CITYWIDE


Arts and Gentrification in Bushwick, Brooklyn W/ Modesto “Flako” Jimenez

Gentrification from the perspective of a recent Bushwick resident-

Gentrification is a subject usually approached with the utmost trepidation. The discussion is ambiguous and laden with guilt prone to implicate anyone who walks through the minefield this conversation is. It’s hard to fault anyone involved-

-Who can blame the gentrification for trying to find a cheap place to live?   Who can blame them for trying to open up businesses in the area in order to make a living?

-Who can blame the people who grew up in the area for feeling resentful as they watch their culture slip away, their rent and grocery bills skyrocket, the physical features of their neighborhood morph into something new?

-Who can blame the city government for sending more police to a neighborhood with high crime rates?

-Who can blame the business owners and the real estate owners for charging higher prices as a more moneyed population enters their realm? (…lots of people probably, still a grey area though)

Each of these groups have righteous reasons to perform the actions I just enumerated and are some of the more broad and most recognizable features of gentrification. We may also suspect that each of these groups have more dubious agendas. However, it is unproductive and possibly damaging to the question of gentrification to project any agenda (especially the suspicious ones) to categories of people because they are formed by individuals with unique motivations in life and moral values.

Still, we can identify trends and attempt to understand its causes and effects in order to learn our own personal role and, from there, consider what can be done and avoided to minimize the negative effects and capitalize on the positive potential gentrifiers like me can bring to a community.

Low rent attracts the “gentrification,” in part formed by non-natives looking for the cheapest place to live that still has a connection to the larger city they came to work and exist in. These might include college-grads, students, young professionals, artists who can’t afford to live in Manhattan. They make the neighborhood a hip and exciting destination for artists and musicians who are followed by chic coffee shops and brunch cafés, pop-up galleries and yoga studios, which come with people who have money. At least, this is what I gather as a member of the gentrification who (like almost everyone else in the same boat) has trouble feeling comfortable with it. This blog post is written from that general perspective. I love the artistic environment Bushwick, my home for now, provides and its potential for something even greater. First though, the problems this exciting art scene brings with it are very real, but, based on conversations with individuals such as Modesto “Flako” Jimenez, they are not insurmountable and will only prove to be truly damaging if the complexity of gentrification continues to prevent us from addressing it. There is  little I can say about rising living costs except that I am grateful to have an affordable place to call home. I can also attempt to contribute to the economy of the community by buying my goods and groceries at local stores rather than carting them in on the L train. There is however a powerful social dynamic which each person living in the community has a place in regardless of choice.

A quick glance at Bushwick’s history informs that, like most any neighborhood in New York, its majority population has at various times been composed of several different ethnicities. Italian, African-American, Mexican, Caribbean. The relatively small area has indeed been gentrified several times. While there is certainly a racial element to the current gentrification, characterizing the issue as “white” people coming in and taking over an “hispanic” neighborhood is only partially true in this case and does nothing really other than contribute to the Us&Them mentality that slows down progress and creates barriers between people that don’t need to be there. We (any member of the community) see who people who dress and speak in unrelatable ways and we prescribe them as ‘the other.’ Whenever these barriers grow up, two things can happen. For some the other becomes invisible. People pass each other on the street without making eye contact, goods are exchanged at the bodega, but not words. The alternative is that the other is seen, but as a threat. Eye contact occurs, but it is intimidating or suspicious. This is the more unfortunate scenario because it involves a certain volatility. Sooner or later contact has to be made between people who co-exist, if we address these issues, this contact could be one of acceptance and appreciation and not intimidation or dominance.

I just can’t reconcile that scenario.

I’m simplifying a portion of one of the problems in order to start working toward a solution. This isn’t to say that the problem is in fact simple, just that we can start resolving it if we work hard to figure out what it is. It might take a while, even if we all determine to be understanding and welcoming to each other. I’ll close my part with something that happened to me weeks ago that I can’t stop thinking about. I was walking out of the bodega after grabbing some beer and some popcorn (probably) and I nearly bump into a man coming into the store. Instinctively I said “permiso” as I passed him. I sometimes try to use Spanish in the deli both for practice and out of consideration. But I was taken aback when I heard a nearby woman ask the man, “why did you let him speak to you like that?”

