Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Mi Vida Loca In Brooklyn

by Ava Marie (writer), New York, NY, August 13, 2009


"Discover Bushwick!" Exploring parts of New York that will probably never make it on a tourist brochure.

When I first decided to move to New York, I told everyone I’d be living in the hip, trendy, East Village area of Manhattan. Naturally, why wouldn’t I want to live there? After all, I had visited for two weeks and spent most of my free time sipping lattes at the quaint cafes, trying new cuisines at the French restaurants, shopping in the over-priced boutiques and took in as much Jazz as I could stomach while I got myself acquainted with what I thought would be my new neighborhood. Of course, since when does life ever go as we plan? After searching for apartments through Craigslist, with zero success, I finally decided on a temporary living arrangement with a girl I had previously met at a party in the Lower East Side. She said she had an apartment with a room available in East Williamsburg that I could rent until I found a place of my own. East Williamsburg sounded like a nice landing place to begin my New York life. I had visited the Greenpoint/Williamsburg areas before and really fell in love with the whole scene there. It was an extension of the Lower East Side, really. The vibe was artsy, young, raw, maybe a little rough-around-the-edges but a great place to start. Piece of cake!

I arrived at JFK and no sooner as I left the baggage claim was I approached by a man who asked me where I was going. “Brooklyn”, I said, to which he quickly replied, “Come wit me”.   I was led through three lanes of passenger pick-up traffic to an incredibly large Puerto Rican man who looked like the Don of the Gypsy Cab Drivers. The Don, not making any eye contact, escorted me over to a enthusiastic man named Abasi in an older model Lincoln Towncar. He quickly grabbed my overstuffed suitcase and threw it in the trunk of the car. As I slipped into the backseat, I began to wonder if I had done the right thing. Thoughts of my unusual disappearance and the montage of my photos that would be used on the episode of Unsolved Mysteries quickly played in my head. My thoughts were soon drowned out by Abasi’s too fast and too furious driving techniques.

Almost to my destination, I realized I wasn’t going to be living in any such artsy, gentrified neighborhood with café’s lining the streets and young hipsters tugging at their vintage cardigans. I wouldn’t be in Williamsburg or even East Williamsburg, for there was no such thing as “East Williamsburg“. I felt like Jack on the Titanic when Cal finally confesses that there is no “arrangement” or boats on the other side to take the men to safety. The car pulled up to a litter-lined street flooded with Salsa music. And here I was: The blonde, white girl from Texas and the new, temporary resident of Bushwick Brooklyn.  “Bushwick“, I said to myself. The name even sounded dirty rolling off the end of my tongue. ‘Bushwick’ is a word that even the residents are afraid to mouth. “Where do you live?” “You know, that slum area of Brooklyn; That which shall not be named”.

After two weeks, the only word I could use to summarize my life was “tired”. Bushwick lived up to it’s reputation. It was a less than classy area, with Latino grocery markets serving up old produce, 7 stops away from Manhattan. It was a series of sleepless nights and a never-ending bus, train, “just a few more blocks to go“ adventure. Everything from making a simple deposit at the bank to shopping at the market, was an event that required methodical planning, walking a mile or two and making sure I had a book and my iPod to keep me company for a 45-minute train ride. What used to take 5 minutes, now required me to shower, get dressed for the day (make-up optional but highly discouraged. It‘s best to look as bad as possible), studying a subway map to figure out which train(s) to take, a 30-minute train ride, a mile walk and a “god, grant me serenity!” Who would have thought that living in New York City would have been such hard work? Performing simple tasks was no longer mindless and my sense of surroundings and awareness became as keen as a fox. I found myself rethinking this entire arrangement and wondering how much of it was really worth the privilege of being able to say “I live in New York”.  But there were also many moments when I realized how phenomenal the city was for it’s art, history, music, cultures, entertainment, fashion, food. And it was true, this city is not for everyone, especially the lazy, faint of heart.

