Dear New Neighbors: A Reflection on NYC

by previous writer Bianca Richards

I am a native New Yorker, so, some of the most vivid memories from my childhood involve taking the 6 train from 59th street when mom used to get off of work.  By 103rd Street, I was sitting with familiar faces that bore signs of the long day’s hustle and stress from working just to make ends meet. I saw school children getting reprimanded by their parents because a B+ is just unacceptable.  

Young moms dozed in and out of sleep with their babies nestled comfortably in their arms as high school sweethearts engaged in serious PDA without any care in the world. Men stood nearby gripping huge backpacks that seemed to carry more than just life’s burdens. These are the faces I grew to recognize and appreciate as we rode uptown past 96th street, the end of Manhattan and gateway to Harlem, Washington Heights, the Bronx, and beyond.  Although these people were strangers, their pain and struggle to live in the world’s greatest city was familiar to all who rode uptown. As I got older and rode the train, even far beyond 96th street, I would see a yogi with her Lululemon bag or a hipster bumping LANY in his huge headphone set while styling some Ray Bans.People would tell me, “The Bronx demographic is slowly changing. This is a good thing," as if at the age of 17 I was supposed to know what that means. Now I do: They were talking about gentrification.

(gen·tri·fi·ca·tion), noun

The buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods by upper- or middle-income families or individuals, raising property values but often displacing low-income families and small businesses. I never knew the word for it while growing up in NYC, but I could feel it happening slowly, and then all at once. First come the new coffee shops and developments because they say renovating buildings and turning them into new and improved residential communities bring positive exposure to inner-city areas and “hidden gems." These new additions would allegedly result in increased money flow, low crime, and you know, all that utopian shit. Then, our neighborhoods become a haven for newcomers with fancy internships and people who want to live somewhere trendier, and the people who have always been around don't get the same profit.  The problem is, the neighborhood families are often being neglected and displaced due to developers renovating these areas and raising the price on rent—prices that are extremely unattainable for any family living in places like the Bronx. So now, new unfamiliar faces dot the local subway platform, looking forward to conquering that "New York City lifestyle." They work as online fashion editors, holistic bloggers, start-up business consultants, and digital marketing managers that immerse themselves in a screen all day, and return to our neighborhoods without engaging with us. They get a limited perspective on the reality that surrounds them: a dying culture drowning in modern development.I fully support the need for change within our communities, but positive change that caters to the native residents who are suffering from a lack of means to survive, as they are eager to receive opportunities to thrive and grow in this society. The developers almost give a signal to everyone moving into NYC from out of state or from Manhattan into trendy outer-borough neighborhoods that these places are theirs now, and it shows in the interactions I’ve had in the last few years. When I interned in editorial, there was a woman who was curious about my ethnicity. She was from a small town in Ohio, and she had never encountered a woman with features like mine before. I told her with pride, “I’m Thai and Puerto Rican.”Her response: “You should’ve applied to a Latin magazine for an internship opportunity. That would be a perfect fit.” I get it. Sometimes being in NYC if you’re not from here can be a culture shock. But, just because I am Latina does not mean that my opportunities should be limited to only providing content pertinent to my ethnicity. We belong everywhere. The assumptions people make about New Yorkers of color extend far beyond the city. There was this time in college my coach from a suburb outside of NYC drew conclusions about me when I told him I was from the Bronx. “Oh, so that means you’re a tough one right? Hard around the edges and take no bullshit?”“Sure, I guess,” I said. I made my first mistake at practice and he yells at me, “I DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY DO IN PSAL (Public School Athletic League), BUT THAT CRAP DOESN’T FLY HERE WITH ME.”I went to a Catholic High School... Dear new neighbor, and extended visitors to NYC, we understand that gentrification happens in cycles in cities throughout the world, and we are coping with these realities. But, please respect our homes and understand our culture. Just as if you are visiting a foreign country, before moving to a new location, do your research on the history of the place. Read about the traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation and when you get there, talk to the people within those communities, and embrace their homes with love and respect. You will discover that they laugh the same as you, smile the same as you, and cry and feel pain just as you do. You will realize that they may find graffiti critical to their environment because that’s how they spread positivity and encourage the arts as a way to outwardly express their thoughts and emotions. New neighbors, take a step in the right direction and get to know the families that have been calling the Bronx home for decades upon decades without applying any stereotypes you may have learned about the area. Understand their anger, frustration, confusion, but most of all, their truth as their lives are affected by gentrification.

Denounce all the stigmas associated with the Bronx and people from the Bronx, because Latinas don’t only work for Latinx magazines and people from the Bronx don’t only attend public schools.

Open your heart and mind so that we can make this great, diverse city even better. How do you feel about gentrification? Share your thoughts in the comment section below! 

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