Month: May 2014

The Bushwick Bridge Officially Launches!

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It’s been over three months since our team started meeting and working on stories for this publication. In that time we’ve become a close knit group and also have gotten much more involved in our community. Here you will find a huge range of content, from the personal to the political to the artistic to the poetic. This is only the beginning. We have many more ideas brewing and know that our scope will only expand as we share our publication with the world. We also really look forward to finding support in areas where we have not yet been fully successful. For example, though most of our team is bilingual, we have not yet been able to translate most of our content into Spanish. We look forward to meeting people who can help strengthen the Bushwick Bridge and by extension, our whole community.

Please read on, and we hope you enjoy.

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Bushwick Youth Group Featured on Pix11 News

Educated Little Monsters (ELM) is a completely grassroots youth group founded by Yazmin Colon, who is also a founding member of The Bushwick Bridge team. They do dance, hip-hop, poetry, and more, performing to captivated audiences in Bushwick and beyond. The Bushwick Bridge is working on an in-depth interview with ELM, but in the meantime, we wanted to share this recent story about them that was in Pix11 news.

Flourishing in An Urban Ecosystem: A Bushwick Origin Story

by Bianca Perez

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Bushwick has been my home for as long as I’ve had a home. I’ve lived on the same street in the same building for twenty years and nine months. I’ve never had it any other way and I honestly don’t think I would want to. I grew up on Bleecker Street, a street I always found oddly suburban and quaint nestled within the surrounding bustle of urbanity. The same street I was brought home to from the hospital when I was born is the same one I learned to ride my first bike on, complete with The Little Mermaid decorations and sparkling tassels on either handle. It’s the same street I scraped my knee on countless times falling off of said bike, and the same one where those cuts and bruises slowly fleshed over and healed.

You can say I’ve had an almost epic history not only with this street, but with this neighborhood: my history with this area begins before my birth. The first of my family to find a home in Bushwick were my father’s parents. They emigrated from the Dominican Republic to the U.S. in the early 1960’s and brought along my five month-old father and other extended family. My dad spent most of his younger years on that same street in Bushwick just a couple houses down from mine until he and my grandparents moved back to D.R. when he was about fourteen years old. It wasn’t until he met my mother and she decided to move to America that he returned with her in 1988. They lived on Grove Street for a short time before they moved to, you guessed it, Bleecker Street. They lived there together for some years in unholy matrimony until I was born in 1993. About four years after that my parents separated and I was officially a child of single, working class-parent household. Luckily, my mother is one of the hardest working women I have ever known, so it wasn’t to my complete detriment.

To be raised in Bushwick, regardless of its turbulent history, was actually quite wholesome in my experience. However, you might attribute that to my “latchkey kid” kind of upbringing, which recently led me to realize that there are still some streets in my own neighborhood I have yet to traverse. For those who don’t know, “latchkey kids” are children (usually from lower income, single-parent families) that often spend time unsupervised at home after school while their parent(s) are away at their jobs. They’re those weird kids in your class who have their own house keys, walk themselves home instead of getting picked up in the minivan, and spend way too much time at the public library after school. This kind of parenting may seem potentially damaging to some and I would not refute that, yet I’m thankful to my mother all the same for protecting me from the constant threat of corrupting forces that stood just outside my door. I may not be the best person to ask about the seedy underbelly of my neighborhood, because my mother tried and succeeded at keeping me far removed from that environment. In spite of the looming danger, I was able to have an almost traditional childhood, complete with tricycles, dirt-digging, hide-and-seek, and treasure hunting. It may have been an urban jungle, but not even unsafe, concrete-laden streets could quell a child’s imagination. I distinctly recall drawing treasure maps, hiding trinkets under cars and behind mailboxes, and burying them in a friend’s tiny backyard only to rediscover what we ourselves had hidden. I remember being (quite roughly) rolled around in one of those huge blue bins which often carry liquid chemical. It was dirty, slightly dangerous, tons of fun, and did I mention dirty? As a child, I remember having that feeling of this being my little slice of the world, like that little corner in your school or home that you feel safest in. Bushwick felt like our little secret and only we who lived here would know of it.

Growing up a Bushwickian kid, the existence of gentrification had always been evident, even if as a vague nameless concept. Most of us were too busy with school or work to notice the most subtle of changes. But even teenagers, armored with apathy, will occasionally stand at ease to contemplate the bigger picture of their circumstances. Although children can suppress it, as an adolescent I found myself and my peers feeling a storm of indignation brewing. You could call it a case of “inner city kid syndrome”. We began to realize how short our end of the stick was and we didn’t know how to react. Meanwhile, there was the constant insidious chatter at our backs from the media, our families, the education system, all daring us to fail, to be peer-pressured into criminality, to live up to every single stereotype an outsider may have. Our juvenile self esteem screamed in protest. I remember it being a normality to have teachers and parents encourage us to avoid going to high schools in our own neighborhood. The day acceptance letters arrived during those last days of eighth grade, I saw some students cry because they weren’t accepted to any Manhattan schools. In some ways it felt like a death sentence. It wasn’t until the age of about sixteen or seventeen that I began noticing this myself, and as per usual, both lack of interest and rumbling resentment followed. I found myself in a state of resignation, with no outlet for my resentment. I was unsatisfied with my short stick, feeling almost as if it were my birthright, and sick of seeing other kids with longer ones. I began to look for outlets for community efforts which took me from attending El Puente Bushwick Center, to interning at The Living Gallery, to joining several community groups, and finally here: to The Bushwick Bridge.