The railroad style apartment that I shared with my room mate was modernly updated, clean, cutely furnished in 21st century IKEA with the residue of 75 years of former residents. And the kitchen came fully integrated with it’s own family of roaches that we had both waged war against in the form of powders, sprays and bombs.
This was the only place I’d ever lived where the bathroom offered multi-tasking capabilities. I could take a piss, wash my hands and give myself a foot soak in the bathtub-all at the same time! The view from the front and the back of this dwelling was stellar, if you didn’t mind looking onto ghetto-style American graffiti and urban poverty. And the back end of the fire escape was fully barred off to deter thieves from breaking in (again) to steal valuable items like laptops, TVs and, I don’t know, expensive French panties?

After two and a half weeks, I had not really had a good nights‘ rest. I was desperately sleep deprived, cranky and bloated from the MSG-laden food at the Latino markets. Between the Salsa music heard round the clock, the droning bass from my next door neighbors‘ surround sound, dogs barking, Polish women yelling obscenities out into the streets, ice cream trucks playing that repetitive nursery rhyme music, horns honking, buses driving by, tow trucks at 3 AM, the screeching, rusty M train running by every 15 minutes, police sirens, thugs yelling, “I’m fuckin' gangsta, bitch!“ while shooting their guns, I was ready to just pack up and head back west on the next thing smoking. And the rats. For as long as I live, I’ll never forget the behemoth rats that could be heard from two stories up, squealing and rustling around in the garbage bags. They’d come out at nightfall, ready to party in all of the Latino leftovers; and the fiesta wouldn’t end until 4 AM.

I missed my old, lumpy bed. I wanted to sleep in, just once, past 8 AM without being disturbed by the aforementioned neighborhood ruckus; I wanted to sleep without the use of earplugs or pills. Or wake up with the cool breeze of a fan blowing on my face on the mornings when it was already 80 degrees in the sweltering heat of an August in Brooklyn.

The neighborhood gentlemen, referred to us as “Blondie Blanco’s“. Translation: “The White Blondies”. We were anomalies in this neighborhood of black and chestnut colored hair. And although most of New York is considered gentrified, I still could'nt help but notice that this neighborhood, in particular, was fighting the currents on that gentrification movement.

Even through all of my experience, there were some good things about living in a Latin ghetto. For example, I had the luxury of listening to loud, energetic Salsa music while shopping at my neighborhood market for groceries. In fact, if I actually wanted to Salsa in the aisle with my loaf of bread, the store clerks wouldn’t have minded at all! There were many off-priced stores that offered household goods and expired but still useable shampoos for a dollar. I found a coffee maker there for $12. I nabbed a $4 dress in a thrift store that could be worn a hundred different ways. How's that for stretching your dollars and cents! There was a great bakery two blocks away that made a delicious carrot loaf cake. It paired very well with my coffee, made in my $12 coffee maker. My neighbors could cook an incredible pot of pinto beans and they’d always offer me a plate, with rice sur le côté, any chance they got. My Guatemalan neighbor, who used to make dentures and porcelain teeth for Dentists in Mexico, gladly offered to glue my crown in for me one afternoon when it suddenly came out as a result of too many Starburst fruit chews.

When the neighbors threw back-yard parties to celebrate a 5-year olds birthday, it would last until 5 AM and my room mate and I (the token white blondies) were always invited to partake in the festivities. There was usually a smorgasbord of food and fresh Pina Coladas. Everyone in the neighborhood was really nice, warm and welcoming. I learned that I truly love the Latin culture for this. They are incredibly loyal, family oriented, big hearted and full of pride, happiness and passion. I learned to Salsa, Merengue, speak a little more Spanish and not only observe but live the way another people in the city live. Even with language barriers, we are all able to come together, live harmoniously and really share and connect as humans.  To me, Brooklyn is where life is real.  There's no resemblance of HBO's Sex and the City.  In the many different boroughs of Brooklyn is where you find authentic culture. I would have never known or experienced this had I not lived in this neighborhood. I have gained an appreciation for my neighbors in a way that I never thought I would. In fact, many interesting people have come from Brooklyn's Bushwick: Eddie Murphy, Mae West and Jackie Gleason, to name a few.

