood. In many ways, I feel like some sort of embodied version of Willy-B, as it now teems with hipsters yet is still dotted throughout with Puerto Ricans—undying pulses of a former life.

Were you a nerd, jock, smoking-in-the-boys-room, or N/A in high school; and followup,
which would you have been in hindsight?
It’s interesting how this question connects to the first question. I was in high school in Williamsburg as the neighborhood was transforming. But I was also hanging out a lot with my homeboys in Greenwich Village (shout to Galex!), where I worked throughout my sophomore year at a Ben & Jerry’s on 6th Avenue. The Village was black, Puerto Rican, white; gay, straight, bi; sartorially and artistically explosive; a place where writers from the 60s (now much older) sat side-by-side Warhol at the café. This exhilarating eclecticism left its mark on me and my friends.

What inspired you to share your stories on the COA blog?
One thing the artist does is observe, and one thing we go to art for is observation—to observe the world through another’s eyes and, in the best of instances, to discover it there anew. As I explored the blog, it seemed to me a place filled with fascinating observations. I love to travel—in a very real way, I live to travel—and the blog seemed a wunderkammer of objects and places from across the US. My notebook is filled with such kinds of observations, and I wanted a place to share them.

Deep dish or thin crust? Be honest…
Deep dish and thin crust came together to make a baby: the Sicilian. Now that’s what
I’m talking about.

Erick Sierra. Click for author page.

Erick Sierra, seen here on the streets of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The Congress Hotel and the Longest Strike Ever

It didn’t happen with much fanfare, but evidently the strike at the (historic) Congress Hotel in Chicago ended last May.

For those not in-the-know, Congress Hotel employees walked off the job (supported by the Unite Here Local no. 1 union) in June 2003 demanding better working conditions and had picketed the hotel ever since. It was historic for reasons greater than duration, having boasted a then-Senator Barack Obama among its picket line back in 2007. The President-elect made his victory speech across the street at Grant Park in 2008.

This is an area notorious for unrest and protest. Less than two blocks south of the hotel was the heart of the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots, where then Mayor Richard J. Daley assured stunned viewers that the police were ‘not there to create disorder’. Whichever way you fall on those riots, it remains a shocking visage.

According to our bartender at the Congress Lounge (in the hotel), the union president and hotel president gifted an end to the strike to each other as retirement sendoff. The agreement allowed all those who had struck on Fathers Day 2003 to come back to their original positions some ten years later. Time Magazine tells a different story of the end of the strike, and the truth is probably somewhere in between the two iterations. We were told that the giant inflatable rat (and a whole family of other rats) appeared regularly on Labor Day.

Only a half dozen or so workers didn’t cross the picket lines but came back when the strike ended. Many of the 130 workers had come back or moved on a long time ago. Of the handful that came back after the strike ended, not many lasted more than a few weeks. At a month post-strike it was down to two. Then one.

But I can happily report that the one employee still cashes Congress Hotel paychecks here in late 2014. He’s a waiter named Martín (Mar-TEEN). He works breakfast. Ask for him and tip him well. He’s been waiting a long time for those tips. And if you get the chance, ask him what he’s been up to for the last decade. I’m sure it’s quite the story.


The hammered copper bar shines at the Congress Lounge. Click to view and follow us on Instagram.

The hammered copper bar shines at the Congress Lounge. Click to view and follow us on Instagram.