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‘Miss Iya,’ using her presence as a gift

Thu, Aug 8, 2013

2013-06-07 15.05.42 P.B. “Miss Iya” Lavezzari is a global citizen. “My community is wherever I am at the moment,” says Iya. “You have a responsibility to give back. It isn’t even a choice.”

Born in New York into an African Puerto-Rican family, Iya has rarely stayed in one place–growing up in Puerto Rico and across the United States. A single female parent of seven daughters and 10 sons, Iya is now a grandmother of 12. “My family has molded me,” says Iya. “My political perspective, my activism, my commitment to giving back.”

Iya’s passions have taken her around the world. In January, Iya arrived in Chicago after moving from Hawaii, and currently lives in a shelter.

“I travel around the world cooking,” says Iya. Specializing in African-Caribbean cuisine, food is what keeps Iya going. “The day after I arrived, I offered to volunteer as a cook at Cornerstone.” Iya works 12 hours on Sundays and all holiday weekends. “That comes from my family’s very firm sense of needing to give back to the community,” says Iya, fidgeting with her cherry red headdress.

Being homesick, Iya’s dream dish to prepare is rice and beans, ripe plantains, and stewed chicken with chiles. “That’s my comfort food. And I can use my time and talent to comfort others.”

Iya gives back through music, too. “I’m a percussionist,” says Iya. “I play African-Caribbean rhythms, for the most part. Right now I participate in a group of women called ‘Unity on the Ground.’ I play with them every Friday and that’s been incredible.”

It is at performances when Iya vends StreetWise, as she has for three months. “It is a talking point for me. I feel that I am one of the people in the magazine, so when buyers talk about the magazine, it is an opportunity for me to present a whole different side to those people. Very few people know that I am homeless,” Iya tittered.

“And at the end of my little spiel, I say, ‘By the way, I’m homeless.’”

Iya, however, does not enjoy vending. “What motivates me to sell is to create a wider readership for StreetWise. I get a chance to have dialogue with people who have misconceptions about homelessness.”

Iya is an activist by nature, and cannot rest on the sidelines. She is currently doing so by writing a script titled Bag Ladies.

“It came about through my traumatic experiences in a homeless shelter,” says Iya. “I observed behavior by the staff that I thought was horrendous. I’m very intimidated there. You can’t express your opinion there otherwise you’ll be put in the streets. Their sense of humanity is not there. And that’s not what homeless people should experience.”

Iya feels it is her job to unite her community. “If everyone uses their presence as a gift and gives what they can of themselves, homelessness could be addressed. I’m honored to give something back and put a smile on someone’s face. I’m not doing it for credit–I’m doing it because inside of me, my heart is connecting with other beating hearts.”

Josh Kahn
StreetWise Contributor

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