Back In The Day

From Spain to Jesus Saves

by Yazmin Colon

jesus saves

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

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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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