I had never been as significantly concerned with gentrification as I am now. Then again, I had never been as forcefully involved as I am now. It wasn’t long ago that I became a sort of poster child of the destruction that gentrification leaves in the wake of all its renewal. My landlord wanted us out because he saw all the money he could be making from newcomers who would be able to pay more. There was a moment, a couple months back, when I believed homelessness would soon become a reality in my life. Just three days before the marshal was scheduled to come and curb all of our possessions, thanks to a Bushwick Bridge team member, we were was able to find legal aid which has helped us build a strong case against our abusive landlord. The most important thing I’ve learned in going to housing court is that complacency equals self victimization. I’m sure people make all the exceptions and unjust settlements possible to avoid involvement of the law, even when it is to their detriment. This crash course in gentrification has been a huge learning experience for me, not just about how crucial community is, but how important it is to know your rights. I also learned that helping others is a reciprocal form of self preservation. Perpetuating the flourishment of your fellow community members’ lives ensures your own continued existence wherever you may live. This may sound obvious when explicitly stated, but it was a revelation for me this year. Our metropolis mentality where anonymity reigns conditions us to always keeps our heads down and not get involved: ”You gotta look out for number one”. However safe this mentality may help us feel in the meantime, there is no denying the bigger picture. We do not live in a concrete jungle, but an urban ecosystem.

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From Spain to Jesus Saves

by Yazmin Colon

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What is art? I feel that the beauty of art is in the eye of the beholder.  Who is to judge and say what art is, when there are so many views and opinions. Everyone has their own focus, like the lens of a camera. We can all look through the same lens and yet focus in on different aspects of that what we see. Again, what is art when it comes in so many shapes, sizes and colors?

I myself was raised in these Brooklyn streets in the 80’s: the era of graffiti, taggers, writers or as some consider it, vandalizers. Our art galleries were the trains flooded with graff, the RIP murals that went up next to the community bodegas. The people we considered artists were the names that you seen thrown up no matter what borough you traveled to. Jesus Saves was one of those very artists. Being raised in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, I remember seeing a Jesus Saves tag. Today I have the honor to release an interview done with this graffiti legend who has been around for 20+ years in the making. 

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Brooklyn

BWB: Where were you born and raised?

Jesus Saves: “I was born in West Islip, Long Island. My parents moved to Bushwick back in 77. I was only 3 years old and have been here ever since.

BWB: From Spain to Jesus Saves. When did that happen? When was that first itch, that time when you put that marker to the wall and caught your first tag? I know you are now a church man when did that happen?

Jesus Saves: I was 18 years old when I started writing Spain and caught my first tag but I was just tagging just to tag. At that time every one was doing graffiti. It was the thing to do, even if you weren’t a tagger, writer you still had to throw something on the wall. Graffiti was at its biggest back then and so was hip-hop. It was one of the elements of Hip Hop, just like break dancing, b-boying, dj-ing etc.  I was raised with people doing art, graffiti all around me its all I seen.  So at the time I chose the name Spain because I speak Spanish and I’m real white, that’s the name that every one called me so I started writing it. To this day people still call me Spain. I go by MC Spain as a gospel rapper. As a graffiti artist after giving my life to the lord I changed it up and started writing Jesus Saves. After I started writing up Jesus Saves that’s when I really got passionate on hand styles and graffiti and wanted to be everywhere. I like the fact that I am repping Jesus as well as reppin myself as a graffiti artist and that’s the beauty of it. I think that this is a beautiful ministry that God has given me. I can represent for the church crowd and the street crowd.

BWB: Growing up in Bushwick, Brooklyn was a pretty rough era in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. What were some or one of the best memories you have of Bushwick from that era.

Jesus Saves: “The best time for me was in 80-85.  In 85 I was about 11 years old. That’s the age I remember we would go to the handball courts in 111 park today known as the park of I.S. 347 Junior High school on Starr and Central and there was mad graffiti everywhere.  All over the handball courts, all over the school, the trains were getting bombed, it was crazy. We would bring rolled up carpets to do our b-boy dances. My uncle would lend me his boom box, and I remember at that time we were always playing Latoya by Just Ice, Run DMC, Just Blow and Menudos, the Spanish band. They did a concert at Knickerbocker Park. It was crazy, those were really good times.

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Dominican Republic

BWB: Do you consider yourself a graff artist or a street artist or both?

