Gallery 263 | Ideas for a CambridgePORT Event

The Sirocco Fab 5 is still working on a series of articles on Cambridgeport and the story line is quite simple: our winding journey from the base of Magazine Street at the Charles River, up to Central Square. The base of Magazine Street features the original magazine where artillery and gunpowder was stored.

If we’ve understood the narrative correctly (more research coming), that original magazine—an important storage facility for the war of 1812—was actually accessed by bridge only. Magazine Beach was also accessed by bridge and, as one looks towards Back Bay at the bend in the river, the entire area on the Cambridge side, close to the magazine was marsh.

After aggressive river cleaning efforts, Magazine Beach is once again a popular summer hangout.


On a unseasonably warm February afternoon we tried to purposefully get lost in the neighborhood, moving from the base up in search of our next story (actually, we have built study abroad programs around this activity), Jacob, SB lead facilitator, stumbled across a very interesting local art gallery, Gallery 263.

We continued on to a bodega on Brookline Street (it feels like one of the porthole-vortexes in a Daniel José Older novel), while Jacob mused the edifice.


Gallery 263: if it were a café, we’d be there daily, writing and doing word-image projects. Two beautiful windows look out onto Putnam Ave, one of the most traversed streets of Cambridgeport, moving across Pearl, Brookline, Magazine, Western, and River streets. It runs parallel to Memorial Drive in some areas, depending on the river bends. Yet this corner feels like the crossroads where the most local of local activities and artistic searches—the changes in the pulse of the neighborhood—must be somehow registered. Despite development in Cambrideport, this particular part of the neighborhood seems to scream for the past to join it and so Jacob entered, not sure what he was getting himself into, perhaps feeling a bit like Riley (it’s an Older thing).

As our founder gazed at one particularly Sirocco-esque image by (we pledge to return and find the artist’s name on our next visit), the planners for the annual Magazine Beach events strolled in. When Jacob heard one of the planner-participants talking about the use of small liquor bottles left on the street and around the old magazine to mix paint for artwork, he was hooked. Once again, Sirocco Blue found itself at a pivotal joining that connected gallery space and community events.

As the ideas were shared for summer programming (some sounding quite lavish, like Great Neck, Long Island nestling itself into the grassy knoll of the Charles), Jacob’s mind raced and, post-meeting, he shared what the Fab 5 saw last summer at Magazine Beach: kids running from the pool area to the beach; the delightful sound of Spanish, Portuguese, and Crioulo; classic Cumbia, Salsa and Merengue blasting on boom boxes; the wonderful smell of good home-cooked food, recipes hailing from Ponce, Kingston, Port-au-Prince, Puebla, Fogo, Bani, and Medellín… That is our perspective on an “audience” for a community event and the groups of people we think of building around, mostly because that way of enjoying the magazine seems so natural and those families will already be part of the celebration with or without an event.

And thus the paradigm emerges, one that we will be exploring as the summer programming for Magazine Beach and public activities in Cambridgeport are mused:

Especially in the context of an expansive gentrification process—and one which reaches into the past, seen clearly in restorative techniques on the beautiful homes, images below—how do organizers build with the people who have been using and continue to use the neighborhood’s public parks and facilities? If Magazine Beach is so used—a July and August Sunday is already an event in its own right if you find a way to enhance it—what becomes of the people who use it when an event comes through? How do you build programming around the majority of the people who use the space, though from an outsider perspective as a newcomer to the area, described?

And then rushing through the porthole, certainly because World Music is hosting an incredible Flamenco series in March, came the Radio Tarifa album concept (basically, an imaginary radio station positioned between North Africa and Spain, pulling in sound from all traditions) and the idea: Let the families who are always using the beach curate their own hybrid ‘Cambridgeport Station’ that begins at Gallery 263 as a series of visual declarations—accompanied by music—made by kids, parents, families, visitors. Call the radio station CambridgePORT. The families curate the music played for all, each family bringing their own boom box (and one guaranteed boom box already set up at the beach). If they want to bring in music groups, wonderful. If they want to bring in dance, even more wonderful. If they just want to share their radio dial, perfect. If Izzy’s, Dimitrio’s, Andala, Cesaria’s, and other venues want to join, give them the info! In that way, everyone’s sound contributes to the day and you build around the way people use the beach each weekend.