After reading about the history and statistics of Bushwick, I realized this place is quite interesting and not even as scary as one would assume by it's previous crime statistics in the 1980’s-90's. Bushwick experienced 0.0252 violent crimes per person in 2007, in line with the City's overall rate of 0.0250 violent crimes per person.
In the wake of lower crime rates citywide and a shortage of cheap housing in "hip" neighborhoods such as Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Gowanus, an influx of young professionals and artists moved into converted warehouse lofts, brownstones, limestone-brick townhouses and other renovated buildings. Bushwick's 83rd Precinct has a similar crime rate to neighboring Williamsburg's 90th Precinct.

In New York, everyone is here together: Whites, Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Indians, mixed ethnicities, artists, musicians, aspiring rappers and mid-western “blondies” just trying to figure it all out. This is what makes my neighborhood and New York City so intriguing. And even a place like Bushwick would be, at first glance, not a borough you would want to venture into.  But sometimes you have to break open the geode to find the beauty that exists inside.  Even as I write this, I can't help but laugh to myself when I realize all of this is my life and it’s all true. I love the new experiences, the unexpected, the adventure of it all and being challenged and forced out of my comfort zone. I always want to see life from different perspectives and it looks like I have certainly done that here.


About the Writer

Ava Marie is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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18 comments on Mi Vida Loca In Brooklyn

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By Lady D on August 13, 2009 at 03:02 pm

Welcome to the Broo. I love different cultures,which is what makes New york so special. Because in 10 blocks you can travel the world.

More "Tales from the City"please.

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By cristogianni on August 13, 2009 at 03:13 pm

Excellent piece, Ava--and so true! My family on my dad's side is from the Bronx and my mom's from East Harlem. Most people I've come across have very negative stereotyped concepts of these places--and most of them are my fellow New Yorkers! Those folks who were either born and raised in "the City" (i.e. Manhattan), or people who have been living in the city for years, yet never ventured north beyond 96th Street.

Some people would get offended by all the things I've heard, like: "Isn't the Bronx dangerous," or "Can people really live there?" But I really feel sorry for these folks. Not so much for the out-of-towners who don't know any better. But for the people who should know better. For example, how many people know that the Bronx is home to the city's largest public park?: Pelham Bay. And that some of the most pristine woodland in NYC is still preserved in the Botanical Gardens (right across the street from the Bronx Zoo)? How many folks know that the best Italian food, and most authentic dining experience is still found in the heart of the Bronx on Arthur Ave.? And also, that Edgar Allen Poe's home can be found just a stone's throw away over on Kingsbridge Road?

My dad grew up in the middle of all this and had one of the happiest childhoods conceivable. He and his best friend used to rove all over the "unconquered lands" of the Bronx, armed with nothing but chewing gum and pocket knives (which they did, sorry to say, have to use from time to time).

So, you're absolutely right in saying that such places aren't typically found on tourist maps of NYC. A lot is being done  right now, however, to change all that. But overcoming stereotypes and preconceived notions of what a particular neighborhood "is," based on appearances alone, will continue to be a challenge.

Anyway, welcome to NYC, Ava!! You already sound like a native!


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By Kim on August 13, 2009 at 03:28 pm

Bravo, Ava!

Great article.

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By Teresa Montez on August 13, 2009 at 03:52 pm

This article would make me so angry if it wasn't for the fact that attitudes like the ones reflected here are so commonplace.  I am a latina from NYC my neighborhood is totally gentrified and very few are left of my community after being forced out to accommodate white suburban transplants. Though your neighbors have been welcoming to you, woven through your words are your condescending attitude towards them. "The 75 years of grime from the old tenants" the latino grocery's serving up old food, Of course if their latinos there food must be old and bad if you wanted 7/11 why didn't you stay in the suburbs? 

