Thursday, August 9, 2007

Mural vs. Condo

Hello. My name is Amina. The place I call home is the Sunset Park area of Brooklyn, or more specifically, the Latino area of Sunset Park. (There is a Chinatown here that starts a few blocks from me.) My neighbors are from Mexico, Ecuador, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and a few other places. I am half Puerto Rican and half Arab-American and I have lived here since 2001.
For many years the place I call home had suffered a bad reputation. During the time of crack (80s and 90s) a lot of people would not set foot here. I lived in Park Slope at the time, so I did not need to. All I heard about Sunset Park was...Don't go there, it's a real shoot em up.

Then I got displaced, or became an economic refugee. After over six years of living month-to-month in a studio apartment with no lease or one single rent increase, I was told to vacate the premises because my landlady needed the place for her aging parents who were selling their house. When I looked around the Park Slope area, the rents told me I was not the kind of person they wanted there anymore. Which is why I ended up looking in other parts of Brooklyn and found a rent stabilized one bedroom in Sunset Park.

It was easy for me to adapt since I speak Spanish, a skill you needed then to even do your laundry here. During my first year, one guy got shot in the head in a club around the corner from me (that club was closed down), and a woman got shot in front of her children across the street from another club--a gang-related case of mistaken identity. Those two clubs are now a bakery and a church, respectively. Also during my first year year an off-duty police officer while driving drunk wiped out a family. He is now in jail.

So you can see things are getting better. As of today, August 9, 2007 there is still a lot that could be better. But I love my home. I love that all the countries of Latin America are repping here and that we pretty much all get along. Some people are here illegally and some like me are born and raised here, but pretty much everyone is just here to make a better life for themself and their neighbors, sometimes against formidable odds. Their strength inspires me.


Last summer work was commenced on a mural on the PS 24 building at 4th Avenue between 37 and 38th Streets. The name of the mural is Feels Like Home: An Immigrant Journey and it is a project of the public school and Groundswell Community Mural Projects Voices Heard Series.

I quote from the wall: "This mural depicts the immigrant experience as told to us by women from the Sunset Park community. Beginning with the women's thoughts about leaving her homeland, the visual journey takes you through the various phases of immigration.
We hope to convey this story in all of its complexities as one full of hardship and happiness, struggle and hope. We celebrate the dedication and determination of these women as they move towards a brighter future."

Over the past year, the mural has become a significant source of pride for the neighborhood
and a second mural project is now underway on the street side of the school building. (More pictures to come!)


Well by now you must have surmised that this neighborhood is not full of millionaires. An interesting fact I learned recently is that 40% or more of the housing stock in this area is rent regulated.
Here are some images of the Sunset Park I have been living in for the past 6 years:

Mexican flag in a grocery store window.

Taqueria, 99 cents store, Santo Domingo Invita restaurant.

The Taqueria Mixteca Restaurant

and here are our new future neighbors, on the corner of 36th Street and Fourth Avenue:

This structure is called the Green Walk, and the units are being sold at prices between $437,000 and $775,000.

The condo's website describes the building as being located in "greener pastures" in Greenwood Heights. Actually the building is in a cemetery and when you walk out the door you are in

Sunset Park!!......Welcome to the hood.


Stickers like these....this one says "The gringos come, the rents go up."

and these "Hello, my name is Barrio.
Get out gentrifier"

Here they come....

to be continued......


Anonymous said...

Hi Amina,
I like your blog and I'm going to be at the Summit, but I hope the fact that I'm a gringa won't mean I'll be unwelcome. I've lived in Sunset Park for 14 years -- I was priced out of Park Slope way back then. It could have been me & my husband in that last picture of your photo set, so not all white people are frequent arrivals. I work in social services so I don't make a lot of money. I understand why people in the neighborhood feel that white people mean higher rents -- I know that it's true. But I just had to say that being white doesn't necessarily mean you're rich.
Peace, Lauren

Anonymous said...
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Mural vs. Condo said...

Peace to you too. I am not the author of the sentiments on that sticker, I just saw it one day and said to myself, something is happening here. The reason I started this blog was not to judge or even make my opinion important. Was is important to me is documenting what I see going on here suddenly, or after six years of living in an area that seemed pretty unchanging. The first weekend in July I started to see white people all over the place. Sorry, but that is the truth.
If you come to this community and respect it and the people who live here, many of whom do not have choices as far as where they can live, fine with me. It is all about respect and no one group feeling entitled to everything and not caring about who they hurt...or treating those people as invisible. Can we agree on that?
Hope to see you at the summit.

I think it has been established that the first people on Earth were African...
All love,

Anonymous said...
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Denton said...


You said:
(Peace to you too. I am not the author of the sentiments on that sticker, I just saw it one day and said to myself, something is happening here.)

No, but you took the photo of the white couple and captioned it 'here they come'. (next time correct it to 'there they go' cuz they're going not coming, lol)So it's kinda disingenuous to all of a sudden cloak yourself in a blanket of neutrality. I understand gentrification is a tricky subject, and you're entitled to your opinion. But express it, don't dance around it.


Anonymous said...
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Mural vs. Condo said...

I see myself as a docummentarian of the area I live in. I am taking some pictures of what I see. I will continue to photo what I see as long as I have a camera and a clicking finger.
When I moved here this neighborhood had drugs, shootings and violence at a much higher rate than there is today. I moved here because I could not afford to live anywhere else, and I put my nervousness aside. I did not see a condo being built after I moved here.
I find it interesting that the minute someone makes an observation pertaining to race, they are the person with a problem.

Mary Alex said...

as a former Brooklyn Resident I was always inspired by the murals of my hometown. To take them down because of the condos is just wrong. The murals represent a lot of culture around Sunset and touch the hearts of those who apreciate them. When I went to P.S.24 I remember they started to paint the murals around the schoolyard to beautify our neighborhood, I think Suset Park should continue embracing it's multicultural identity by welcoming people from all around the world. And yes even gringos lol =]
Sincerly, Maria

SunsetAnnie said...

"embrace it's multicultural identity by welcoming people from all around the world And yes even gringos"

Yes it would be nice but let's be real here people...gringos, hipsters and the like are the only ones moving in.
I wonder how long it will be before our murals are long before Sunset Park becomes the new hipsterville? & all of the people who make it what it is are washed away forever.