Gathering at Gallery 263 to create together. A parade to the beach, starting at Gallery 263, accompanied by boom boxes. Food. And as El Gran Combo would say, no hay ma’ na’: bien sencillito.



Celebrating Brazilian Scholars in the U.S. | BRASCON Conference at Harvard

On July 25th 2011, President Dilma Rousseff’s announcement echoed through the world and was translated into one hundred languages by the break of dawn: Brazil would soon begin sending 101,000 students overseas to study science, technology, and engineering, among other fields. It was called Ciência sem Fronteiras or ‘Science Without Borders’—a bold way of developing the nation’s most talented students, across all borders. Overnight, new ETS sites (the test centers where English proficiency exams are offered) had to be built and, to accommodate the demand, testing services had to be offered even in neighboring Argentina. GOL and TAM reservation systems shut down. Car rentals so Brazilian nationals could take the exam in neighboring countries tripled. This would be one of the largest education development and mobility projects in the history of our planet.

12710819_621128764707381_7365052457585187353_oFive years later, BRASCON—a network of Brazilian graduate students carrying out their degree and research programs primarily in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—has organized a wonderful event to celebrate the stories and achievements of some of Brazil’s most talented scholars doing their graduate studies here in the United States. Meet the organizers and several of the participants:

The conference will also feature guest speakers based out of Brazil and the U.S. and will be held at Harvard University on March 12th and 13th (Saturday & Sunday). Registration is required and available online.

The Sirocco Blue team is looking forward to this event especially having worked so closely with the Ciência sem Fronteiras program and the incredible scholars here in the United States!

Cuban Rumba & Salsa Coming Saturday—Boston te espera, Pedrito!

The Pedrito Martínez Group, without a doubt the top Cuban Rumba band we’ve seen in the U.S., will be in the Boston area at Johnny D’s (tickets and address info below) this Saturday, February 27th.

We first saw Pedrito perform at Yale University to honor the great Art Historian and Philosopher, Robert Farris Thompson. That was just after he arrived in New York, around 2009. Later, we’d find him regularly on 8th Avenue in midtown Manhattan, blowing people away each time he took the stand.

On numerous occasions, most recently, we heard Pedrito and his group at SubRosa taking the Afro-Cuban Rumba tradition into new domains, crossing with Salsa and Funk and, at times the group even sounded like Samba de Roda. It’s Guaguancó, Columbia, Yambú, Cuban Salsa, all of it mixed together, and much more:

Expect an incredible night at Johnny D’s from the group that continues to carry the Cuban Rumba forward into new spaces. If you like heavy, percussion-driven music, the sound of Cuba, definitely do not miss this show.

This is not what you will hear at Johnny D’s, but here is an hour-long concert that gives a good sense of Pedrito Martínez’s versatility as a musician:

To bring this deeper into the Sirocco, here Pedrito sings and plays in honor of the great Flamenco singer, Camarón de la Isla:

Tickets info through Johnny D’s (this venue is located just outside of Cambridge):

Saturday, February 27, first set at 7:30 pm, second set at 10:00 pm
Johnny D’s | 17 Holland St., Davis Square, Somerville
Guaranteed seating with dinner reservation
$28 General admission, 21+

For tickets you can contact World Music:
Call 617-876-4275 | Mon.-Fri., 10am-5pm EST

New Content Editing Project!

Though we have taken on numerous content editing projects over the past seven years, the team is excited to announce it’s first project under the new Sirocco Blue name. Dr. Yaser Robles has sought out our feedback on his autobiographical piece under the themes of home, belonging, and identity.