 Ultimately though your life is enriched by your neighbor's presence prices in their neighborhood will go up, landlords will try to force them out etc because you want to live there. I really recommend to you to go see the Danny Hoch's one man show Taking Over, you will see yourself reflected perfectly in one character who like you, moves to "east williamsburg" you will know her when you see her.

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By Ava Marie on August 13, 2009 at 04:12 pm

There is a difference between the word “grime" and "residue". Residue is a word I used to describe the building's original state, roots and history after renovations.

Residue : something left over; something that remains after a process involving the removal of part of the original has been completed.

This word had NOTHING to do with a reference to the neighbors or neighborhood. Yes, the market does serve old produce. This is not a good thing or a negative connotation that reflects a people but the poor attention given by the city. It needs to be addressed because everyone, no matter what neighborhood it is, has the right to fresh produce. I am here in Brooklyn because I want to be, not because I am trying to take advantage of any one group of people. We all have the right to live wherever we want to live.

I have no condescension in what I’m writing about. It is the words of an insider’s point of view, coming into and discovering a neighborhood that I would have never seen or understood otherwise. It was meant as a homage, not as derogatory judgment.

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By Ava Marie on August 13, 2009 at 04:42 pm

You hit the nail on the head, Dean.  Thank you for articulating it so well.
In fact, I wrote something today before I even read Teresa's comment. 

"Today the neighborhood is filled with the sounds of jackhammers and dump trucks. That could only mean one thing: Gentrification in Progress. There are two buildings on just my street that are in complete renovation mode, pulling out all the stops and tearing out concrete to make room for grass and flowers. It's really quite an amazing sight to see a "ghetto" being transformed into a place that will someday be another overpriced neighborhood full of The Village population overflow.

Perhaps Bushwick will someday be appealing to the fickle snoots that at one time wouldn't even consider taking a train further than one stop out of Manhattan. The way I see it, the recession has been good for the aesthetics of Brooklyn's low-income neighborhoods. But when Manhattan residents are forced to move into areas of Brooklyn because the rental rates in The City are too expensive for matchbox-sized apartments, the rents will go up here in Brooklyn, forcing the low-income, hard working residents who have been here for generations to go...where???  Of course I'm concerned, these are people I've grown close to, gotten to know and in many ways consider true friends.

There are price-conscious, economically smart people out here in Brooklyn. We get large apartments for half of what The City pays, we have discount stores and don't get bent over for a sandwich at the corner deli. You pay $8 for a turkey on rye in Manhattan that we pay $4 for. But how long will we be able to outsmart and outrun the city and the climbing rental rates?

Seeing all of the renovations take place are nice. I love to see old buildings transformed to their original glory. But there is a sour part of me that wants to keep it all a secret. I don't want to see authenticity tainted by the fickle who never saw it's beauty in the beginning; those who weren't here when it wasn't so pretty on the outside".

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By Ava Marie on August 13, 2009 at 05:28 pm

That is true, I consider myself as one of the poor people! :)

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By Teresa Montez on August 13, 2009 at 05:50 pm

I have to disagree with you Ava and  Dean, gentrification is not a process that happens  because people move in with the intention of forcing people out. People are forced out by the presence of people whose wealth is much greater than theirs regardless of the intent  No matter how well intentioned Ava or anyone else is will not change the fact that wealthier people moving in makes life worse for us. . Although Ava states "we have the right to live where we want" that statement comes from your position of relative entitlement and privilege.  People of color have never been able to just live wherever we want and yet when we do live somewhere and invest the time to make it livable we are easily forced out if we have to mis-fortune to be "discovered" as Ava states that she has discovered Bushwick. Kind of like Columbus discovered America. 

