I’m Still Here: Living In Gentrification As A Puerto Rican In Williamsburg, Brooklyn

"Just because you have imposed yourself in our community, it doesn’t mean we are gone."
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Williamsburg, Brooklyn near Manhattan Avenue
Williamsburg, Brooklyn near Manhattan Avenue
Damaly Gonzalez

An ode to gentrification everywhere:

El Gran Combo, “Un Verano En Nueva York,” blaring from the cars passing down Broadway in Brooklyn in celebration of the Puerto Rican Day Parade. People greeting each other with smiles as wide as the two-lane street between Borinquen and Grand Street. This was home.

It wasn’t only the Salsa music, loud horns and people yelling Boricua. It was more than that. It was the community. The migration we were forced to endure in the 1950s to struggle to get to where we were. It was the feeling of belonging. There was freedom to be ourselves in our own space. This is why I loved Williamsburg.

“There was freedom to be ourselves in our own space. This is why I loved Williamsburg.”

Born in Brooklyn, New York. The Avenue of Puerto Rico known as Graham Avenue, around Flushing and Broadway, was where I grew up ― when the bodegas and apartment windows had Puerto Rican flags proudly displayed, waving defiantly. Salsa music blasted on every corner and men outside the delis playing dominoes and drinking Budweiser.

But suddenly everything violently changed. It was a rapid transformation. Like one day, I woke up and moved in my sleep. Like the layers of my skin, was slowly peeled off coat by coat until you could only see bones. And like the DNA of those bones were extracted, you tried to burn the evidence and bury my identity.

We know the story. Developers came in, took lots of lands and buildings. They began constructing apartments and buying out people’s homes. Little by little, we were being displaced ― replaced.

“Little by little, we were being displaced ― replaced.”

Now, like battling depression, I battle displacement ― questioning my existence in the place I grew up, in the only place I could call home because dealing with a dual identity in America was already hard enough.

Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts. J. Crew and Urban Outfitters. Million dollar condos and excessive rent hikes. Us trying to fit in, but clearly being left out.

If I could scream from the top of my lungs to make you stop, I would still be invisible.

I just want to say I am still here.

Just because you have imposed yourself in our community, it doesn’t mean we are gone. Even if you replace every single one of us, it doesn’t mean you won’t step on the very ground we walked on.

We are still here.

We are here in the bodegas still pricing bagels under $2; in the bar-filled Grand Street where there was once Latino-owned businesses; on the Avenue of Puerto Rico, that you tried to change the name of, where there is San Germán music store still playing Salsa; the Moore Street Market still cooking alcapurrias and sorullitos and our Mexican counterparts selling empanadas and horchata from a cart.

In the shadows of the Apple Store, Whole Foods and Chipotle on Bedford Avenue, I stand still reflecting on my childhood memories of community, family-owned businesses and warmth, where I now feel coldness and loneliness walking through the glass doors of corporate takeovers.

You would say everything changes, nothing lasts forever. So we ask “When are you leaving?” And you would say “Never.”

— —

Damaly Gonzalez is a Travel and Latino Culture Writer from Brooklyn, NY. She is the founder of Backpacking the Caribbean, an online cultural travel hub that connects the traveler to an authentic Caribbean experience. Read more in her bio.

Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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