Part of Robles’s topic was covered in the UUP-Oneonta Local 2190 journal article by Dr. Rob Compton. Robles’s work in progress contextualizes his experience growing up in Honduras and South Bronx and incorporates Jonathan Kozol’s writing, the construction of the Cross Bronx highway, and lived experience in multiple public schools. The young scholar describes his mother’s story of crossing the U.S. border, the opportunities that opened for the family, and he explores education as an anchor that allowed his family to make enormous strides forward while outlining some of the challenges they faced moving through multiple neighborhoods of South Bronx.

Our first reading connects to translation theory and for this, we turn to Dr. Mazen Naous, the first scholar (at least writing in English) to look, literally and poetically, at ‘equivalent’ words for ‘translation’ in Arabic: tarjama.

diss title

In his dissertation project, Professor Naous shows how translation (tarjama), in an Arabic language context, implies biography, autobiography. Relevant to Robles’s work, the telling of one’s story (one’s own and one’s family story) is an activity that involves tarjama as the essence of the self is carried across into language. Sharing one’s life history is an act of translation, in other words as is the rendering of that experience into a written account. In that way, Robles journeys into family stories and impressions on South Bronx, a merging of voices and biographies that resembles a kind of translation montage (literally, in Spanish and English, and metaphorically in the Arabic sense of the word tarjama, or translation). Naous writes:



Thus, our first general feedback as content editors pins on voice: if an essay is to explore home, belonging, and identity, why is the act of telling—translation/tarjama—not the “theory”? Can telling be the “home” that Robles explores? One of the great Afro-Futurist writers, Daniel José Older, shares the following at a local workshop:

And so, as content editors, our questions continue: When you grow up in your topic, when you are translating yourself in Naous’s definition of tarjama/translation, it seems it would be most compelling to locate the translative autobiographical act in the place itself (in Honduras and South Bronx, in the case of Robles’s essay). And this, too, has been explored poetically by none other than Salman Rushdie, who explores the Latin root for ‘translation’:

“The word ‘translation’ comes, etymologically, from the Latin for ‘bearing across’. Having been borne across the world, we are translated men. It is normally supposed that something always gets lost in translation; I cling, obstinately to the notion that something can also be gained.” (Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991)

The statement on migration and immigration (the so-called ‘postcolonial subject’ who moves or has been moved, often by force, across or through a boundary—a fascinating topic illuminated by Dr. Stephen Clingman) also comes to mind, especially as Robles searches the contours of ‘home’ and notions of ‘belonging’ by sharing his family story.

The movement across national boundaries, much like translation, much like the movement between past and present involved in tarjama produces a new being, a new sense of being, a new “text.” If there is such a thing as translated people, if Robles is doing what Naous might call tarjama or translation in its metaphoric sense, is Robles locating his account in translation? Is the ‘home’ one of translation and therefore do the ideas of belonging and identity in his essay pin on translation?

We will continue to post on our impressions of Dr. Robles’s work under the “editing” category. Please stay tuned!

Springfield Revival Through the Arts

It had been more than five years since our last walk through downtown Springfield and, within seconds, the five of us (the Sirocco Five as we call the Sirocco Blue writing staff, in reference to that incredible Michigan Fab 5 squad, some of whom may end up in Springfield’s Basketball Hall of Fame…) came to a unanimous decision: something has changed here.Unknown The former paper mill city that for as long as we could remember was home to vacant storefronts (some with glass covered by yellow newspaper pages dated years before), empty streets (the kind that would make youwonder if tumbleweed might suddenly appear, barreling down Main Street), shootouts in the Peter Pan Bus Station, and the yearly headlines patterned into the minds of all residents – ‘Springfield, again, one of the 100 most dangerous cities in the U.S.’ — suddenly had life.

