How I Feel About Gentrification As An African and Latino American

by Reggie Wade

I am a lifelong New Yorker, which means I have a love-hate relationship with gentrification.

I was born in Arizona, but I have been a New Yorker since I was 2-weeks old, so I'm kind of an expert on this whole gentrification thing.

Well, maybe not, but here's what I know.

I hail from the land of hot dogs and Johnny Pumps Café.

Yes, I'm talking about Kings County, Brooklyn, New York, the gentrification hub of the Northeast.

Notwithstanding the topic of this article, I don't live in gentrified Brooklyn.

I am from southern Brooklyn, not to be confused with South Brooklyn, as they're two different places.

Yes, I know it's confusing.

Though I am away from the fray, I know a thing or two about gentrification.

I am an African and Latino American who grew up in a predominately black community.

That community is not very large, and unlike other black communities in Brooklyn, it was surrounded by white communities.

A white community is where I would end up going to school.

Much like Chris Rock in “Everybody Hates Chris," I went to school my entire life in an Italian-American community.

Don't worry; it went far better for me than it did for Chris Rock.

I got a front row seat to the world of Italians, which was interesting.

I saw the good, the bad and ugly of Italian-American culture.

The good: the intense pride and Nutella.

The bad: the lectures on how Columbus is a national hero (as someone who traces his roots to the Caribbean, I don't exactly feel the same way).

The ugly: xenophobia — something that plagues every ethnic group — reared its ugly head here.

Bensonhurst was changing from an Italian-American neighborhood into a Chinese neighborhood.

The locals were not pleased.

I, of course, had no problem.

It wasn't my neighborhood, so what was the big deal?

Even in my younger years, I fancied myself a progressive, but was I surprised at the visceral reaction of my Italian friends?

Of course not.

I've seen "Do The Right Thing" and other Spike Lee movies, so this was the type of reaction that should be expected.

I just thanked my lucky stars I was enlightened enough not to feel this way.

Did I mention my best friend is Italian?

Now, fast-forward to a different time and different place: Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Bushwick holds a special place in my heart, and I think the same is true for all Puerto Ricans in our area.

It's the King's Landing of all things Boricua for my "Game of Thrones" fans.

Personally, I've never lived in Bushwick, but much of my extended family has either lived or lives in the community.

My childhood was full of Saturdays going up and down the neighborhood with my mom and grandparents, looking for frills and deals on Myrtle Avenue.

If you can picture that, you can also picture my surprise when years later, a friend of mine admitted he had been to Bushwick a handful of times and had never known it was a Puerto Rican community.

I thought, “It's not possible. How can this be?”

Gentrification, that's how.

Cheap rents and close proximity to Manhattan turned Bushwick from "Little Puerto Rico" to hipster heaven, and guess who wasn't cool with it?

If you guessed yours truly, you're correct.

But why was I feeling this anger and sadness?

Isn't this the very attitude I silently chastised my Italian friends for having a decade earlier?

Yes, I was officially a hypocrite.

I had become what I mocked, and I felt terrible.

So, I decided to take a drive and see this new Bushwick.

Though I was afraid of being a traitor, I kind of liked what I saw.

I saw cool street art, and I saw younger people around my age.

I have to admit, I was digging it.

I was at a crossroads.

Do I sell out my people and heritage, or do I not embrace this new cultural fusion?

Do I go with the fancy new digs of Citi Field, or do I miss old Shea Stadium?

Can I like both? That didn't seem like an option.

It's the 21st century, and not picking sides doesn't seem like an option.

But, it seems like the neighborhood is doing well.

It's cleaner and seems safer.

It made me think, "Why couldn't we (Puerto Ricans) have it like this when the community was ours?"

I know there's a host of socioeconomic reasons for that, which I won't go into, but that's how I felt.

Even with the new inhabitants and new vibe, Bushwick is still a very Puerto Rican neighborhood, but with rent hikes and new developments.

As a staunch moderate, I hope Bushwick can continue being both a Puerto Rican stronghold and a place for the young artistic crowd to live and play, all without seeking to get rid of the proud Boricua culture and influence.

New York isn't called the melting pot for nothing.

Hopefully one day I can feel better about liking this new Bushwick flavor without feeling like a sellout.

My city has a long, proud history of being a home to many people from many different places.

Hopefully New York can continue this way for generations to come.