Issues like child abuse, domestic violence; sexual abuse, rape, mental illness, and drug and alcohol abuse are real life disasters hardly ever spoken of in polite Latino society. What would the nosey neighbors think? Worse yet what would they say? And when one is Gay in a family, one conceals who one is because of what others will think and if they do respond it most likely be the worst possible condemnation, a horror show of dogmatic religiosity. As Latinos, many of us live in denial, sweet, heavy, exhausting denial in order not to deal with reality that we are less than perfect. What would God say? Worse yet, what would God gossip about us?
Living in lies, half-truths and concealing reality has been a way of dealing. This is a small start for New York Latinos: Spanish Harlem, El Barrio is slowly becoming non-existent. Because of gentrification, the once thriving Manhattan Latino community will one day be no more. Because of artists, politicians and developers, this community is on life support and will one day die and fade away. Even with the housing projects, the poor people there will slowly be moved out and El Barrio will be no more.
Latinos must come to terms and come to grips with the reality that people have moved in and taken over. And very few Latinos have done anything to stop it in the last 15 years.
The gentrification began years ago when El Museo del Barrio, which was first created by Puerto Ricans, became co-opted by wealthy museum mavens who changed the museum’s mission from a community-based organization to a Spanish arts museo. Where were the voices of protests? Where was the real little boy to say the Emperor has no clothes?
Ten years ago in 2001, El Barrio was bustling with Latino life. Events like Julia’s Jam at Julia de Burgos Cultural Center were packed with appreciators of poetry and music. “Siempre” newspaper was the community newspaper to read. A small community shopping mall opened. Summer street festivals teemed with people. Latino life thrived for only a short time during a final crescendo of good feeling before vultures flew overhead signaling that the corpse was ready for devouring. The cancerous consumption commenced. No one now wants to believe that the end is near. Someday soon El Barrio as one remembers it will be no more, a thing of the past, only living in memories.
The first line of gentrification has always been the artists who come into a low rent community, bringing their art and making life so quaint with bars, coffee shops, galleries, poetry readings and art happenings. The neighborhood soon gets better services in spite of the fact that, after years when Latinos and African Americans lived there, no one noticed or cared. Soon the artists can’t afford to live in a community they helped change.
The community was heralded in the press as being new, up and coming, then landlords raised rents. Developers began building, not for members of the community. No, they’re on their way out but for the more affluent.
Latino Barrio politicians have sold out the community for development, slowly putting herself out of business because when there are no more Latinos who will vote and the politician’s usefulness gone, then it will be time to vote for someone new. The kind of gentrification coming to El Barrio is the same that has come to central Harlem, with large corporate outlets on every corner. Today, no one wants to recognize that the Apaches are being moved from the Reservation – again.
But, Latinos in El Barrio live in a cloud of purple haze. Maybe this is the only way to get through the day – a big, generous spoonful of denial to make reality go down right. Denial might be good for the psyche because to face all of life’s harsh realities square on could be mentally damaging. We might become depressed leading us to feelings of powerlessness then we turn to the bottle, the drugs or worse the needle. In denial, hurt, alone in a hospital we’ll say “the Devil made me do it.” Makes more sense than facing the truth.