Even a freezing cold Friday afternoon in late January, arctic wind blowing off of the Connecticut River, had a different edge to it: university students walked around hurriedly in search of their next class at UMass and Cambridge College now on Main Street; umass spfldConstruction projects, cranes, the signs of development all over the downtown area; a general sense of excitement and not despair. Could it just be a few blocks in the center of the downtown, we asked in unison? So we ventured to the North End and got some arroz con gandules, with a side of habichuelas rojas and asked the new owners how things are going in the neighborhood: bien mejor, mijo, bien mejor (heavy emphasis on the much better). Also in unison we agreed that the food at Latino’s Kitchen, despite the slightly less original name than we’ve seen across the Baystate, was also much improved.

En route to John Simpson’s new workspace, our destination, we took a gander at the fantastically curated lobby of 1350 Main Street. Incredible photography of Jazz musicians on the walls, straight ahead Jazz playing on high-quality speakers, a lively café that apparently spills out into the street during the summer with tables and tents set up, unheard of years ago. John, now on the 9th floor of 1350 Main and part of the City Mosaic initiative to bring the arts to Springfield, is visiting professor in the art and art history programs at Commonwealth College (UMass-Amherst) and long-time resident artist in the Hampden and Wheeler Art Galleries on the Amherst Campus. He was the artistic director and creative genius behind massive sacred arts installation project Kathmandu: Tantric Buddhism’s Journey from Tibet to India, which paid homage to Tantric Buddhist deities, Green Tara and Black Mahakala.

Sirocco Blue lead facilitator, Jacob Dyer Spiegel, had the pleasure of working alongside Tibetan Buddhist monks and another one of the great local artists, Mr. Tenzin Rigdon on these projects that weaved their way through UMass-Amherst classrooms and Springfield Public School courses. At Putnam Vocational School local youth learned about arts installations and the philosophy behind these sacred art forms. Later, John Simpson brought the Ancient Egypt project to Putnam, as well. Jacob recalls:

“It was my second semester at UMass-Amherst and I saw a work study position advertised so I walked over to Hampden Gallery and John gave me a paintbrush – there was no real interview process. John just brought me into the project on whim, or so I thought at the time. The process of building temples for Green Tara and Black Mahakala became the hands-on, full-immersion component that found itself in in all of the courses I took that semester. When the World Religions professor suddenly stopped the lecture, for instance, to note someone’s coffee spilling down the long corridor to his podium and explained, ‘that is the Dharma, the natural course of these tributaries of coffee; that is Dharma.’ I could follow him because that same day we had rolled thousands of mantras while thinking about Green Tara as compassion embodied and the monks took turns talking about Buddhist philosophy. The whole project was a meditation.

In the course on world literature, I found the same act of devotion in the mandala’s the monks were working on as part of the project as I did in the fiction of certain Caribbean writers who were referencing West African deities in their novels. And then I’d stay long after work hours and listen to John talk about different ideas he was working on in visual form. He was re-visiting, re-interpreting, re-visualizing—just like the Kathmandu project—the great Hieronymus Bosch.

Embedded in this representation or adaptation, you could see John’s work on Green Tara and Black Mahakala spilling over: there was no boundary between forms and traditions and geographies for him. I loved it. Having the chance to work on a project like that with a master painter—and John Simpson is just that—allowed me to be at UMass but simultaneously far, far away. I remember when we reconnected in Amherst after I did study abroad programs in Spain, Cuba, Brazil following flamenco (the music and dance of the Romani people of Spain) and the presence of West African religions in Latin American literature and art. With a huge smile, John told me that the entire installation was taken to the Smithsonian, re-assembled, and that His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with hundreds of monks, some of whom had worked with us, blessed the project.”

We had actually gone to see one of the projects that John, Mike Cass and team are working on: the erasure of gang-related tagging and the re-creation of graffiti art all over the city.

They paint over tags and gang markers and make murals all over the city, often with kids from the community. Like the participation of the Putnam students, this form of reclaiming public space was a forum for teaching arts techniques and arts appreciation. They also do urban “beautification” projects and did a mural at a local hospital.

Just as we prepared to brave the cold for a tour of the murals, Evan Plotkin appeared, the fellow we had been reading about who brought the Jazz Festival to Springfield, and we learned a bit more about the group called the “dynamic trio”.

