This Is Not My Brooklyn

I say, “I’m from Brooklyn” like there’s a grenade exploding from my mouth.

I walk different after saying it. My step is a little harder, my shoulders more square, nose held higher in the air. It’s a momentary self-assuredness that follows me for a spell.

I feel it rise into my jaw when I see her approach across the water as I’m crossing the Williamsburg Bridge; when the train doors close on First Avenue and the L snakes under the East River.

The thing is, the Brooklyn I’m from isn’t the Brooklyn of today. It’s not that funky Brooklyn that I keep in my back pocket in case somebody tries it. (You don’t wanna mess with a girl from 1980s Bushwick.)

My Brooklyn is the Brooklyn of the Domino sugar factory and rubble and crack. Nostalgia can be a confusing thing. It isn’t always for the neat and pristine. It’s sometimes a longing for something you know wasn’t always pretty, but was always home.


When people speak of the old Brooklyn, when they refer to it in articles & essays, the Brooklyn before the organic markets and food co-ops, before there was a trash can on every corner and community gardens, they talk about it like it was all bad, like all there was was poverty and crack and single moms (because you know we’re the bane of existence, right?), violence and high school dropouts.

When I discovered my seven year old self in a picture in an exhibit by Meryl Meisler, I hesitated before reaching out to her. I was far too familiar with the images of my old neighborhood from way back when. Yes, there was drugs; yes, there were addicts and there was violence and the blaring sirens from the fire trucks were so common that they became white noise; but you know what? There was also love, there were people who thrived in that and loved in that and raised families in that. What I loved about Meryl’s work was that that’s what she focused on. There’s no images of the crack vials in the gutter or the mother pulling hard on her pipe while her child looks on. There’s none of that. Why? Because there was more than that and that’s what Meryl documented.

Photo Credit: Meryl Meisler
Photo Credit: Meryl Meisler/

So when people talk about gentrification like it’s something that saved the neighborhood, that saved my people, it’s real reminiscent of the defense of colonization and the idea that the white man came to the new world to civilize the savages. There’s something insidious about that mindset. It’s called Columbusing.


When I think of Brooklyn, the first word that comes to mind is home. But my home isn’t today’s Brooklyn. Those quaint cafés and yoga studios were not built for me. My Brooklyn isn’t the Brooklyn where a townhouse just hit the market with an asking price of $40 million dollars.

There’s something about losing our homes that’s particularly grating. Humans have a natural pull to where we’re from, like umbilical cords that keep us linked to a maternal figure, a patria, something greater than ourselves; a place of where we felt safe & welcome, where we could be our full selves. To have that taken away and be made to feel like strangers in our own land is jarring and painful in so many ways.

I miss the sense of community of the old neighborhood. I miss the intrinsic Latino flavor that signaled that I was home as soon as I stepped off the L train on Myrtle Avenue. The piragüero on the corner who knew me by name and always asked for my mother. The borinqueña waving in the wind from every other window. The bodeguero Miguel who gave us credit when the food stamps ran out. And our Boricua neighbor from next door who gave us a tembleque during the holidays and mom gave her tamales.

We all need to feel like we belong somewhere, & that’s what Bushwick gave me, especially after I left for boarding school at 13 and found myself rootless in the world. Nostalgia is strange like that. Sometimes it’s a longing for the gritty and profane.


My mind goes to that woman who came to the Bushwick Open Studios Exhibit I co-curated with Meryl Meisler (Defying Devastation: Bushwick Then & Now) and read my work on gentrification. She shifted uncomfortably as she read, breathing heavily, her leg started shaking and she folded her arms over her chest, folding and unfolding several times. “But Nyssa’s white,” she told me, as if I hadn’t notice this fact about Nyssa, the owner of The Living Gallery. “What’s your point?” “Well, you’re talking about us.” “Is that all you got from the piece?” She rolled her eyes, shrugged and walked away.

She didn’t want to understand where I was coming from, or at least I didn’t see her making any attempt to. I heard the defensiveness in her voice, the “us versus you” in her tone. It didn’t matter that the exhibit was an attempt at a dialogue about gentrification and how we can possibly connect those who have been here for a long time and those who are fresh arrivals, new to the city and this neighborhood that has so much history, so much life, where so much existed before even this woman was born. I wanted to tell her that before she came to this earth, I’d had my first kiss less than a mile away in the hallway of 365 Palmetto Street. Across the street and three blocks down was where I started to come out of my shell and saw that maybe I did have a knack for this writing thing. And a block over from there was where I practiced for months before hopping on a plane to Turkey in April of 1989 to represent the US at the NATO Children of the World Festival. The irony does not escape me that a group of brown and black kids from Bushwick were chosen to represent the US at this festival all those years ago.

These days, when I go back to Bushwick what I remember isn’t what is. The corriente that ran through the neighborhood is gone. There’s no Jerry Rivera blasting from passing cars. La doña who never left her spot at the window of her second floor apartment on Grove Street, is gone. She took her PR curtain flag with her. The cuchifrito spot on the corner is gone too; there’s a $5 cappuccino spot there now. When I went in to order a café, the barrista said, “You mean coffee?” “No,” I said, “I mean café.” I almost slapped him when he charged me $3 for an eight ounce cup. The café wasn’t even good.