I felt terrible. Then the man said “Noooooooo, he was being respectful.” I’m still confused about that and still worried about offending the people who live around me who I have no reason to offend. It seems that, though we may sometimes treat one another like we’re invisible, nobody ever is.

Flako Jimenez

These thoughts and feelings have been developing inside me since I moved to Bushwick almost two years ago. For the past few weeks I’ve focused a couple Citywide episodes on the neighborhood because of the amazing work that takes place there and its astonishing diversity. I didn’t really consider the meeting point of arts in the neighborhood and gentrification until i saw this video-

This is a visual rendering of Modesto “Flako” Jimenez’s poem “Bushwick, Brooklyn” from his new book of autobiographical poetry ¡Oye! Para mi querido Brooklyn or Listen! For my Dear Brooklyn. It is a lyrical collection of experiences in English and Spanish he had growing up as an immigrant in Bushwick and what he saw change after he spent a short time a way. For the release of his book two weeks ago, Flako and some of his fellow artists arranged a reading as “an ode to Bushwick in all its richness, a night of music, theater, film, and art on the themes of immigration, gentrification and survival..” at the Bushwick Starr. It took me off guard in a really good way. That night longtime Bushwick residents and more recent residents performed on that stage both in English and Spanish for a crowd composed both people who grew up in Bushwick and people who had moved there. Everyone laughed at the same time, shared the same silence, ate and drank the same dishes together afterward and celebrated what they had shared together. It was just happy.

Flako later met me in Maria Hernandez Park and gave me his impression on the change taking place in his home. Flako moved into the neighborhood at a very young age and grew up in a much grittier Bushwick than exists today. He grew up on a deeply rooted gang culture, when drugs brought the danger of violence, disease, addiction, and police officers. He saw many of his peers and classmates falling into this dangerous lifestyle as a means of survival. Flako may have been destined for the same, but he says that a school teacher named Steven Haff, who operates Still Waters in a Storm, singled him out and introduced him to a world of literature and theater. Flako found a passion that took him to university in Vermont where he found a world that looked nothing like the one he had always lived in. By the time he came back to Bushwick a little over ten years ago he was shocked to see that the undergraduate culture he’d become accustomed to in Vermont had found its way into his own neighborhood.

After seeing his performance and talking to him for nearly an hour, I started to get an idea of some of the things he had noticed. That the fear people have of others in this neighborhood comes from very surface differences. And that if we can find common ground in the arts the way Modesto was able to facilitate at the Bushwick Starr, maybe the fear can start to fade and a strong community begin to develop. We can be thankful to people like Modesto and the people who operate the Bushwick Starr that they are raising interest for arts in the community that can be shared by everyone. We can also be grateful to organizations like Still Waters in a Storm and El Puente that inspire children to appreciate the arts, to discover the world and their own potential along with it. You can help.

Please let me know if I’m off base.

This is my conversation with Modesto “Flako” Jimenez. Hear him tell his story in his own words. They’re much more interesting than my words-

[audio https://files.nyu.edu/ltg219/public/Modesto%20_Flako_%20Jimenez.mp3]

Lucas Green

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An interview with Dee Dee Halleck from Paper Tiger Television

Citywide aims for progressive programming. We bring many people onto the show who stand to make a change in the world in whatever way they strive to do. This can take place in a number of different ways. Some of our guests are out there trying to improve conditions for less privileged parts of our society as well as spreading a humanitarian message, see our post on Immortal Technique. Some of our guests are actively trying to expand on what the human being can physically be, like recent guest Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. Some of our guests have represented a change itself in being an original artist, like Mykki Blanco who was on last month.