Something important is happening in Springfield and certainly does seem connected to the work of John Simpson, Mike Cass, and Ethan Plotkin of City Mosaic. We will continue to write about City Mosaic’s public film screenings, space facilitation for artists, public murals and arts interventions, and the organizing of the 2016 Jazz Festival!

The Space & Staff of Andala | A Cambridge Café

Positioned just behind a beautiful Baptist church at the main crossroads of Central Square in Cambridge, just off of River Street and illuminated by striking sunsets, lies Andala: ‘the nightingale,’ in Arabic, a reference to the ‘song of the nightingale.’

To the west, a large window overlooking River Street glows in pink and purple light. To the north, a view of passerby from a gorgeous bay window flooded with natural light. There is a closed in porch area with sliding glass doors. People join in small circles in the patio area to smoke hooka just outside the front door and on two sides of this large home turned into a fantastic café space, a meeting grounds the Arabic-speaking community tells us “feels like home.” They serve tea, coffee, juice, deserts, baked goods, and now have a food menu that we hope to begin experimenting and reviewing (for now, we will just share our appreciation of the space). High ceilings give the impression of a palace turned quaint teahouse and informal restaurant. Students work and talk, exceedingly friendly staff move between two floors speaking in and between multiple languages (Arabic, English, Italian, Spanish), a linguistic setting reminiscent of the Whole Foods several miles down River Street street that we reviewed a few weeks ago. It is the café experience that we have been looking for in a city dominated by Starbucks, impersonal coffee shops, often with strange smells, narrow corridors, and non-conversant laptop-focused clientele donning the earphone look.

Decorating the walls of Andala are beautiful verses from the Koran, protective poetic phrases in Arabic calligraphy, a mantel with vases, loons, and plates with ornate scriptures. Downstairs, a home environment that feels like a living room fully separated from the busy square and outside world, instruments are hung, drums are nestled next to seating arranged in squares where people gather in larger groups to study and converse. On a Saturday evening, it is an alcohol free haven in an area that seems to only have pubs and bar-clubs. A group of three local students from Saudi Arabia take turns as impromptu DJs, playing the likes of Om Kalthoum, and moving to the expansive sound of light lounge electronica, a blend of the traditional with calm drum and bass. An older gentlemen surfs the net and a radio broadcast in Arabic suddenly cuts through the space. The owner approaches him to listen to the story while his child, not more than seven years old, continues (yes) discussing topics such as the use of animals in times of war, education policies, and his take on local politics. In another corner, a group discusses ethics and the legal system.


Perhaps most delightful of all, the endlessly positive young fellow named Armando who works the register and the floor as a hybrid cashier waiter, along with his sister Valentina. They greet customers as if they are stepping into the family home. The siblings have an interesting story, a kind of inverted tale compared to many of the Italian Americans from the area. The siblings’ father (an Italian American Brooklynite) and their mother (an Irish American Booklyn native) met in New York City and moved to Rome. They headed from Rome to Milwaukee, back to Rome, then to Naples (a Sirocco cultural cradle, port city of cultural crossings rebuilt by the Spanish with Arabesque and Mozarabe architectural patterns, lights on street corners paying homage to ancestral figures). From Naples, Armando and Valentina headed to the birth-country of their parents, only 180 miles north of Brooklyn, to study English and connect to the language they heard growing up (though always responding in Italian and Napolitano when their parents spoke in English). When we returned to write this review, Armando recognized us instantly: “the fresh mint tea,” he exclaimed, “the one we lost in translation downstairs” (it was our fault, he just accepted the blame). But the comment reminded us of Salman Rushdie’s famous statement:

“The word ‘translation’ comes, etymologically, from the Latin for ‘bearing across.’ Having been borne across the world, we are translated men. It is normally supposed that something always gets lost in translation; I cling, obstinately to the notion that something can also be gained.” (Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991)

So perhaps you lose yourself walking along Magazine Street and River Street, the winding section of the city knows as Cambridgeport, and land in Andala, the Song of the Nightingale; a song of the ‘soul’ as some translate the meaning of the bird. And perhaps in this café where people so freely move between varieties of Arabic – from Morocco to Palestine to Kuwait – a kind of community of Rushdie’s “translated” men and women emerges.