I read on Twitter that on her desk writer Tayari Jones has “a tiny jar containing a few spoonfuls of earth from Lorain, Ohio. This is how much I love Toni Morrison.” I thought of that junk yard next to our building at 383 Palmetto Street, and that backyard where I’d climb up the plum tree. In those connected yards was where I started telling myself stories. There are the roots to this writing life I created for myself. In that junk yard, among the debris, the lumber with rusted nails sticking out at all angles, the piles of car tires and license plates, the feral cats that nested beneath all that rubble, there I started telling myself stories, I started imagining a different life, I imagined myself the female Indiana Jones and that I was a dancer like Leroy and Coco in Fame.

If I could, I’d have a tiny jar containing spoonfuls of that soil. The soil from back then. The soil that fed mami’s garden those two years that she planted her tomatoes and peppers and eggplant, before she brought her plants inside because there she could protect them, outside she could not.

That soil didn’t need anyone to save it. That soil is what did the saving. That soil is what molded and saved this girl, who is now writing this essay at her desk, living this life that she started imagining way back in the Brooklyn people denigrate.

The other day at a reading in Greenpoint, an audience member asked, “Where are you from and how does that shape your work?” I said, “I’m from Brooklyn,” like I had a grenade exploding in my mouth. I survived boarding school and Columbia University and those people that said I couldn’t and I shouldn’t because I’m brown and woman and poor, I survived all that because I’m from Brooklyn. Nearly 40 years old and that’s still true.

Thank you, Brooklyn. Como tú, no hay y nunca habra otra.



  1. I grew up in Bushwick (Linden Street!) in the 80s as well. Thanks for this piece. It helped me remember that Bushwick was more than the gunshot lullabye. It really had an amazing sense of community that I have yet to experience since moving away at 18.

  2. Amazing depiction of where we come from you speak for us all growing up in Brooklyn during the 80’s. I am a committee member from Williamsburg Los Sures that gets together once a year for the last 5 years on the 3rd week of July and brings back a taste of our roots back to the South Side with a Reunion block party on South 2nd between Havemeyer and Roebling Street. We have a dj, face painting, a huge bounce house for the kids, educational literature from Boricua College, Free spanish food, piragua truck ect. I can go on and on however, I would like to extend an invite I would love for our people to hear your words..

  3. As a fellow brooklynite, I enjoyed this read. This isnt Brooklyn the Brooklyn I grew up. Sometimes you feel like you don’t belong.

  4. I loved reading this article. My first time to the states was last September, when I was incredibly lucky to get a fantastic guide showing up Brooklyn on the hop-on hop-off bus. He proudly called himself a Brooklynite and told us so many things about Brooklyn that my head nearly exploded after.
    I didn’t know your Brooklyn, but I sure loved the one I saw today.

  5. I grew up in Brooklyn in the sixties. I lived in Sheepshead Bay and worked as a teacher in Bed-Sty. I attended Brooklyn College and finally got a rent controlled apartment at Ave K. and Kings Highway. I was a loner. But I remember the elevated trains and walking down the wide streets. Living in a apartment complex. Going to the roof. I remember the days of smog in the air. It was a long time ago. i still have a Brooklyn College Shirt. Thanks for the memories. Mine are not like yours but it still is Brooklyn.

  6. There are areas in London UK experiencing the same loss of identity that you describe here, and whilst culture is living and changing – I think I can definitely relate to the longing for security and nostalgia in that “homeliness community” you described so eloquently.

  7. I lived in Sunset Park from 94-02! I loved the sense of community we had set the local bodega, pizzeria, and bagel shop! Haven’t been back to visit for about 5 years but am grateful I had a chance to “grow up” emotionally in Brooklyn. Those sights and smells are something only another Brooklynite can relate to!

  8. this is a phenomenal piece of writing. i only know the ‘new’ Brooklyn, but having read this i feel envious. i feel cheated. i feel it’s a fake Brooklyn that has a piece of my heart.
    thank you for sharing this little piece of historic education, a real home truth.

  9. whoohoo! Look at you, getting FP AGAIN! The message, of course, and always, your fine, passionate writing. Keep it coming – I’m so glad you’re getting noticed here in WP world.

  10. This is beautiful in so many different ways. I was born in Brooklyn, but I’m only now rediscovering New York, nearly two decades later, and I’m falling in love. Your depiction of the sense of community in Brooklyn not so long ago is wonderful.

  11. I have never been to Brooklyn but I do agree that technological advancement and economic development, along with gentrification, do distance people from one another. Back then when we didn’t have fancy apartment buildings, cool smartphones or gadgets, fashionable clothing that screams “I’m expensive”, or the never-satisfying pursuit of success, we had each other. We were a community which didn’t care what race, gender, religion, etc., you were. Yet with all the improvements we try to make in our quality of life, come the labeling and competition against people whom we think aren’t “our kind”. It’s sad to see how we declare we’ve made breakthroughs and advancements in different fields, but so few of us notices how our humanity is slowly deteriorating.

    • When it comes to labeling and competition against people whom we think aren’t our kind, do you not think that saw cuts both ways?
      I live just outside Asheville, NC. In earlier times it was all textile mills, machine shops and good ol’ southern grit. Now there are lots and lots of breweries, yoga studios, food co-ops and organic markets. The ethnic and cultural diversity are constantly growing and it drives the natives out of their minds. I have read and heard from many people that this is no longer “Their” town. They are right, it’s not. It is now the town of the ones who bought in, who opened up long-closed downtown storefronts and attracted the weirdos like me who help make it go. We “Johnny-come-lately” types, only twenty years for me, have earned our place. This is not an Asheville thing. It’s about accepting the idea that, wherever you are, changes aren’t permanent but change is (Thanks, Neil).