Jesus Saves: I would say both. I do street art. Street art to me would be like catching tags but I’m also a graffiti artist, I do murals, canvases, I love art, and what I do is art. Graffiti is art. Sometimes I like to consider myself as a graffiti artist/writer. A writer is someone who catches tags, an artist is some one who gets productive, puts in beautiful colors and beautifies their pieces. I’m a little bit of both but I’m trying to be more of an artist than a writer because I know that God is opening up doors for me to the point where I don’t have to be a writer anymore. Being a writer I’ve had a couple of arrests and did 30 days in Riker’s Island for the amount of arrest I had for tagging. I want to avoid that life. In ‘95 I was all over Bushwick, by ‘97 I was all city. My tag was everywhere.

BWB: Have you hit up places out of the country and if so where and what’s your favorite piece?

Jesus Saves: Yes for sure, I’ve done murals in Spain, I’ve done over ten pieces out there. Caught mad tags in Barcelona, and Valencia of course. I stopped by Paris for a week on my way to Germany. In Germany did a couple of murals, which are the ones I love the most. I also have done murals in Puerto Rico and just got back not too long ago from Dominican Republic where I did like ten walls.

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Puerto Rico

BWB: What was one of your best bombing experiences?

Jesus Saves: I would say when I was homeless for three weeks. I was a free man. I didn’t have to worry about anything. I mean don’t get me wrong, I had nowhere to live but I would make sure I showered by my mom’s and eat, but again I was a free man. I could bomb anywhere I wanted. All I did was walk. There were times I would walk from Bushwick to the Bronx just catching tags. I’d rest at a park, fall out for a bit, and do it again. I was still selling canvases and was still doing art shows, so when one of my pieces would sell I’d go buy paint.  I always had paint even back at my mothers house I had stashes of paint. I’d go pick up about ten cans, five white five black and just leave. Leave from Dekalb and Tompkins in Bed Stuy where my mother lived at, and walk all the way to Manhatten and Central Park, just walking catching tags on everything, even vans. One thing I didn’t do was tag on clean vans, only if they were already tagged up. I can say I was lost, this being back in 2005, which was the year I think I caught the most wreck. I was all over Dykman Washington Heights, then I’d go to downtown Manhatten, SoHo, the Village, Tribeca, everywhere.  Would go the Bronx, and I’d get lost, I’m telling you, I was everywhere. But I can say those where the best experiences I had in my graffiti life, those three weeks, so free I felt like a bird. Didn’t care if I would get locked up. I got a lot of heat, vandal squad was looking for me. They said I had so many tags that they couldn’t even tell what borough I was from. It was crazy, but those three weeks was the best.  At that time I had nothing lose.

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Spain

BWB:  How do you feel about the change that’s coming to Bushwick, the new art scene?

Jesus Saves: I mean I’ve seen a lot of changes honestly. When I look around now I’m like, wow, we’re in the future. Its like we in Manhattan, so the art scene has become very advanced, we have a lot of European artists out here painting as well, so Bushwick is getting its recognition worldwide. People are coming out here to paint, and Bushwick is making noise graffiti wise and in the street art world period. In general Bushwick is changing, new condo buildings. People are complaining because rent is going up, but it some ways it’s better. Bushwick has become a very safe neighborhood, more police than ever before. Back in the days in the 90’s for me it was sweet, there were no cops anywhere. In the late 80’s and 90’s before I gave my life to God I remember my and my boys would hang in the corner just smoking weed, and drinking 40’s, all the drugs and drug buildings. I mean lines of addicts getting served. Cops nowhere. Where was police then? They were nowhere to be found unless something crazy happened. But now they are everywhere.

BWB: From one artist to another, what would you be some advice you would give to other artist coming into the Bushwick community?

I wish them a lot of blessings. I wish them the best, to get productive and to take advantage of being in this neighborhood. Bushwick is a blessing. Being an artist Bushwick is one of the best places to be in.  It’s the heart of art. Get your recognition, legal if possible, things aren’t the way they were back in my era. You can get caught a lot faster. Promote your work online, promote it in the streets. Stay out of trouble.

BWB: What would you tell the native graffiti artists/artist who have been raised in Bushwick to help them handle the new wave?

Jesus Saves: Just go with the flow. We had a good time in the past. It was one of the best we seen. People come and go, but we have to embrace other artists and show them love. Make them feel welcomed because through that you build connections and we can combine and as artists in Bushwick that’s what we need. That competition stuff to me is wack. No one is better than no one, we all are artists. God has blessed us all with a gift. Let’s just do what we love. We have to give Bushwick a good name.

BWB: What are you currently up to?

Jesus Saves: Well as I said I have given my life to God. And I look at everyone as a blessing. I’ve been working with some kids in other churches teaching them the skill of graffiti art and inspiring them not only with graffiti but also as a gospel. Graffiti artists for Christ. These kids love art, hip-hop, and Jesus, so we allow them to be themselves and still practice their religion. Times have changed, we have to be more open-minded with our youth if we want them to be inspired and understand that church doesn’t have to be boring. So their love for hip-hop and graff is accepted in its positive form. It’s all about building the connection with them.