For us, Andala is also a piece of 5-Colleges culture in Cambridge. We will do a longer review of the coffee, tea, and food in a future post and include in our new Yelp Review Page.

Cuba-Sierra Leone | Diasporic Continuities

We came across the description of a new documentary, They are We, that explores the direct line of continuity between the Gangá-Longobá of central Cuba and a community of Banta-speaking people in Sierra Leone.

The trailer moves between Cuba and Sierra Leone, including footage of the community in Sierra Leone viewing an Afro-Cuban religious ceremony prompting one of the community members to say “they are we.” On the Cuban side, “mi cuerpo está en Cuba, pero mi alma está en África” (my body is in Cuba, but my souls is in Africa): these are the types of continuities, trans-Mediterannean and trans-Atlantic, that we will be exploring through the metaphor of the Sirocco system. Please stay tuned for more!

Sirocco Blue Founder & Lead Facilitator

Jacob Dyer Spiegel is founder and lead facilitator of Sirocco Blue, a Boston-based international education consulting organization with numerous business lines: study
abroad development in English, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish-speaking countries; post-study abroad program job placement; translation & content editing; local arts & cultural programming; photography; real estate (residential & commercial) and interior design, following what we are defining as a “sirocco aesthetic.”

Before starting Sirocco Blue, Jacob was the head of Laspau-Harvard University’s traditional scholarship programs (2015-16) and led institutional relations with the major scholarship providers in Latin America and the Caribbean: Science Without Borders/Ciência sem Fronteiras-CNPq and CAPES (Brazil), Social Sciences and Humanities Program-CAPES (Brazil), Fulbright (throughout the region), Organization of American States (multiple countries), W.K. Kellogg Foundation (Haiti/Mexico), Innóvate Perú, INICIA Educación (Dominican Republic), BecAR (Argentina), MIT-Universidad de Buenos Aires (Argentina).

Prior to that, Jacob led the rebuilding of the CIEE study center in Salvador, Brazil and shortly after became resident director (2012-2015). He managed all client relations and center operations, taught university-level courses on the African diaspora in Brazil, developed the Brazilian-Portuguese language and culture program, created and implemented dozens of short-term programs for U.S. universities, and led workshops on the topic of intercultural learning. Jacob developed and supervised five other courses on Bahia and facilitated a “city as text” seminar for the students doing semester-long community service projects.

Jacob was a Fulbright Scholar in Salvador, Brazil (2011) and did research on African Brazilian religions and the role of the terreiro (the religious house or community) in housing education projects for youth. He taught in one if these projects in Salvador in 2002 and 2007. In future articles, Jacob will write about his time in the Fulbright program. His cohort, the largest to arrive in Brazil, began research one week before U.S. President Obama announced 100,000 Strong in the Americas. A few months into the research, Brazilian President Dilma announced Ciência sem Fronteiras: 101,000 Brazilians, over a ten-year period, would study in STEM fields. This was a joint-initiative involving 201,000 scholars, one of the largest mobility projects ever. Jacob participated in both of these initiatives, not only as a Fulbright Scholar in-country when the announcement was made, but also through CIEE and Laspau-Harvard University: he will be writing about the story behind the scenes of these two interconnected education projects on the blog.


Jacob has a Ph.D. in English from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and an M.A. in Caribbean Cultural Studies from the first-ever dual enrolled consortium between a Cuban and U.S. institution: La Universidad de la Habana and the State University of New York at Buffalo (UB). Because he participated in so many study abroad programs at UMass-Amherst as an undergraduate (Spain, Cuba, Brazil), Jacob was honored as “UMass King of Study Abroad” by Cristina Sosa, a title he is quite proud of, and two separate B.A. degrees because he took so many courses: Comparative Literature with a Minor in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and Spanish & Portuguese Languages and Cultures.