These are people our program has brought on for our audience to check out and have something different to think about. Paper Tiger Television, our feature this week, is another weekly program in the City which doesn’t just discuss the people who are doing progressive work this day, the people on the show itself have been pioneering and innovative since the show’s formation in 1981. PPTV recognizes that there must be an aggressive front to counter a mainstream media that is largely controlled by large corporations. Formed entirely by volunteers who share the concern of what control mass media has over today’s culture, PPTV has been one of the most consistent and driven organizations of people who insist that there be a source of criticism and information outside the commercial world.

I spoke with one of the founders of Paper Tiger Television, Dee Dee Halleck, who took me through some of the early years of the new form of media activism which PPTV represented at the beginning of the 1980s. It is important to note about PPTV that while that not only did they set a new precedent for activists trying to reach a mass audience, they also set an important precedent for the mediums of public cable television which was just emerging at the time. And while programs such as The Coca Crystal Show and Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party (“The TV party that could be a political party”) had already fought to claim the medium as one belonging to the people, PPTV ensured that the medium would balways be used to also speak for the people.

It’s an extraordinary organization that continues to do extraordinary work. Greatest of all is that they are always accepting volunteers. Check out their website and see what you think about the work they do; see if maybe you even want to help. You can also watch many of the programs tand documentaries they have produced. That’s right here.

PPTV is currently celebrating it’s 30 year anniversary with an exhibition at Fales Library at New York University. This is the exhibition’s website. Here is a video about the 30 year history of Paper Tiger Television-

Dee Dee Halleck also told me about a great new effort of hers to unite activists with similar causes around the world. Check out Deep Dish Waves of Change for more information about that. This program derives from another project of Dee Dee’s called Deep Dish TV, a similar organization to PPTV, doing with satellite what Paper Tiger did with cable television.

Dee Dee told me some wonderful stories herself. Check out the interview here-

[audio https://files.nyu.edu/ltg219/public/DeeDee%20Halleck.mp3]

Here is one of the first PPTV programs, Herb Schiller reads the New York Times-

Lucas Green



Zishan Ugurlu and Larisa Polonsky for PURGE
February 9, 2011, 5:43 pm
Filed under: Activism, Literature, Theater | Tags:

When Zishan and Larissa walked into the studio they were perfectly pleasant, but both possessed a quiet intensity about them.  As our interview proceeded, I came to understand why.  For the past few weeks,  Zishan and Larissa have been vicariously living in the world of Purge, a play set in 1992 Estonia which was then newly freed from Soviet occupation.  The play, first a novel by Finland’s Sofi Oksanen, explores the themes of freedom, memory, and the past, which concurrently binds yet distances those who’ve survived.

Purge follows the story of two strangers, Aliide Tru and  Zara, played by Larisa. Zara, a sex-trafficking victim, comes to Aliide’s home on the run from her captors.  Through a series of waltz-like dialogue, the women discover their pasts share more similarities than not.  Purge shows us a world damaged by physical and mental occupation.  Zishan, who directs, and Larisa have embarked on a brave feat unsilencing the silenced, for which we can only thank them by sharing Purge’s message.

Purge will be running at La Mama‘s first floor theater on E. 4th Street between Bowery and 2nd Ave from February 10-20.

Zoe Rosenberg



EarSay’s Youth Arts and Activism Workshops
January 27, 2011, 12:43 am
Filed under: Activism, Art, Life!, Opinion, Projects, Uncategorized | Tags:

Judith Sloan has been my adviser at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study since I took her oral history class in the spring of 2009.  I’ve found that, in more than a few ways, Judith fits the mold for what one would consider a stereotypical New Yorker.  Man, can she talk.  But what Judith is talking about–what she’s concerned with–goes far beyond the threshold of what one would consider spitty, casual, every day conversation.  Her  words and her actions have remarkable substance.  In my interactions with Judith, I’ve gleaned how much living in Queens, the country’s most ethnically diverse county, has affected her outlook and especially her professional work.  As Judith explains in our interview, when at once she was doing work for National Public Radio with her husband on police brutality, she soon found herself leading workshops under her non-profit EarSay at the International High School at LaGuardia Community College.  Judith is currently running two workshops: Transforming Trauma into Art and Cross-Cultural Dialogue Through the Arts.  EarSay’s programs are designed in a way to cox students into confronting the big issues they face as immigrants to the United States and, just as importantly, as teenagers.  As explained on EarSay’s website,