Jesus Saves has proven his talent not only here but many places out of the country as well, as you read.

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Germany

Poems off the Dome

Some young people from ELM (Educated Little Monsters) were gathered today for their opening through the Arts in Bushwick Fellowship program, currently on view at Express Yourself Barista Bar on 82 Central Avenue. We told them we were about to launch the Bushwick Bridge and asked them to write some quick contributions on the spot.

 

Hold your head high

Forget them other guys

Even when you’re down,

Whip up a reverse frown

Life is like a circus

You’re always immersed in clowns

Sometimes you gotta put your mind on the line

Like a trapeze

If you never compromise yourself you’ll be more at ease

Lastly, take credit for what you did, even the bad,

“never throw the stone and hide your hand”

 

Joshua Rolon is 16. He’s into music and art. He lives in Bushwick and is a part of ELM.

 

 

Bushwick Bridge will never die

We’re infinite like the number pi.

 

Johnny Yurnet is 14. He lives in Bushwick. He participates in ELM and he loves basketball.

 

 

The don’t know what we keep in,

Believe in

They don’t know we’re the reason you’re breathing

We ladies go through the pain

That makes us go insane

But it’s only right if you know how to play the game

 

Christina Nuñez is 14 going on 15. She was born and raised in Bushwick and has been a part of ELM since day one. She is a dancer, singer, and femcee.

 

Human Geographies of Bushwick

by Chiara Valli

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My name is Chiara Valli. I am an Italian PhD student in Human Geography at Uppsala University, Sweden, who has spent six months in Bushwick doing research about how the neighborhood has been changing and how its residents feel about it.

In academic literature about gentrification, much attention has been paid on the economic or cultural aspects of it. However, less attention has been given to every-day experiences of gentrification on a micro level. In my research, I have tried to explore peoples’ sense of place and belonging in a neighborhood in transition such as Bushwick. I have interviewed almost 40 Bushwick residents, both long-term and new residents and asked them about their experiences in living in the neighborhood. The richness of different perspectives and nuances in this big picture astonished me. Something I have noticed during almost every one of my interviews was a general curiosity about the interviewees in getting to know what other people had said. The curiosity was there, but vey rarely had the interviewees been able to engage in meaningful conversations about gentrification with people belonging to different cultural or ethnic groups. Various barriers appear to still divide neighbors that share the space of the neighborhood and not much else. I myself had difficulties in getting in touch with some people I would have liked to interview. Undoubtedly, my being a white woman researcher from Europe in my late twenties has made it easier to approach some and harder to gain trust from others. The effects of embodying a certain identity are particularly relevant in a space which is undergoing the sensitive process of gentrification. In a gentrifying neighborhood, every relation is loaded with high stakes: home, community, and sense of belonging. All these feelings represent yet another barrier to communication between different groups.

In the spirit of Bushwick Bridge, I would like to make a step towards bridging people, groups and communities using the means that are available to me. During my interviews I have had access to a wide and rich amount of information from different people. With the aim to share some of this information I organized an event at Silent Barn on May 18th, 2014 together with Margaret Croft and Kunal Gupta. I have summarized 16 interviews (and made them anonymous by changing names or specific info), and invited the audience to read them and together producing a zine, cutting and pasting quotes from the interviews, and adding their own reflections. Drawing on the interviews, other Bushwick residents have learned about their neighbors’ points of view, re-elaborated these points, added their own and finally produced a zine that will be reproduced and shared for other people to read.

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With this event of knowledge co-production, we have tried to create a space for discussion, reflection, and exchange for Bushwick’s voices and perspectives. You can find the zine here.

You can also find a table with the interviews texts on AiB Community Day, May 31st, Maria Hernandez Park, Bushwick.

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MIGUEL, 36 y.o., Puerto Rican origins, Bushwick native, high school teacher

Some people are mad. As a matter of fact, that’s an understatement. A lot of people are mad. I speak to friends in the community, family members, some people feel their homes and their community are being taken away from them and they feel the community is changing and they are not part of that change. Some people feel like they have been forced out of their neighborhood because they cannot afford to live here anymore. Some people feel that the people who are coming here don’t necessarily want to have anything to do with them. It’s very subjective because it’s how you experience it and the truth is there should be ways where there is some mediation for that.

You pass by and you see that the business is flourishing, and it probably flourishes because the new people that are moving to the community support those businesses, but the people that have lived in the community don’t feel that those businesses really would  like to cater to them. Because you go in and maybe they might be serving brunch, but brunch is really expensive, When these people are accustomed to go into the corner store and maybe getting a breakfast for 2 or 3 $. So now if you go to certain businesses, they cater to people who can afford particular prices, and the people of the community who still live here, who grew up here, are very aware of that.  Even those who might have a decent income, they might not necessarily hang up there because there is nobody like them there, there is no people from the community they grew up with. People don’t necessarily hang out in those places. It seems like a story of two tales, and both sides are pointing the finger at each other, saying that’s their fault.