      • I understand that change is a constant. I worry when that change is racially and culturally (socio-economically) biased. Does it cut both ways? I’m sure it does but I can only speak for what I’ve experienced, what I’ve seen. I know that the gentrification happening in my old neighborhood isn’t for the benefit of the people who were there. People who are largely poor and black/brown.

      • I’m uncomfortable with the idea that we have to accept something simply because it’s inevitable. I think that’s a dangerous mindset and the activist heart in me rejects that notion.

      • I understand your perspective, and do agree with you that with globalization, gentrification and such, more and more places are losing their cultural heritage. I just do not encourage the idea or labeling of “their/our” town because it implies the very notion of discrimination. This land was never theirs/yours/ours in the first place. It is evident in history that Aboriginal people were driven out of their rightful land and had been abused by immigrants. And we are all virtually immigrants. But Aboriginal people are human too. So why are we implementing mental barriers to separate them, or any group that is thought of as “outsiders”, from us?
        Yes, change is inevitable. There’s no denial to that. But rather than criticizing the damage caused by it, I think it is wiser to spend our time on figuring out how to retain our cultural heritage while not rejecting change.

      • Thanks for reading and commenting Christy, but no, you do not understand my point at all. Humans are territorial. We have a connection to home so, yes, we label things ours and theirs. It’s a human inclination. I won’t deny my humanity to be politically correct. Also, the truth remains that this “change” you want me to embrace has serious racial and socioeconomic undertones that must be addressed. Let’s be realistic here–those yoga studios, organic markets, etc. were not built for me or the people that have been in my neighborhood for decades. They were built for the newcomers. I choose to address these issues. Doing so in no way stops me from retaining my cultural heritage. These two things are not mutually exclusive.

        Also, what do aboriginal people have to do with this essay? At what point did I deny their humanity or separate them? You seem to be reaching for straws.

        I’m all for reading people’s opinions, but I won’t let them silence me. Not going to happen.

      • Also, this notion of accepting things as opposed to criticizing them is problematic on multiple levels, mostly because it’s colonialist and privileged.

      • I was addressing kennynines’ comment but your comments have inspired some thoughts as well. I do hope you will be able to straighten out the socioeconomically biased change that is happening. But if you’re saying you do not support those studios or markets because they aren’t built for your people, then why not change the nature of it and become one of the people who enjoy the new additions? All I’m saying is those changes aren’t exclusive to a certain group, even if they were meant to be that way. We all have the power to change that.
        No Aboriginal people have nothing to do with your essay. Nor was I suggesting you were depriving them of their humanity. But that doesn’t exclude them from our responsibilities. In fact, I strongly believe that everyone on this planet is part of my responsibilities because there’s always something I can do to help them or to eliminate social injustice. I respect that you do not share my perspective. And I wasn’t suggesting to accept changes because that was how things were; I’m suggesting to accept changes because it doesn’t stop here. If the change has been done, there’s virtually no way to revert it back to original or the way it was. But what we can do is to induce another change to better it. For instance, as much as I wish I still live near the sea, circumstance has rendered it impossible. But I didn’t let it stop me. I remind myself that just because I lost something doesn’t mean dwelling on the past will bring it back. Instead, I shall take the active position and not depend on others but myself to achieve my goals.

      • Christy, please stop and think for a second that you’re imposing your single story on others. Do you understand what it’s like to have your neighborhood taken over and things built not intended for you. Things you can’t afford. Apartment buildings going up around you so you’re eventually priced out of the neighborhood you built roots in. Where will these people go? You’re oversimplifyhing things and, frankly, that’s insulting to the point of this essay and to the many who have been displaced.

        This is about so much more than dwelling in the past, which as a memoir and writer of personal essay I’m tired of hearing. We’re all influenced by our past. Writing about it isn’t harping or dwelling. If you don’t get that, cool, but don’t impose that on me. Seriously. Stop.

        For you to compare this to your not living by the sea and not letting that stop you is ridiculous. Yes, I said ridiculous. Why? Because this is about marginalized people being further marginalized. It encompasses issues of classism and racism. I write about this reality as commentary and to spur change. To make people conscious so we can effect change. This isn’t a fruitless mission I’m on. This essay is just part of it.

      • Being priced out of the neighbourhood was basically how me and my family got displaced into our current environment. I apologize if you think my comment is insulting. There’s a difference between imposing and expressing, and I believe I have been doing the latter instead of what you suggested. I’m not saying your mission is fruitless. To the contrary, I admire people like you who are voicing out their opinions. I just have a different view from yours when dealing with these issues.

      • We were more than just priced out though, Christy. Check out some of the images of Bushwick in the era I’m speaking of. The neighborhood was a pile of rubble. We lived in that, thrived in that, loved in that. No one came to fix it. And when they did, the fixing wasn’t for us. That’s painful. So, yes, it’s a soft spot for me as I watch my neighbors pack up and move, and the community get leeched of its flavor and what made it home…

      • Also, your language sounded impositional. “I think it’s wiser”…”why not do this…” But, yes, reading is subjective and this is a soft topic for me… Still, there’s a privilege in telling someone to take advantage of the change that has come because you assumes that people can. Sadly, most of the people who have been in the neighborhood for decades can’t afford to shop at the organic markets or pay $5 for a cappuccino. There are much larger issues here to consider.