 But what I was responding to in my comments were statements like this one:  The view from the front and the back of this dwelling was stellar, if you didn’t mind looking onto ghetto-style American graffiti and urban poverty. And the back end of the fire escape was fully barred off to deter thieves from breaking in (again) to steal valuable items like laptops, TVs and, I don’t know, expensive French panties? and this one  I’ll never forget the behemoth rats that could be heard from two stories up, squealing and rustling around in the garbage bags. They’d come out at nightfall, ready to party in all of the Latino leftovers; and the fiesta wouldn’t end until 4 AM.  (So the rats are latino too? how cute.) are  embarrassingly condescending and racist.

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By Ava Marie on August 13, 2009 at 06:12 pm

Our apartment was burglarized and yes, the aforementioned items were stolen. Whatever. You deal with it and move on. The landlord added bars on the fire escape to prevent it from happening again. Yes, the reality of my neighborhood is that it is tagged with graffiti, littered with trash and dilapidated buildings (i.e. poverty). Bushwick ranks as the 7th most impoverished section of Brooklyn. The word "Fiesta" means 'an elaborate party, a feast, outdoor festival'. It's a colorful word describing the imagery I wanted to portray. Stop taking everything I write so literal. Stop picking my literary preferences apart. Stop taking it personal and get off your soapbox.   My roommate is Spanish and my sister is Latina, you really don't know me to criticize me and accuse me of racism.  After reading your articles, I could easily accuse you of being a racist pig by the way you throw around  the "upper, middle class whites taking over our neighborhood" accusations.  I am here in Bushwick because I'm as poor as everyone else.  I have no ideas of entitlement or privilege. I'm just trying to survive. 

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By Teresa Montez on August 13, 2009 at 06:23 pm

wow it sounds like you are the one who are taking it personally I did not go as far as to call you a racist pig or anything else personal or degrading.  I am a Latina who grew up in and with difficulty still lives in a gentrified neighborhood and I am just giving you my opinion of your article but I guess this is not the kind of opinion that it is ok to have, or not one that you want to hear.

Entitlement and privilege are not "ideas" that people have, but whatever you have not given much thought to these concepts and it is not my job to interpret them for you.

 Oh and thanks for the definition of fiesta how kind of you I didn't know that.  

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By cristogianni on August 13, 2009 at 07:49 pm

So I guess no one cared about my Bronx-pride story?

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By Ava Marie on August 13, 2009 at 08:20 pm

I'm sorry, Cristo.  I LOVED your story!  I'd give anything to have parents who grew up in neighborhoods with a pulse. I think about Henry Miller growing up Williamsburg on Driggs Ave. and positively know that his surroundings shaped who he became and inspired his writings. I imagine your parents are just as interesting!  
I visited the Bronx just last week.  I will certainly be back to explore more of it in the near future.

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By cristogianni on August 14, 2009 at 12:46 am

There really is no place quite like NYC. Each of the five boroughs are actually cities unto themselves. Brooklyn alone is the fourth largest city by itself in the U.S. It would take 10 lifetimes to see everything NY has to offer just right now.

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By Lady D on August 14, 2009 at 12:15 pm

The rats in New York are huge. Many a time I mistook them for cats when I was growing up. Sparky was my favorite Kittyrat.

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By juana morel on August 14, 2009 at 01:34 pm

This person is suffering from urban frontiers-woman delusions, you have not discovered a neighborhood that has been fighting gentrification for years check it out:

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By Lady D on August 14, 2009 at 04:43 pm

Wow no wonder humanity is in such big trouble.

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By DLFerguson on August 20, 2009 at 09:30 am

Excellent article, Ava.  I've lived in Brooklyn all my life (still do) and I was both amsued and intrigued by your impressions of Bushwick.  Please give us more stories about your discoveries and experiences.

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By Seema Upadhyay on August 24, 2009 at 02:15 am
Great article Ava. I enjoyed reading your discoveries and could empathise with you.Please continue to write about your journey.Cheers!!!!
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