I think people like art, art is like the freedom of expression, and there were a lot of high points where people were enjoying the beautification, maybe some places that were littered, dirty, they cleaned it up, art is art and is beautiful, but then some people take a nice platform and then they might abuse the opportunity, and put up things that might seem offensive to the people who grew there.

Art is beautiful but if it’s not done correctly… for me, your artistic expression should be respecting diversity, if you want to send a message out, you have to be very careful, because your good can be misinterpreted or misunderstood.

So if you are an artist and you do art, to me I deem you as a person irresponsible or negligent artist if you express art that offends people who live in the community. So now I question your art: what’s more important, your art or the community? Are you a person who is looking to do art that expresses a message that looks to offend? Are you being political with your art? What is your agenda? What is your purpose? What is your intention? The absence of information only allows people to speculate. So if you are going to express a message, and you are not going to make information available, you shouldn’t be mad when people speculate, because that’s their right to speculate. Especially when it may offend them.

These are unintended consequences. And for me unintended consequences are when you don’t think things through. Or the truth is maybe they are intended consequences, and if they are intended consequences it means you thought it through and it wasn’t really important to you whatever the consequences were going to be. Because what your agenda was, supersedes what you knew the reactions were going to be.

This could be an interpretation of gentrification in general. Everybody is aware of the dynamics and consequences, but it’s happening anyway.

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JENNY – 24 y.o., female, white, art curator and artist, owns a gallery in Bushwick

I moved here three years ago, I moved here because I was graduating from art school and I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew I wanted to live in a city. I went to a small college that really fostered DIY, the idea of making your own fun, setting up shows, and all that stuff that you could do as a student.

So I wanted to keep doing that in the real world. And everybody told me “Bushwick seems to be the place for you because there it’s what everybody is doing, with pop-up galleries, doing things on their own, and there is the infrastructure there, with all those warehouses, it’s really gritty and it’s still cheap”. So I just found a place to move out here and I started immersing myself as much as I could into the Bushwick life. I started teaching art classes, and later I decided to open my own gallery in the neighborhood.

My artistic work has changed a lot since I’ve moved here, to reflect this environment of Bushwick, and what it turned up in was a sort of alternate reality. There are so many people here, so many young people, so many parties, so I focus on that, the party scene, bar scene, everybody doing these things that are so close to each other, but… how real is that? People come here and it seems like a dreamland, not a real place. A lot of people have unusual jobs, nobody seems to work 9-5, people are out any hour any day, I’m interested in trying to portrait that.

C:  Do you think people might think of you as a hipster?

Oh, I´m sure they do. But they are nice. Generally, when I go into the deli and someone from the neighborhood is there, they will be like: “oh are you new here? Oh, let me know if you ever need anything”. They are just really nice and all the guys that work at the delis are really nice too. Which surprises me, you know, sometimes you wonder if people secretly get pissed off to see more kids coming in. That´s what I would expect, honestly. Even my friend and I are like that: every time a new bar or restaurant opens up we are like “F***! This place sucks, it looks like Williamsburg! Every time a place like that opens we’re gonna leave from here sooner”.

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LAYLA, 29 Y.O., female, African American, Bushwick native, works as dentist assistant 

Gentrification is gonna happen, it doesn’t mean we cannot change the way we see it

There are a lot of people that are self-defeating people in this area, a lot. There are a lot of black people with self-defeating mentality, but it´s not really about your color. You become a person of a certain kind of color when you start acting like a person of a certain kind of color. When you are a black person and you are acting like a freaking idiot, you are the same gentrifier yourself. You could be a white person and say “hey what do you need me to do to help with what you are doing? What can we do as a community?”.

If there is an expensive place and I want to live there, then my goal is to be hired in a better job and make more money, if my rent goes up, now I have to be entrepreneurial and find more ways to make extra money. People that want to be here and they are not big-money people, they have to adapt. That´s what we do, we adapt. So if this house cost a lot of money and you wanna live there, you are gonna adapt. I wanna live in Brooklyn and I wanna own in Brooklyn, and I don’t want to sit back “oh no I can´t afford it”. So I have to work more for it. That way you can create more entrepreneurs, more businesses and create more houses, because nobody wants to be kicked out of their neighborhood and I don’t think a few people with money could do that.

Gentrification comes after many things. There is something deeper, which is racism and segregation and our own people´s mentality of feeling inferior and not trusting or putting value in each other.

Our people have the passive-aggressive mentality of being always unsatisfied and discontent and accept this condition without ever doing anything.

For example I know many black homeowners who do not rent to black people, they only rent to whites because they are a more secure investment. This hurts our people more than gentrification.

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Bushwick Mementos

 

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Q. One piece of advice you can give to men raising their daughters?

A: No matter what the circumstances are take care of your daughters. A father is not the one who makes the child,  he’s the one who raises it.

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Q: So what’s the ladder for?

A: To get higher.

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Cute little girl on left: Mia. Cute little girl on right: Delilah.

“What’s your favorite princess and why?”

Mia: “Brave because I watch it all the time.”