      • I just like to tell myself that there’s always something I can do to change the situation, no matter how small or insignificant such action may seem, even if it’s just a prayer or a thought on my mind. I have to tell myself that, otherwise I’d feel so powerless.

      • I’m an activist. I hope to be able to effect positive change. I even co-wrote a book to help young activists do that. But the thing is, before you can effect change, you have to consider what’s needed by the people that are there, NOT what you think they need. That mindset is colonialist and it pervades many movement and ngos.

      • That is so right Vanessa!..beautifully said!…I was pushed out of the neighborhood I grew up in in Brooklyn because of all this change!..It made me feel unwanted, just because I was not making a lot of money, or I was one of the leftovers as the hipsters call us…The nerve!..I know we can’t go backwards, but if we must go forward, then it should be with equality and respect for those of us that made the neighborhood what it was!. Thank You for standing up for that!…Some people just don’t get it!

      • Hello, fellow Ashevillein! I was going to comment about how she said everyone needs to belong somewhere. I moved to Asheville 2 1/2 years ago, and it’s the only place I’ve ever felt like I belonged.

  12. I’m a Queens boy myself (though I moved away last year) and can attest that it’s changed significantly there, too. Brooklyn is also another planet in itself now. It’s fascinating, almost unsettling.

    This was a magnificent piece. Happy to discover you and I’ve followed you!

  13. I live in an area across the pond undergoing rapid gentrification. While I’m not from there originally it breaks my heart seeing the rift in our community between new and old Hackney. Thanks for your words!

  14. I grew up in the South Bronx in 80s – at that time Brooklyn was a step up from where I was raised! But we had the same sense of family and community. I’ve experienced the same phenomena whenever I tell someone I’m from the Bronx, and brace myself for the requisite explanation it would require as to how I survived it. Today I wear it as a badge of courage, honor and yes, survival. As I raise my son in mostly white suburbia, I worry about his naivete, and, realizing he doesn’t have the street smarts I raised with, wonder how he will survive in the world. I wouldn’t trade my Bronx for anything.

    • Thanks for reading! I remember the South Bronx in that era. Bushwick was no different. Both communities suffered from the Fire Wars that left our communities a pile of rubble. There was love there & that life equipped me for so much, including my becoming a writer and educator.

  15. If you trace Brooklyn’s history back far enough you end up with a circle of teepee’s. Life was real back then, I mean proper authentic. Not like the gentrified Brooklyn of the 1970’s with its brick houses, poorly lit streets, dirty bus services and indoor plumbing….

    I think we just have to accept that Starbucks are an invincible force which cannot be stopped ….. unless of course we all stopped buying coffee from them for like a week, in which case they would instantly go out of business and have to start selling off all their high rent coffee bars in all those prime locations…

    • Thanks for reading but I’m not sure what you mean by “real authentic” nor do I understand your reference to 1970s Brooklyn as gentrified. Did you live there in that era? What point are you trying to make and how does it relate to this essay?

      Also, I don’t have to accept anything, really. I don’t drink Starbucks so there’s that too…

      • Hi Vanessa, I’m letting you know most women don’t know what Curiosetta means… until they find out Curiosetta is a troll that harasses women, single mothers, people of color, feminists, LGBTQ people and anyone that they can degrade. Curiosetta mostly prefers to attack and troll site where when have been abused or raped and then perpetuate further abuses. I am some of my friends keep encountering Curiosetta is public blog forums and we feel obligated to alert women of Curiosetta’s violence against women.

        I liked your post and am sorry to be leaving you this message as an introduction. Peace. –TRE

      • Thank you for alerting me. I sensed that this person was a troll, especially because this person doesn’t have an account on WordPress. Such trolls are cowards who leech off people’s energy. They often have severe self-esteem issues. Thankfully I know the power of my voice and my story. People have tried to silence me. It’s never worked. It’s not going to work now.

  16. Love the post. I might live in Canada, but dad lives in Queens. I remember the Brooklyn that you talk about. Last year my sister and I went to Brooklyn and we were blown away how different it is.

  17. Your perspective reminds me of my Brooklyn too. I grew up in the early 90’s but it wasnt about anything but community and I do miss that. Im still here but I am actually ready to go

  18. Reblogged this on Deme Mama and commented:
    I always make the joke that my name is Brook, born in Brookdale hospital in Brooklyn, and I have now have two degrees from Brooklyn College. Im always Brooklyn! This is the Brooklyn that I talk about!

  19. I just moved to Manhattan but this piece made me long for my roots back in Maryland as well as the Brooklyn you loved back then. Beautiful imagery. Great read.

  20. Sadly, Brooklyn is not the only neighbourhood struggling with gentrification. It is the same in Berlin (Germany), especially in the boroughs of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain. They used to be home to the left-wing counterculture, but appearently became so hip that is hard to get an affordable apartment.
    Greetings from Germany!

  21. I lived in Portland, Oregon for a year .

    In my time there I quickly learned of other sections of the city that had undergone, and were undergoing their own transformations from districts previously ignored into hip areas and rapid development. While I am not completely opposed to gentrification, it too often results in displacing the population that had lived in the area, ignoring their history there. It is disheartening that those who seek to gentrify these areas are doing so not to benefit those who already live there, but to carve out their own section of the city that was otherwise forgotten about.

