A Goodbye Letter to NYC
I feel as if I have lost. I ride the J train home to Bushwick. The grey seats peel underneath my thighs, water trickles from the rusted metal roof. I watch as young white women scroll through their smart phones with Whole Foods bags tucked between their feet. An Italian family points to the MTA map with Canon cameras swinging from their necks. A group of NYU students loudly clamour about the party they’re going to. I sit there and the feelings of shock, anger, and fear throb painfully in my heart. Growing up on the border between Ridgewood, Queens and Bushwick, Brooklyn, two predominantly working-class Latinx neighborhoods in New York City, the closest I got to seeing groups of white people was either through TV shows or when I took a trip into Manhattan. I never thought for a second that white people would ever want to live or even physically be anywhere near where I lived. Why? Because where I lived was dirty, it was unkempt. It was where garbage flew freely down the street. Where the overhead train tracks blocked the sunshine.
I am afraid of leaving my mother who recently told me through tears that the landlord is increasing the rent by $200.
I considered where I lived as unworthy for white people. I was unworthy for white people. As someone who identifies as a woman of color from a working-class family of Dominican immigrants, I was robbed from a very, very young age of loving myself. I was robbed from being able to see my community adored and appreciated for who and what we are. I was robbed and told that my frizzy curly hair, brown skin, and my curvy body wasn’t beautiful or appropriate or the right shape. My community was robbed from being seen as full human beings deserving of quality housing, education, food, and other basic services.
We were robbed.
Yet, despite the destructive consequences that white flight left on Bushwick, blacks and Latinxs built homes. They opened bodegas where they could find food from the islands, plantains and rice and mangos and aguacate. They cleaned up the debris of the arson fires and demanded clean and adequate housing. They built community gardens and centers, painted murals, and played salsa and merengue on the street. At a time when no one else wanted it, blacks and Latinxs lived and loved and dreamt in Bushwick. Because of this very history, it is a painful and traumatizing experience to watch my neighborhood, and other working-class communities of color across the city, now serve as only a backdrop to gentrifiers’ instagrams, brunch dates, and art shows. Our homes, bodegas, music, and murals are no longer ours. They are now subjects of analysis on Yelp reviews and millennial blogs. Bushwick’s “authenticity” is set in a frame where yet again white people are at its center. It is also shocking to see white tourist families from suburban America or Europe waiting casually at my train stop. At a time when blacks and Latinxs are treated like animals when they cross into white suburbs by both residents and police, the fact that white families can cross into my ‘hood with ease possesses me with such a high anger, I want to scream “Get Out!!!” to their faces. I shake with such fury because the very society that robbed us of our own self-love and humanity, is robbing us once again and commodifying the things they once told us to hate.
Now as I prepare myself to move to the DMV area for graduate school, I am afraid of who and what I will leave behind. I am afraid of leaving a city that will not be the same when I get back. I am afraid of leaving my mother who recently told me through tears that the landlord is increasing the rent by $200. I am afraid that the community garden next door that was just recently demolished will spring into another $3,000 rent per unit apartment building. I am afraid for my community of working class people of color who can’t ever seem to catch their breath.
And yes while I may be the first to tell you that my city is a living, breathing, magnificent thing that is bound to eternal change, it is also a reflection of who we are as human beings. None of that “Invisible Hand” economics bullshit. We have the ability to shape it into a fair and equitable place. We have the power to resist. So when the hopelessness sets in, when I feel terribly beaten, I remind myself that no matter what the city government or land developers do to my city, the power of who I am and the strength of my community will always ring proudly through its streets.
Sincerely from your daughter,
Born in Queens and raised on the Queens-Brooklyn border by Dominican parents, Rosemary strongly identifies as a Dominican New Yorker. She earned a degree in Environmental and Urban Studies from Bard College and wrote her senior thesis on the impact of gentrification on the emotional, social, and economic well-being of Latinas in her neighborhood of Bushwick, Brooklyn. After graduation, she has worked as an educator and mentor in both New York City and the Dominican Republic. She is currently pursuing her Master’s in the Student Affairs program at the University of Maryland.