Delilah: “Sleeping Beauty because I like to sleep.”

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Q: What do you plan on doing with that paintbrush?

A: Beautify Bushwick

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Q. How long have you had this house?

A. Since 1987. This area right now really is perfect. It’s no where near what it use to be: Slums, abandoned cars, the city didn’t care. They abandoned the neighborhood. I bought my house to improve the community, not just for me but for everyone.

All photos by Yazmin Colon.

Back in the Day: A Conversation with Alexa Nuñez

by Yazmin Colon

As we know Bushwick is encountering changes that are happening at a very rapid pace. One of the things that the Bushwick Bridge focuses on is the community as a whole, getting stories from natives and newcomers alike.

Bushwick has become a very diverse community, with good and bad experiences from many different angles to look at.  Today you read the truth of a Bushwick native born and raised on the same Bushwick block for 38 years. As our first Back in the Day feature, this story will highlight someone with memories of Bushwick’s past.

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Alexa Nuñez is a 38-year-old Hispanic woman; she carries the heritage with her ancestral Taina Indian features, with her long dark hair and complexioned skin.

Ms Nuñez has lived in Bushwick all 38 years of her life.  She met her husband when she was 16 they eventually had two kids, one boy, 14, and one girl, 20, who still live in the same family building to this day. She expressed how it was to grow up in Bushwick in the late 70’s and 80’s.

One of Alexa’s best memories in Bushwick was on a fourth of July in the 80’s when she was about 9, 10 years old, she remembers how they some how managed to close the block down as if they were throwing their own personal block party.  At the time there where only 2 building on the entire block. She said, “We were the only two buildings on the block, where these new condos are they were abandoned buildings and lots. But it was still home, between the two family buildings I remember the adults went out and bought a massive amount of fire works. We lit up the sky til about midnight. The cops never came once, but then again they weren’t really out back then the way they are now. We hung out all night. It was a hot summer night, we played double Dutch, skully, basketball, with a homemade rim at that. Something we literally made by hand, we used a rim from a bike, attached to screws from a wooden board with wire hanger on a fence. It really was an amazing night”. As I watched her tell the story and almost relive it, I could see in her eyes that it was a day she will never forget.

Even through the great memories, it’s very clear that living in Bushwick in the 70, 80, 90s, wasn’t no walk in park. It was tough. She was surrounded by empty lots, and abandoned buildings which became heavily crime ridden and drug spots, the biggest infestations in the Bushwick community. Alexa remembers back in 86, 87 up the block from her house had been taken over by drugs, crack, drug dealers, and drug addicts  This happens to be where Little Skips Café And Norbert’s pizza is today. She says that Norbert’s pizza back at that time was a crack building, the entire building. Being that it’s a dead end block the drug dealers took it to their full advantage. She remembers as a little girl how the community became tired of waking up to go to work or take their kids to school and finding drug addicts slumped over in their hallways, of always living in constant fear for their safety and their children. Alexa remembers coming in from outside and having to literally step over crack heads to get in her building always afraid that one day one would hurt her.

Her worst memory was when she was about 10 or 11 years old. She remembers coming out of a cab with her mom coming back from Easter shopping, ”I seen this guy walking from up the block, he had on a long black trench coat, he suddenly pulled out 2 guns and just started shooting up the block into Charles place, and that was really scary, It was scarier than waking up and seeing that crack head doped out laying on your floor.

It was only a matter of time before the community got together and stood up and started attending the meetings at the 83rd precinct.  They started speaking up and the police eventually heard their voices and came and cleaned up the Very well known Charles place dead end corner in Bushwick.

Alexa had always felt like she would be in Bushwick forever, but as she got older she slowly started to feel like she was in need of change. It was hard for her to admit that maybe one day she would leave Bushwick. She quickly thought of family, calling Bushwick her Concrete Jungle and saying that of course she’d miss it, but that it was time for change.  She said “ I want to open up doors, instead of steal doors.”

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Alexa is very passionate about her life growing up Bushwick and the life her kids now live in Bushwick.  She says she embraces the change, that she loves all people and all the diversity coming into the community. She states that she is happy that her kids can be raised here, that they can look out the window and see people of all diversity black, white, Spanish, Indian, Asian and more, instead of seeing broken blocks, crime, drugs, and murder.

Alexa says that she hopes that the people moving in know that not every one is scared of the change, that there are some who embrace it, and hope to be embraced back, because that is what would keep a community going.

When asked about how she felt about displacement, she said it was the government’s fault, that there are grants and programs and that they should be provided to secure low-income buildings in our community so that no one gets displaced. She feels people should make it their business to know what changes are coming to the community and strive for the right change. She went on to compare the then’s and now’s of Bushwick, how then you could never walk in the streets alone compared to now where people are everywhere at all types of hours. It’s vibrant, she said, like a little village. There’s more ease in walking the streets.  She wished that back then she felt that security where she felt comfortable and wasn’t scared.  But even back then the block took care of the block.

