Poking Fun at the Mayor, El Leadero in el StormoThe New York Times
Published: August 31, 2011
Rachel Figueroa-Levin has a dog, three cats, five fish, a snake, a turtle, a parakeet, a gecko (“like the Geico lizard,” she explained) and two sugar gliders (picture little flying opossums). The gliders’ cage sits beside a screen that streams “Sesame Street” videos for her 9-month-old daughter, Adiella, whose playpen and bouncer are strategically arranged by the living room’s centerpiece: a Macintosh computer where Ms. Figueroa-Levin blogs, posts messages on Twitter, and writes about, well, anything.It was there, on Saturday morning, that @ElBloombito was born. Hurricane Irene was bearing down on New York City, and Ms. Figueroa-Levin was chuckling about Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s heavy American accent and prolific mispronunciations when he delivered warnings in Spanish about the storm during a news conference the previous night.
So she took to Twitter, and began to type.
“Hola Newo Yorko! El stormo grande is mucho dangeroso!” she wrote. And then the Twitter messages began to flow — from the living room computer, from a laptop in her bedroom and from the iPhone she carries everywhere, having mastered the skill of typing on it with one hand while holding her daughter in her other arm.
“Fill los bathtub con agua por preparando el no agua,” read one post. “Los floodwaters!” exclaimed another.
By Sunday morning, @ElBloombito had about 2,000 followers. By Tuesday afternoon, there were nearly 15,000, among them Mr. Bloomberg (@MikeBloomberg).
“I can’t believe that THIS is my 15 minutes,” Ms. Figueroa-Levin, 25, of Inwood, said on her other Twitter account, @Jewyorican, where, among other things, she wrote live Twitter posts during Adiella’s birth, “from the first painful contractions to accidentally peeing on my husband,” she said in an interview Tuesday morning. She also has a blog, The Misadventures of Mrs. Levin, where she writes about her marriage, motherhood and her neighborhood.
The @ElBloombito page began as a joke, she said, “a way to keep my friends entertained while we were on lockdown” because of the storm. Taken together, though, the Twitter messages provided a genial, if twisted, account of the storm and its aftermath.
Saturday night: “Remain in la casa para much rain y lighningo y thundera! El Bang Bang!”
Sunday morning: “Ay Ay Ay! Yo forgoto to evacuato el isla de Rikers!”
Sunday evening: “El FDR es el cerrado por que muy aqua mucho. Necesito un boat de row!”
Monday: “Los trainos y el bussos son muy operation. Go to worko. No excuso.”
Ms. Figueroa-Levin said she had no problem enunciating Spanish words; her mother is Jewish, but her father is Puerto Rican, so she grew up accustomed to the way the language sounds. But she is not really comfortable speaking it. “I would not be able to give a press briefing in Spanish,” she said.
But Ms. Figueroa-Levin’s Spanish is good enough to notice — as many have — that when Mr. Bloomberg speaks Spanish, it sounds as if he is engaged in a wrestling match with his own tongue, which tends to roll when it should rattle against the roof of his mouth. Also, he often accents the wrong syllables.
But, flawed as Mr. Bloomberg’s Spanish can be, @ElBloombito’s is worse — like all parodies, it is a clear exaggeration, in this case a form of Spanglish created in Ms. Figueroa-Levin’s imagination.
“The mayor’s Spanish is a lot better than a lot of people really think it is, and the funny thing is that the people who criticize it the most are exactly the ones who don’t speak a second language,” said Juan Manuel Benítez, a political reporter for NY1 Noticias, a 24-hour Spanish-language television channel serving New York City.
On Monday, Mr. Benítez asked Mr. Bloomberg about @ElBloombito at a news conference. The mayor, smiling, said: “Tengo 69 años. Es difícil para aprender un nuevo idioma.” (Translation: I’m 69 years old. It’s difficult to learn a new language.”)
Later, on her @ElBloombito page, Ms. Figueroa-Levin asked if anyone could send her a video clip of the mayor’s answer. Within minutes, Mr. Bloomberg’s staff heeded her request, posting a link to the video from @MikeBloomberg, along with a provocation.
“Me escuchas, @ElBloombito?” the mayor’s office wrote. Do you hear me?
Ms. Figueroa-Levin has given several interviews since Sunday, when The New York Observer called her “the best thing about Hurricane Irene.”
On Tuesday, she was on “The Howard Stern Show” in the morning and on WNBC-TV in the afternoon. Lunchtime was spent in the company of a literary agent, one of several she said had called her. (Her husband, Mike Levin, a director at 360i, a digital marketing agency, took the day off to care for Adiella while his wife enjoyed her fleeting fame.)
So, how much longer will @ElBloombito go on?
“For as long as I’m having fun,” she said.