As a graduate student instructor, Jacob taught his own expository writing courses for two years and led discussion sections for courses on modern world fiction and representations of trauma in literature. His coursework and dissertation project centered on African diaspora studies and translation theory, specifically the appearance and re-appearance of the great Orishas (Yoruba: “deities”) of communication and translation–Eshu and Elegguá, sometimes Exú, sometimes Elegbara, sometimes so codified they remain unnamed yet always present—in Caribbean and Latin American literatures.

Sirocco Blue & Leadership

Following natural systems of ordering and patterning (the Sirocco and interrelated wind systems) as metaphors for cultural exchange means we do the same in the domain of “management” (though we find this word inherently problematic, man-age-ment, carrying and implying male systems of organizing with a generational twist).

Organization founder, Jacob Dyer Spiegel, never embraces fixed titles and job descriptions and, mostly because of his fascination with language and appreciation for the power of words, avoids both the creation and reinforcement of hierarchies (and their enact-ion/inaction via ‘titles’) that undercut unity.

In an interview, Jacob states that even the word ‘founder’ used above is suspect:

“Yes—with the help of family and friends, the leaders of incredible musical and cultural legacies, who patiently reminded me, sometimes not so patiently and with good reason, that I don’t belong inside of other people’s systems and that I needed to work from my own philosophical core—I may have done the legwork for implementing the business ‘plan’ and doing the writing (though the plan includes following where the writing and program design takes us) but working from the Sirocco and the ideas from my dissertation project as the source of ‘employment’ comes from them. And so who, then, is the ‘founder’? Why, just by putting into written word what they have been revealing to me for over a decade, do I suddenly take on an ownership role? They are the owners, the ideas are the owners, the languages that we bow down to are the owners. We are all facilitators.”

Since our goal is to let words take the action they should—and we have a wonderful example at the River Street Whole Foods in Cambridgeport—our work as a team is one of co-leadership at the level of facilitation. For that reason, the titles we build around have the word “facilitator” at the core.

Jacob leads all programming and relations and though he wanted to use the wind metaphor for titles, he didn’t like the ‘prevailing’ aspect of prevailing winds as a title. So he took on “lead facilitator” (no caps):

“I dislike approaching leadership as a top-down phenomenon and even more so as a science. Your work is a relationship. Your collaboration with a team involves a series of relationships. Relationships are naturally-occurring phenomena that can actually suffer when put in boxes and rigidly patrolled. Management is about relationships and they need to be free to take on new dynamics and flows. Just like the Sirocco winds. I know that facilitation in the ways and directions we plan on taking the organization depends on facilitation. Why would I arrange things around a set system and markers (CEO, Executive Director, Assistant Director, etc) that reinforces a system that works against this dynamic? Is this “mine” and not “their” project? Why are we using words of ownership when our mission is to follow the Sirocco and interrelated wind systems and illuminate cultural crossroads, build programs around those crossroads and diasporas, facilitate sharing between communities via translation in all its forms, work with students, families and organizations so that folks can travel and learn from the kind of full-immersion projects I’ve had the honor of structuring and facilitating?”

At Sirocco Blue, a virtual office that does not want one core physical space but rather work spaces, plural, in locales where publishing and contracts demand direct presence so as to strengthen relationships with partners, people develop their own functions and their titles shift so as to represent the functions, responsibilities, and gifts of each member of the team. We all write under one name because we want to! When we promote local businesses, we are doing so to highlight traits that will, hopefully, later connect so that we can architect programming around those natural ties and affiliations. When there is a topic that one of us is at the center of, we’re welcomed to throw in our name and stance and position. We don’t write “under” anyone and we don’t charge in any way for our writing. We write to share and for that reason we do so as one united voice (even with one facebook account, “Sirocco Santos,” add us and visit our Facebook Page!).