One of the things that seem to bother Alexa was the lack of support and help the Bushwick people received from police officials. Something triggered conversation about how long the police would respond to calls in the community then compared to now. It made her angry: “They should have cared about Bushwick before the hipsters moved in”, she said. She felt they should have really cared, seeing so much just from outside her window, from fights, bottles breaking, gun shots and all the young lives lost,  and remembering how much neglect her community suffered from seeing the sudden change in people and seeing how more taken cared of Bushwick is now. It saddens her to see those changes.

Alexa feels like if she made it here at its worst that her kids deserve to be here at its best. Even with the high living increase in Bushwick she feels that her kids can make it.  She wants them to take advantage of the educational system and all it has to offer.

She strongly feels that her kids can make it through the new wave slowing drowning Bushwick. Alexa believes in the 90s babies, and that they can be new business owners as well. She believes that if people moving from all states and parts of the world are coming here to open businesses so can the people raised here, she was very hopeful of that.

As the interview was coming to end I had three questions I wanted to close with:

If you could take the good and the bad of Bushwick and mash it all in one, what would be you perfect Bushwick?

Alexa: I wouldn’t change a thing it’s a perfect.  Back then and now, in my eyes if I didn’t have those experiences I wouldn’t be the person I am now.

A piece of advice you would give to the new people moving into the community from a Hispanic woman’s point of view who was raised in an urban community.

Alexa: Simple. Never judge a book by its cover, and to my natives don’t give up hope and stay positive.

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Welcome to the Barnyard

by Camilla Zhang

People getting pumped up for ELM's performance. Photo credit Andrew McFarlandPeople getting pumped up for ELM’s performance. Photo credit Andrew McFarland

When one takes a gander at Silent Barn, located at 603 Bushwick Avenue, it appears to be just another closed and somewhat ramshackle storefront. Upon further analysis of the oddly electric, pastel mural covering the gate, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suspect that this space is frequented by “hipsters.” What then, makes Silent Barn (otherwise known as “the Barn”) different from other art spaces in Bushwick? For starters, they possess a genuine and proven commitment to diverse programming. They also have a Community Outreach group that is dedicated to ensure that the arts collective is a socially conscious one.

According to its website, Silent Barn “is a multi-functional all-ages art incubation space,” but in reality, it is so much more than that. This is certainly a biased statement, as I myself recently became a member of Silent Barn’s Community Outreach group. I had no prior art collective experience and that’s precisely why Silent Barn is unique. You can just dive in if you want to be involved. For example, the youth group, Educated Little Monsters (ELM) holds their weekly workshops there. Meanwhile, I’ve co-organized an exhibition of paintings by seniors of the Diana Jones Center, which is a block away from Silent Barn. The neighborhood activist group, Northwest Bushwick got their start at the Barn. And the arts collective has so much more in store.

Everyone boogies to SHAMS, a musical performer. Photo credit MF ClarkeEveryone boogies to SHAMS, a musical performer. Photo credit MF Clarke

After one of our bi-weekly meetings, I sat with two members of the Outreach group, Brandon Zwagerman and Andrew McFarland, to get the scoop on why Silent Barn cares and how it sees its role within Bushwick. The Barn is referred to as a DIY space, but Zwagerman prefers the term “DIT (Do It Together) culture and [what its] values embrace and put forward: that without a lot of resources anyone can put on cultural events and bring people together. It’s about accessibility to a lot of different people.”

Zwagerman helped the Barn find their current location a little over a year ago. He said, “It was tough because we wanted a space that was both commercial and residential, kind of a holistic 24-hour idea.” When they signed a ten-year lease, they knew they wanted to serve and sustain the community.

 Natives and newcomers chill at the Silent Barn Yard Party. Photo credit Andrew McFarlandNatives and newcomers chill at the Silent Barn Yard Party. Photo credit Andrew McFarland.

When asked about their aspirations for the community, Zwagerman said, “My hopes would be more connections made between different sub-communities in the neighborhood; creating new links, cohesiveness, and collaboration between people of different backgrounds, ages, and values, hopefully all with shared goals of making the neighborhood more liveable, safe, affordable, happy. This all sounds very idealistic, but you have to believe and hope for these things.”

Andrew McFarland added, “I’d love to see more social and cultural sustainability. From a DIY scene aspect, I think a lot of people–especially with 285 Kent closing down on the Williamsburg waterfront this past winter– are talking about how scenes are sort of just moving as gentrification moves us. I would love for things to just stay still for a while and for people to actually form connections with cultural resources, like Silent Barn. We can be invested in the community for the long term instead of moving every couple of years to a cheaper neighborhood. Cause I don’t think that’s in the community’s best interest either. I think that our fates are intertwined.”