    I did a quick scan of your linked article within this post. At the end you wrote;

    “You wonder why white people had to move here for it to happen. And you worry about your people; what will happen to them when the high rents creep up on their doorsteps? And when you hear there’s a movement to change the name of Avenue of Puerto Rico back to Graham Avenue “because there’s nothing Puerto Rican here,” a hipster said, you want to ask him: “Are you just trying to get us out or do you also want to erase the memory that we were ever even here?”

    I have never been able to say my people due to a variety of reasons, but this still brought tears to welt at the brims of my eyes. Perhaps because I have been at the brink in my life before, penny-less at times, homeless for a bit. Perhaps because my own mother lost her housing due to raised rent under similar circumstances brought upon by redevelopment of an “iffy” neighborhood.

    I will read this again later.

  22. This article was so insightful and we’ll written. I am a student attorney working in a legal aid clinic and part of my job is to produce mitigating factors like “but look where he grew up.” This was a really wonderful reminder that while mitigating factors are important for sentencing, I need to be sensitive to my client. That is their home, their roots and their family. My goal is to try to present a clients background in manner that honors that.

  23. Reblogged this on the redd report and commented:
    As a law student at a legal aid clinic it is often my job to present “mitigating factors.” For juveniles one large mitigating factor is where the juvenile grew up. When a lawyer sees that a juvenile grew up in a low poverty or high crime neighborhood it is easy to jump on an opportunity to talk about how terrible their upbringing was. This beautifully written piece is a good reminder that where people come from is not your tragic story to tell. Yes it’s relevant and you may be guilty of malpractice for not bringing it up. But these are people’s homes we are talking about. Sensitivity and tact are in order.

  24. Very poignant and telling. Thank you very much for this account, please keep writing. Being a French girl in Ireland, I see France under a different angle every time I step on the French soil, so I can relate it to what you say – and what’s more I went to Brooklyn once, so I can picture it in my mind, and your description of today’s Brooklyn (the only one I know) is very accurate!

  25. I read all of your writing. Thank you for sharing your point of view. Just because a place is poor, doesn’t mean there are insignificant people there. Everyone has something to do , and say. Even the shy ones, and those who have to write, to be heard.

  26. I love this, Vanessa! I’ve been living in Greenpoint for the past 20 years and am sickened with how much it’s changed…and not for the better. You’d think I’d be thrilled, being that people in my age group are moving in but I feel the complete opposite. These hipsters are rude, condescending and have no respect for anyone or anything. Don’t even get me started on the rents/gentrification. We’re losing our view of the New York City skyline to high-rises. I’m hoping that one day they’ll hear word about another state to dwell in and they’ll all leave. If I have to hear the word, “like” one more time…..

  27. Loved that! For a little while I lived in a loft apartment in a similarly gentrified area on the edge of inner city Johannesburg, South Africa. I love the place, it’s feel and atmosphere but having seen the area before it was ‘done up’ I have always understood that what is is today did come at some sort of a price to the ‘original community’ of that area. Your piece was written from a point of view similar to someone who would have lived there before, so it sort of spoke to me.

  28. Vanessa, you are so spot on!. This is exactly how I feel about Brooklyn, my home, my safe haven!…I grew up in East Williamsburg…on the border of Greenpoint, which I know so well..I also lived all over there. On Graham Ave..It was an Italian area and we would all know each other and it was not just a place to live, it was a community!. The rising rents pushed me out of my home where I was born and raised and now I live in Ridgewood. I want to go home to Brooklyn so bad, but it’s not happening anytime soon! So I get it..Big Time!

  29. I left the New York of my childhood in the nineties to make my way to college. I returned in 2012 after what seems like lifetimes. And even though I made my way back periodically to visit family, the New York I returned to has taken considerable getting used to. Brooklyn exemplifies the gentrification that happened to New York. But the fact that small businesses that have been *completely* priced out of Manhattan is also disheartening. (Somebody tell me what happened to 8th street and B’way!) I get it, of course. But it doesn’t make me any less nostalgic or homesick for the landscape of 80s and 90s NYC.

  30. Wonderful, wonderful piece. I’m new to WordPress and this is the first time I’ve ever read something of yours- this is the kind of writing that I aspire to.

  31. Funny how this comes just as I was about to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Maybe I needed to read it for other reasons too. I’ve never been shy to admit that I absolutely HATE my own town and refuse to call it “home”. The climate is the worst part, followed by the crime and high unemployment (both comparably recent developments). It’s just a sub-suburb of Chicago that’s forever sinking to new lows. Still, others have reminded me to be thankful that I have roots, even in this place. And I am thankful for those fuzzy memories of the days when it was like a giant small town. No one cared about salaries or status; they cared about their neighbors, their houses, and their schools. No amount of gentrification can bring back that spirit.

  32. I really FELT this piece, understanding it completely. I lived in Brooklyn my whole life, in fact I only moved away 6 years ago. When I lived there people would ask me where I was from, and when I answered “Brooklyn”, the next question would be, “No, where are you from ORIGINALLY?” as if they couldn’t believe that someone could actually be from there. Now, people who have moved there say they are “from Brooklyn” with such pride, and wear their Brooklyn Industries gear with “Brooklyn” emblazoned across their chest as if it was a badge of honor. Well, I would agree, but the real badge of honor belongs to those of us who are actually FROM Brooklyn, from the days that you have described in this beautiful post. When I meet the new residents, I just smile and nod, letting them believe we have something in common, when inside I know that they couldn’t possibly understand what being FROM Brooklyn is really all about.