Sirocco Blue | Services & Future Projects

The Sirocco wind system develops in the Sahara Desert, moves from North Africa to Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Greece, and continues on as fast east as Iran. Depending on the geographical area, the wind system can carry hot, dry air and even dust and sediment from the Sahara.

800px-Sirocco_from_LibyaWhat is striking is that the Sirocco moves across an area of the world already deeply connected (though those connections are often purposefully omitted) by shared cultural histories, languages, music and dance tradition, architecture, aesthetic values, and much more.

In that way, the Sirocco serves as a fluid, metaphorical embodiment of a broad, interconnected cultural territory despite colonial and neo-colonial agendas to, for instance, submerge the Islamic history of southern Italy, Spain, and Portugal; divorce Mediterranean language and arts forms from the Romani people; and, even more radically, declare such forms as flamenco as the national music when its producers continue to be persecuted and marginalized (a story repeated across the planet).

By using the Sirocco wind system as a natural model, Sirocco Blue uses a fluid system of crossing to document and promote cultural, linguistic, and historical exchange.

In addition to the writing on cross-cultural connections and diasporic ties, Sirocco Blue builds innovative educational programs of all lengths around them. We do this primarily for U.S.-based universities and study abroad organizations. Our short and long-term study abroad programs celebrate cultural continuities through full-immersion language and intercultural learning. Beginning with intensive Brazilian-Portuguese language and culture studies in Brazil (2009) and most recently a Cuba program for a U.S. study abroad organization (2016), our team has seven years of study abroad development and management experience in Latin America and the Iberian peninsula. We also develop “study away” programs in Puerto Rico, New York City, and Boston on Sirocco and African diaspora themes.

Because we are committed to building high-impact, experiential learning programs, we are also dedicated to “re-entry” programs that allow participants to use their language and intercultural skills to gain meaningful employment with organizations that value working across cultures.

As we see language (and access to information often submerged in colonial and neo-colonial omissions) as the key to opening communication between diasporic communities, we take on a select number of translation projects that hold cultural or historical importance. In addition to translating between languages (Portuguese, Spanish, English), we offer translation strategy consulting: we help organizations with missions that we support understand how communication will translate cross-culturally before the actual process of translating begins. This ability to assess branding, advertising, and the public communications of organizations through the lens of translation and the translatability has led to great savings for our partners. We also take on content editing projects in English, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Before founding Sirocco Blue, lead facilitator Jacob Dyer Spiegel, served as the head of Laspau-Harvard University’s traditional scholarship programs for Latin America and the Caribbean. In that function, Jacob led institutional relations with the major scholarship providers to students from Latin America and the Caribbean (Science Without Borders, Fulbright, Kellogg, OAS, just to mention a few) and he oversaw the selection and placement processes for all programs. Central to college admissions and to scholarship applications, especially when standardized test requirements have been waived, the importance of the personal statement and statement of purpose has only increased. Based on this, Sirocco Blue offers comprehensive college admissions consulting as well as a specific methodology for developing and improving the statements needed to gain entry into institutions and with full funding. Our services include preparatory schools at the secondary level, as well.

Sirocco Blue staff reviews and promotes local businesses (starting with Boston and the 5-Colleges) that either participate in or are related to the cultural and linguistic “territory” of the Sirocco. Our objective is to highlight services and create natural synergies between local organizations.

As we approach what we term “Sirocco aesthetics” and attempt to build toward a moving Sirocco Theory, our staff—especially seen in our photography and art installations—works in partnership with a major Boston-based commercial and residential construction company, and an architecture-interior designer on Space and Spatial Management projects. These two organizations work from the concepts of open, adaptable space that is built around natural light, wind, and completely eco-friendly and green.

Finally, in partnership with local engineering students, Sirocco Blue is raising funds for a renewable energy pilot based on wind, naturally. Over the summer we hope to unroll and describe this new program! Please stay tuned for more writing on the topic!