 Mr. Xing Yi Tian and Ms. Bei Yu admiring art painted by themselves and by thier friends from the Senior Center. From the Silent Barn - Diana Jones Center joint event, Landscaping for Links. Photo Credit MF ClarkeMr. Xing Yi Tian and Ms. Bei Yu admiring art painted by themselves and by thier friends from the Senior Center. From the Silent Barn – Diana Jones Center joint event, Landscaping for Links. Photo Credit MF Clarke

I interjected, “Pretty soon, there won’t be any place left to run, for any of us!” McFarland echoed my sentiments, saying, “If we want to be sustainable culturally we have to be sustainable socially, which means making the neighborhood affordable and [acknowledging] that we’re connected to certain groups. All people are actors and players in our neighborhood, because we are definitely all in the same boat.”

In regards to noticeable differences Silent Barn has made, Zwagerman recounted March 8, 2014, when ELM had their open mic: “Awesome neighborhood kids performed and the crowd seemed to like it. [There were] a lot of different folks who maybe haven’t been together at the same event at all. I’d like to hope that some crossover happens when you put a bunch of folks in the same room when they don’t know each other. At the very least, there’s shared cultural expression happening between the audience and performers.”

McFarland reminisced about the significant “Tongues” event organized last June by  Amritha [Kidambi] of ISSUE Project Room. “It was traditional Indian music with the Sitar. It was a beautiful night. There were other [non-Indian] artists that played songs inspired by Indian music. The event had different cross-cultural pollination. The great thing about it was that it was on a night in June and it was pretty warm and everyone was sitting on the floor of Manhattan room, the main space at Silent Barn, and it was totally full. Everyone was sitting cross-legged over the entire floor and it was so quiet in there, you could hear a pin drop. Then this beautiful music was just radiating out of the building through the warm air. It was a really awesome night. It had a lot of Indian people, but there were a lot of White twenty-somethings too. It was cool to have [experienced]. It’d be really amazing to have another event like that.

Eventually, I came to the hard, heavy-handed question, “Why do you care?” Zwagerman himself created his own DIY space in Ann Arbor, MI. After hosting a bunch of music shows in his living room, he thought, “‘Wow, you can really just bring people together like that by having a space, seeing if a few people want to perform and telling a few people it’s happening.’ It was like a really simple thing, but also really needed and powerful and people seemed to love it. So I started doing shows regularly and it expanded to some larger things in Michigan.

“But I moved to New York seven years ago and tried booking shows at a bar in Long Island City. I just got disillusioned with the music scene here in particular. I thought it really sucked. They’re really cold and ask you who you’re here to see and check off a tally mark at the door at all these clubs. It’s a very mechanical thing; admitting that people don’t actually want to see a full-billed show, because we’re all to busy. People don’t try to curate holistically. I was really bummed about it all until about five or six years ago when I found the DIY scene, like Market Hotel, etc.

 ELM youth on the micELM youth on the mic. Photo credit Andrew McFarland.

“I think in particular, the old Silent Barn on 915 Wyckoff, was probably the most intimate, homey space I found. People performing in this small space in the kitchen. Really nice people and it felt like those old house shows in Michigan, so I really connected with that. I don’t know. It’s something, I think, a way for people to become involved with the community. It makes the community seem smaller and more personal and [it also allows you to] share artistic expression in an immediate way. That’s just why Silent Barn is important to me in general and why bringing that to the surrounding neighborhood is important to me.

“We’re going to be around for the next nine years. I guess I just have a civic sense about me. I really believe in the small scale democratic values of participatory collaboration between neighbors…If we were to just exist there and serve whomever’s existing friends not the people who live two blocks away, I think it’d be a really sad thing. Spaces are a premium in NYC as is the whole infrastructure for performance in the arts. We could offer that to the neighborhood. Neighbors can take us up on it. I think it’d be a really wonderful thing and hopefully we can be a positive force in the world around us.”

Juggling art, gentrification, and the practicalities of housing issues is a tricky thing, but Silent Barn is doing pretty well so far. McFarland noted that “there was a tenants rights panel back in November; a housing rights discussion with lawyers.” Zwagerman chimed in, saying, “Primarily we’re an arts organization, but we’re also a space for public forums and information and discussion of any type, political, informational or otherwise and we’re very interested on a whole in hosting these types of events and facilitating them.”

 Tres bonding with the youth. Photo credit Andrew McFarlandTres bonding with the youth. Photo credit Andrew McFarland

In truth, all art is media, and as McFarland explained, “media, especially today with the internet, is such an important tool for bonding and bridging communities.” Silent Barn is still growing, but they’ve made tremendous strides by incorporating the leadership of organizers, like Jaz Colon, who are already tied in with long-term communities. In fact, a few weeks ago, Jaz herself became a “chef,” a term used to designate core members of the Silent Barn. With “chef” status, Jaz can organize and host her own events and daytime programming.

This is only the beginning. We can make our communities better by “DIT”. People who had nothing to do with Silent Barn, like Jaz and I, became involved and so can you. Silent Barn Community Outreach is always looking for new members. If you have a vision for a more sustainable community, don’t be shy! You can contact us at silentbarnispeople@googlegroups.com.

The Yard Party's bubble perfectionist. Photo credit Andrew McFarlandThe Yard Party’s bubble perfectionist. Photo credit Andrew McFarland