  33. Nice post! The same thing has happened in Venice. Whole Foods and Starbucks have replaced mom & pop shops that have been there for decades, prices have sky rocketed, families that have been there for generations have been forced out, and the charm that made Venice Venice, is rapidly being replaced by suburban cookie cutter nonsense.

  34. I also grew up in Brooklyn but during the 90’s and I personally feel it the same way. The big change of the city “in general” happened after 911. People went from sitting outside to fearing outside. Mass media made people careful of everything. The guy who watched the world on a stoop became the same guy you needed to question his motives about. It’s changed and become very corporation, copy and paste repeat. I wish it had stayed the same but fear took it over.

  35. I def know the feeling Vanessa I grew up on DeKalb ave. Nothing is the same I miss my brooklyn. Como Hector lavoe ( nunca te olvidare. Thank you so much for your writing.

  36. Reblogged this on Macjoyful's Minimal Musings and commented:
    My son lives in the “new” Brooklyn. He moved from Michigan while attending NYU. He graduated from Brooklyn Law School. I don’t know the old Brooklyn. I’ve only visited the “new” Brooklyn.

    I’m thankful for New York and the role it’s played in molding the man he has become. He is richer for having lived in New York City and Brooklyn more recently.

  37. My Brooklyn was Bedford-Stuyvesant in 1960, where we stayed with my aunt in the projects on Sumner Ave, waiting for my dad to get called to his next assignment. I still have fond memories of Myrtle Ave and the guy selling cocitos from his cart, the corner deli with the jukebox playing Duke of Earl. Stopping to stare with fear and wonder at the chalk outline of the gang member murdered the night before under the L. The ride to Coney Island on the subway and the crowded beach where I scored my first sunburn. My gang at PS 25, 8 year old rebels without a cause, roaming the block near the school after the cardboard soup cup of tomato and vegetable soup we were fed every day for lunch. Yes Brooklyn was a place with grit and the smell of elevated trains, steel girders and the soot of exhaust, but it will always be a beautiful place in my mind. The new Brooklyn? As you, say, it is a whole other story.

  38. Thank you Vanessa for this wonderful piece! Although I didn’t grow up in Brooklyn, your piece helped me to remember my growing up in the housing projects of Washington, DC, during the 60’s. I’m happy to have stumbled upon your blog and writing — keep up the good work, by helping writers of color, like me, stay connected to who we are!

  39. Thank you, thank you, thank you, as a Boricua raised in Park Slope, Brooklyn, (when Park Slope was ‘hood’) it is hard to hear the stories coming out of it now, where people now complain that they do not want to see the ice cream truck at the exit of Prospect Park because they do not know how to say no to their child who is asking for a ice cream cone to trying to ban a man trying to make a living off a hot dog cart.

    You are correct, my Brooklyn died a long time ago.

  40. You became a voice for so many in this post. I am a BrooklyNite myself. There was a certain smell, a certain taste I can never forget from growing up and tasting the culture every time I stepped out on my stoop. It was classic, it was art, you felt soul everywhere you went. Brooklyn has changed, that taste has became seasoned, and the breeze in the air no longer cools the same. Ahh, I was taken back while reading this post. Thank you

  41. Amazing! I too was born in Brooklyn. Lived on Bushwick Ave near Metropolitan. Last time I was there, I wondered where all the Brooklynites were! I think they moved to Jersey.

  42. I love everything about this article. My dad used to tell me stories about when he lived there and it’s very much like how you described.

  43. This is an amazing piece! The situation is the same in several areas of Chicago (I’m from the Southside). While I understand that things change and neighborhoods evolve, they are losing their history as they go. And there’s so much ignorance! People aren’t interested in the history of a neighborhood anymore. It’s all cheap rent and a cool new place.

    People now who say they’re from the Southside, perhaps to impress or be edgy just make me angry.

    I’m rambling. Great post, spot on.

  44. A Superb Read~ I wasn’t raised in Brooklyn, but I spent allot of time there with family. I was living in the Fort Washington area back in the day. So, yes, I feel the same way about how the city has changed. I miss the ole Block and the people that were there as well. Thanks for sharing…

  45. Reblogged this on Overcoming Adultery and commented:
    Nice! I love hearing depictions from back in the day life…no matter where it’s from. Life is so different today. I had a roommate in the Army who was from Brooklyn…Hilton Gray. By the way, I feel the same way about coming up in Oakland. It’s just something that make you feel like something when you represent the old school hoods!

