Yesterday's "Ask A Native New Yorker" column on the topic of gentrification struck quite a nerve—it's still the most viewed entry on the site. We've received a lot of feedback on the piece via email too, but this response from a lifelong Bushwick resident stands out for its passion and honesty. With the permission of the author, 26-year-old Rosa Rivera, we're publishing it here in full. See you in the comments:
To Mr. Jake Dobkin,
This is going to be long but your article really got to me.
I am a native New Yorker, born and raised in Bushwick. I was raised during the mid '90s-early 2000, in between two notoriously shitty blocks. Gangs, violence, shitty schools, you know, the usual. My family and I were very active (and remain active) in the community. We've lead block associations, neighborhood watches and I've helped my community in every way shape and form.
Our rent started to get bananas in around 2001. Despite our wonderful relationship with the live-in landlord (rule #1 of NYC renting: landlords are never your friends) the rent went up every single year. And every single year my parents worked more hours, hustled for everything and made the rent. Despite living in a rat and roach-infested shit hole in a horrible state of disrepair, my parents and I made it.
After many years of increasing rents my family started to look for a new place to move and we were lucky enough to qualify and receive middle income housing in another part of Bushwick. But not a day goes by that I don't miss that block where I was born and raised.
I see the gut renovation my landlord did as soon as we moved out and feel disgusted. I see my best friends and families having to move to Cypress Hills and East New York and I am livid. I feel such an unending wave of anger and frustration. Sometimes I get off my train station on Morgan Avenue and feel suffocated by this rage when I see a sea of new faces and new businesses. I feel anger that the home that my family tried to carve out of this horrible little slice of earth called Bushwick is not mine any more. Or rather, that the fruit now ripe for picking isn't ours.
I've tried to get my life together to move out with my fiance and get married. We were both born and raised here (he in the projects and me in the 'hood). When we've tried to look for a place in Bushwick or in the surrounding neighborhoods for a good price we only encounter walls and impossibility. I've had to switch from a stable, rewarding non-profit career to something in the medical field to be able to have some semblance of a life in this borough. I still live with my parents and he with his, and we're both almost 30.
This shit is hard. Like stupidly insanely hard. I am St. Patrick's-Day-Beer-Vomit-Green with jealousy when I see those beautifully renovated apartments along Irving or Knickerbocker Avenue. I want to cut those bitches shopping at Mary Meyer with their ridiculously expensive, cute vintage outfits. I want to scream when I see a studio space I could never afford to start a small business. I even seriously considered selling some weed to build a little nest egg to start a little business... how fucking ghetto is that?
I tell you all of this because for eight years I've tried to make sense of my uncontrollable anger at gentrification. It's not a race thing, it's not a class thing, it's a place thing. I do not understand why my anger is so deep and so hot.
But when I read your article today the machinery of forgiveness and understanding began to whir. You have made me realize that this horrible journey that all of us working and poor kids in this city endure is not new. That while this anger is justifiable, it's also poisonous. It has prevented me from getting to know the new businesses and the newcomers. I see that this gentrification bullshit is going to happen no matter what, but maybe it can be done a little more humanely and a little more compassionately (on both parts).
I will print your article and carry it in my purse and cherish it. I will try to be more open, more forgiving and more accepting of my position. Lord knows how many people will be in this position. (except Brownsville—Brownsville will never, ever be gentrified....MAD PROJECTS!)
Your column is getting better and better every week. I hope you make it into a book and I'll be the first on line!
Much love from a Bushwick girl,