“The premise of this workshop is based on healing through artistic expression using a combination of music, movement, theatre and storytelling. This process helps release the stories and stressors that prevent people—who have been traumatized by war, economic or natural disasters—from moving forward…”

I personally witnessed the transformative powers of the workshops.  As a part of an independent study with Judith, I attended and aided the Cross-Cultural Dialogue Through the Arts workshop on a weekly basis.  Also in the classroom and on tonight’s show is Hasan Salaam, an accomplished rapper signed on Viper Records, educator Laura Doggett, and documentary film maker Robert C. Winn.  The most important guests on tonight’s show are several of the students from the International High School.  They share their experiences in Judith’s classroom and stories from home.  The students also share the creative piece they’ve been working on in the Cross-Cultural Dialogue Through the Arts workshop: I Feel Free.  Tune in below!

Zoe Rosenberg



Judith Sloan and EarSay
September 22, 2010, 3:04 pm
Filed under: Activism, Art, Life!, New York City, Projects | Tags:

A few months ago I interviewed Judith Sloan, actress , oral historian, and educator amongst other things, about her original performance Crossing the BLVD at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.  Judith will be performing Crossing the BLVD once again, but this time for a much larger cause.  Check it out!


EVENTS
Crossing the BLVD/ Crossing the Cultural Divide

Wednesday September 29 @ 8 PM
LaGuardia Performing Arts Center
31-10 Thomson Avenue, Queens, NY
Only 15 minutes from Grand Central on the 7 train
EARLY BIRD SPECIAL — BUY NOW! $14 in advance if purchased by Sept. 22nd, 2010
Phone for ticket information: 1-800-838-3006

Performance to support Arts and Activism workshops for immigrant teenagers. Hosted by actress/radio producer/co-creator of Crossing the BLVD Judith Sloan, whose multi-character performances combine humor, pathos and a love of the absurd. Featured performers: Lemon Andersen, Tony-award winning Brooklyn-based renaissance and hip-hop artist, creator of the critically acclaimed one man show County of Kings* in which Lemon recounts his troubled childhood and eventual arrival on Broadway as part of Def Poetry Jam; Mahina Movement, a trio of three voices and one guitar mixing folk, rock and rhymes in English, Spanish, and Tongan simmered with indigenous roots and culture; Elise Knudson, cross-disciplinary dance-maker; AKIR, hip-hop educator/producer performing social commentary to an uplifting score and Hasan Salaam, hip hop artist, humanitarian/speaker whose music paints vivid pictures of the commonalities that bind us. A special appearance by a Michael Legaspi, a student from EarSay’s Arts workshops and Justin Hudson, recent Hunter College High School graduate.

Proceeds go to EarSay’s Youth Arts Programs and directly to the performing artists.

$14 Early Bird Special through Sept. 22/$16 after the 22nd /$20 at the door.
Sponsor tickets $30 and help teenagers attend the show!

This event is supported in part by the Queens Council on the Arts with public funding from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, The International High School at LaGuardia Community College, and Viper Records.

* Lemon Andersen’s County of Kings was first presented at the Public Theater in association with Under the Radar and the Culture Project

EarSay is an artist driven non-profit arts organization dedicated to uncovering and portraying stories of the uncelebrated. Founded by Warren Lehrer and Judith Sloan in 1999, our projects bridge the divide between documentary and expressive forms in books, exhibitions, on stage, in sound & electronic media. We are committed to fostering understanding across cultures, generations, gender and class, through artistic productions and education. We bring our work to theatres, museums, schools, prisons, festivals and universities.

Earsay’s Youth Arts programs is a partnership with the International High School at LaGuardia Community College supported in part by the office of New York City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center and with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Check out EarSay’s website at http://www.earsay.org

Check out our interview!

Zoe Rosenberg