  46. Great read. I’m going to look into more of your stuff. I’ll admit, I’m most likely one of the “gentrifiers” that you talk about. I live in Bushwick in a renovated apartment. I’m not real sure what any solution is. I don’t have any answers as I I’m not even sure what questions we should be asking. But for the most part, I entirely agree with you. I also grew up in the 80s, poor and on welfare to a (mostly) single mom in Youngstown, Ohio. I feel very similar about my neighborhood growing up as you do. I was the only one I knew of from our group that got out, went to college and isn’t in jail or on drugs. My partner and I took job opportunities in NYC and North Brooklyn seemed like a reasonable place that we could afford on our starting salaries. After 2 years in W-burg we were priced out and moved to Bushwick. I would by lying if I said the restaurants and bars that are popping up weren’t a draw for us but more so, I love the sense of community here. Sometimes it does tend to feel like an “us vs them” and I don’t know how to resolve that. But for the most part, everyone here is friendly. I do my best to patron locally owned businesses – bodegas, coffee shops owned by Bushwick natives, laundry, hardware etc. It’s sad there’s only one Latino family left in our building because to be honest, I can’t stand most of the 20-somethings that have moved in. We moved to NYC to follow our career paths after working hard in school and suffering through many, many years of being poor. We’re both nearing 40 and we’re not living on our parents’ dime and it’s just hard to find an affordable place to live in NYC. Personally, I’m way more intrigued by the history and culture of Bushwick that being part of some “renaissance” that creates a new history.
    I fully admit to being part of the problem and I’m not sure how to be part of the solution.

  47. Great read. I’ve been reading of the gentrification of Brooklyn for a awhile, the same things have happened here in Cali, areas like Echo Park, Silver lake, Mid-City, etc… the stories mirror what I’ve been hearing of Brooklyn

    • I was born and raised in East Williamsburg on the border of Greenpoint…My family still lives in Greenpoint, but I no longer do…I wish I could move back, but we all know that would be impossible for me now. I worked and lived all over Greenpoint. The Greenpoint Bank was mine and my families bank for decades! 🙂

      • Is the bank is gone? My father would be heartbroken. He and two highschool classmates were hired there on the same day in 1928 and stayed with the bank their entire working lives. Amazing.

      • The Bank is still there, but now it is called Capital One Bank…The outside of the building is still the same 🙂

  48. This is the thing we all live with, those of us in threale NYC littoral (I reblogged your post BTW).

    The changes in our environments have been enormous but it bespeaks something else.

    When we are young we view the world as a a static thing (lack of perspective). Yet, as we both know from this East Coast of the USA, it changes quickly.

    Either bemoan what came before or accept what is here now.

    Speak to older families what Brooklyn was before the 1970s and you get a differential equation.

    We live on shifting ground. It was only our earlier youth and the understanding of eternal summer days that was bespoke of it that made us feel it was permanent but

    In this USA nothing is permanent


    • This piece isn’t for lack of understanding that change is inevitable. Of course I get that. It speaks to a larger problem–that of the gentrification and how the marginalized always get pushed out, ignored, etc. I said that born clearly & in nuanced ways in the piece.

  49. @Vanessa

    If I didn’t think I thought what you said was intelligent I would have never re-blogged you. 😄

    What I was simply suggesting is that we forget about the larger forces at work.

    What is to us “gentrification” was to our parents’ generation “de-gentrification”.

    Oh and as far as home and the soil I hear ya but my home where my heart finally felt lain was 3000 miles from my birthplace in SF CA.

    • I didn’t not think about the larger forces, actually. This is simply my story. Gentrification is particularly (& always has been) hurtful to the marginalized. Before that, it was white flight. I also think immigrants are affected in a particular way. This doesn’t negate your story, it just means mine is different. The story of Bushwick is a particular story.

      As for the idea of home, I understand what you’re saying, but again, that is your experience. As a second generation immigrant (that is, the daughter of immigrants), I think our notions of home are very particular.

  50. When I think of Brooklyn, sometimes it brings me back to a time when they had an actual “milk” vending machine near the corner of Avenue D or Newark Avenue. One morning the milk containers just kept on pouring out of the machine, an electronical mishap. The whole neighborhood came round, collecting the containers. The milk was just going to get bad, sour if left there. The milk just kept pouring. That machine was gone, guess it proved unprofitable. .. I remember a time when there was not so much crime in Brooklyn, a time when you could actually walk out your door and not wonder if you would be mugged at night, after dark. There are still some neighborhoods left where you can walk out after dark and not have problems. (Yes, this is just like any other neighborhood in any other town, except, the numbers make it different. Brooklyn is one of the fourth largest cities in Amerca, and because of that, many people who are “hiding out” , escaped convicts, people on the run from the law, etc. choose Brooklyn or choose Manhattan because there are so many places to hide and so many people to hide in between. You can become invisible in Brooklyn, if you really want to do so. When I see news items of where convicts escape (in other cities or other states ) and the news says, “they have left the area” , I think, ‘ uh oh, they are on the way to Brooklyn or Manhattan”. Just like everyone comes to Brooklyn or to Manhattan to get their big break , in show business , everyone comes to Brooklyn or to Manhattan for so many other reasons. People who “don’t know” Brooklyn might find this unbelieveable or silly but those who “know” Brooklyn, know these are real scenarios. LOL the tourist board does not approve this message.

  51. I absolutely love this. I am also from Brooklyn but now living in Texas. I feel that no matter where you are from or what you’re accustomed to, things change constantly. Nothing is ever the same as how it was.

  52. I’ve never been to Brooklyn, but I was nostalgic reading this. It’s so true that we have that umbilical cord attached to our homes. I feel the same disassociation to my small hometown in Southern Wisconsin as you feel to Brooklyn. But the disassociation I feel is because I can never go home again. I’ve outgrown that place, and I’m a misfit there. I wish I could visit 1980s Brooklyn!

