Friday, June 15, 2012

Building an Open, but Affirming Community

by Xavier “Xavi” Luis Burgos

The steel flag monuments on Paseo Boricua are the ultimate representation of a conscientious affirmation of our people’s existence, an assertion of our greatness, and a proclamation of an incredible vision of the future. This is not to say that they are barbed wire fences of exclusion. On the contrary, they are welcoming gates to all those who want to learn and be a part of what we hope to develop: a Mecca of the Puerto Rican Diaspora, a cultural and economic corridor on par with any Chinatown, Little Italy, or Mexican enclave.

But to the mainstream media, real estate developers, and I dare say new (mostly white) residents, our community is a barren wilderness; dangerous, obscure, and in need of bulldozing. If not that, Humboldt Park for such folks is an exotic locale, a safari of sorts, to gawk at and revel in its primitivity. This is the discourse of gentrification, the manifestation of long-time resident displacement - it is imposing, exclusionary, and in complete disregard of our history and heritage.

I provide you two examples. The first is the so-called “Riot Fest,” a punk rock festival to take place in Humboldt Park at the end of the summer. Did the organizers consult with the multiple age-old institutions and organizations to see if the community would welcome them? No. Did they speak with the residents of the elderly homes that are across the street where their stages and a possible beer garden will be set-up? No. The lack of communication between the festival’s organizers and the very community of its location is telling of the inconsideration and imposing nature of gentrification. Even more telling is the fact that not one Puerto Rican rockero group is on their line-up and that they will be charging up to $155 for tickets. It is as if this event is not for us to attend.

The second is a community meeting organized by Casa Puertorriqueña last week stormed by two pro-gentrification groups influential in campaigns against affordable housing. They dominated the discussion, made unrealistic and resource-draining demands, and spoke without an ounce of modesty. One of their spokespersons even had the gall to claim that they were the community despite the fact they had only lived here for a couple of years.

We are a community that is open, yes, but any lack of humility and respect - inherent in a true dialogue - on the part of new residents will always be met with opposition. This is what centuries of colonialism has taught the Puerto Rican. The table is open and set for discussion, but it must in the spirit of collaboration with an already established plan of this community’s future.

Originally published in La Voz del Paseo Boricua newspaper, June 2012 edition