Monday, August 21, 2006

Chikenfried and Gentrified

TwitThis


I have been ranting and raving about Chango's Fire for the last two weeks.

It is an imaginative book about gentrification in Harlem.

About burned buildings in the Bronx.

About Dutch, Dominican, Russian and Puerto Rican immigrants.

About what it means to have your home in the hood.

A place that looks like nothing, and you flip it into something, because t
hat is all you have at the moment.

Ernesto is that Dude.

I present to you.

Chango's Fire.


Spanish Harlem was worthless property in the seventies and early eighties. Many property owners burned their own buildings down and handed the new immigrants a neighborhood filled with hollow walls and vacant lots. Urban Swiss Cheese. The city would then place many of us in the projects creating Latino reservations. These city blocks, full of project buildings on each corner, were built not so much to house us as to corral us. To keep us in one place. We were slowly but surly relocated, as many who owned real estate burned the neighborhood, collected the insurance, sat on the dilapidated property and waited for better days.
Today, the wait is over, Spanish Harlems burned out buildings are gold mines. Many of the same landlords who bruned their tenements are now rebuilding. Empowerment zoning has changed the face of the neighborhood. Chain store rise like monsters from a lake. Gap. Starbucks. Blockbuster Video. Old Navy. Like the new Belin, El Barrio is being rebuilt from the ashes. THe rents are absurdly high, and it breaks my heart, because Spanish Harlem had allways been the springboard. A place where immigrants came to better themselves and, when they had reached the next plateau, they'd leave traces of their culture, a bit of themselves behind, and move on. A melting pot pf past successs stprioes- Dutch, Jews, Irish, Italians.
I know all neighborhoods must change, but if you are Puerto Rican and need to learn where you came from and who you are, you need to start in Spanish Harlem. The spiritual landmarks are still here in El Barrio. Helens people don't seem to have mystical places like ours. They don't have a sacred Harlem, an East L.L., a South Central. They don't have a poor holy place that speaks to your soul, vibrant streets that tell you about those that came before you. All they have are small towns that either die or stay the same. Small towns that they don't care to romanticize. Small towns that they try and kill inside themseleves when they leave for New York City or whereever and never look back.
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1. Spiritual Landmarks. What!?!?!?!!

2. Poor Holy Place. What !?!?!?! Who is this guy and why doesn't he teach a fiction class at City?


3. Sacred Harlem!?!?!?! What. A neighborhood. Sacred. Who knew?

4. What do you all think of the excerpts. Are they over the top. Too politcal. Not politcal enough.

I find them timely and endearing.
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5 comments:

Xavier said...

I grew up on long Island in the 70s dying to live in the city. The worse I was told it was, the more I wanted to live there. Visions of West Side Story filled my mind as I imagined myself making out with Tania. She was the childhood sweetheart I was too shy to ever talk to. But somehow I believed that simply being on a rooftop in Harlem would give me the courage to tell her how I felt. Silly, I know, but Harlem always had a particular allure for me and I’m glad the phoenix is rising from the ashes.

Hummingbyrd said...

Story filled my mind as I imagined myself making out with Tania.
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Don't we all have these.

The rooftop prolly would have given you the courage.

Thats what rooftops are for.

Dreaming and thinking.

Big Walt said...

"Small towns that they don't care to romanticize. Small towns that they try and kill inside themseleves when they leave for New York City or whereever and never look back."

God damn, that shit is real. One of the things I've tried to do with my music is make people from small blue collar towns more proud of where they came from.

And not in a getting in fights with kids from the next town over way either.

Hummingbyrd said...

you should read it walt.

you would heart it.

Big Walt said...

Alright, I guess I will.

I'm reading Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas right now, which is sorta related.

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