  53. Reblogged this on emilygritz and commented:
    This piece resonated. Even as a White person from a middle class background, I’ve been struggling in the past few years with the demolition of homes and businesses in my SE Portland Richmond neighborhood. Every time I return to Portland, I’m afraid to see what more will be rubble. Or worse, completely gone with no tribute to its existence. The grunge and the grime and the working class vibe of Division is being lost to the shiny, “earthy,” and delicious. And my brain is a colander, straining to keep memories of my home as the world changes around me, but losing. I get so angry at Black and Brown people being pushed out of the city, yet endless reports of Portland being so livable. I am weary. I want to escape. But I don’t want to do to any other city what is being done to mine.

  54. Very well written piece. Time stops for no man (or woman) and progress will always march forward for better or worse. A piece like this serves as a window for the future to look back on.

  55. Boricua de parroquia Santa Rita, here. Gentrification hasn’t come to that part of the South Bronx, yet, but it’s creeping into other parts. Even though I don’t live there now, I would be heartbroken to see the neighborhood lose its flavor. Even my husband, of Corsican and Italian heritage agrees with me. He was born here, but his mother was from Torino and his father from Porto Vecchio.

    When we were dating, I took him to Mass with my mother, who initially didn’t approve of him. She changed her mind when she saw him in an animated conversation with the Pastor after Mass. She was totally charmed listening to him talk to the Pastor like they had known each other since baptism. If you can imagine a young long-haired white guy speaking Madrid Spanish with a cadenza italiana ( and a few words of Italian creeping into his Spanish–he still speaks Spanish like that) and an old Boricua priest in an animated and serious discussion about that Sunday’s sermon, you can imagine how he charmed me and my mother and why he loves my neighborhood to this day……and, yes, he speaks Spanish with his hands just as he speaks Italian with them. lol.

    I’m trying to convince my husband something similar is happening in Corsica. The Corsican language is dying and I think it will take away from the character of Porto Vecchio and Ajaccio when you no longer hear Corsican in the streets. You still hear Corsican and Italian in those cities and see signs in Corsican and Italian, but every time we go there, I see and hear more and more French. There are still churches there where the priests say Mass in Coriscan. I can’t understand French, but I can understand about half of the Corsican. If I study the signs closely, I can figure out most of them, if they’re in Corsican. Husband says only about 20% of the people there still speak Corsican or Italian.

    If the signs around St. Rita’s go to English and you start to hear more English than Spanish in the streets, it will be a sign the end is near for the St. Rita’s I knew.

  56. My God, this is the oldest argument in the oldest book. I lived in Ft. Greene in the mid 80’s and all I see now are the glass high rise condos. I’ve read articles from the 1800’s that claim New York has been ruined by development. I’m not kidding. Each generation feels something is being taken away from them. Don’t you realize that 15 years from now, today’s gentrifiers are going to be moaning and complaining about how ‘their’ Brooklyn is disappearing? But I get it. I get it. My Lower East Side street is now overrun with trust fund kids and asset management turds. What are you gonna do? Halt the passing of time? I’d like to see you try.

    Columbusing. A new verb. To Columbus a place. And I thought it was going to be just another dull Tuesday.

    • Thank you for reading and commenting. I too have read similar articles. This does not negate my perspective nor my feelings about what’s going on. I’m a writer, this is what I do. I understand fully that I cannot stop the passage of time. An essay is not an attempt to do so, but I’m sure you get that…

      • The fact that this has gone on for eons and will continue to go on long after you and I are gone doesn’t negate what you’re feeling one iota. What you wrote is completely valid. It’s your reality. Mine, too. But I found that as I got older (it’s safe to assume I’m older than you) I became resigned to it. And in that resignation, there’s a sadness and loss, but also a sense of liberation. Accepting and letting go are two sides of the same coin.

      • I may be younger but at just days away from 40, I’m hardly a child. I’m not the type to “resign” myself to things. I think that equates to complacency and that to me is dangerous. But I’m me and you’re you and we obviously think differently which is cool too.

        Sent from my iPhone


      • Sometimes you resign yourself and sometimes you reside in an abject state of irritability, which can be equally dangerous. Be on guard, least ye become a malcontent.

        Ah, 40. A romantic age. A magic age. I remember it fondly. Happy Birthday wishes to you.

      • Thanks for the unsolicited advice and thinly veiled condescension. I don’t have the luxury of complacency. And if irritability makes me a more productive and astute fighter for justice, I welcome it. Peace.

        Sent from my iPhone


      • Having never read you before, I just now thumbed through your old posts. So much of it is somber. If I’d known where you’re coming from, I wouldn’t have taken such a playful and caviler attitude. Okay. As Bukowski would say, “Scramble two.”

  57. This was great. I never been to Brookyln. I am on going there next summer. It’s a shame I won’t get to see it the way you saw it. We have plenty of gentrification and yoga studios here in Los Angeles, so I know how you feel.

  58. Great read! I’m heading to NYC for the first time in under two weeks. Very personal story and makes me want to see Brooklyn on a level I wouldn’t have known to “feel” before….touche

  59. Your post made me miss my dad. He was from Flatbush and lived in a tenement back in the 1930’s till he married my mother in 1954 and they moved to Queens. I remember riding through “old Brooklyn” driving by his school, St. Francis of Assisi and Brooklyn Automotives. He was sad when Brooklyn changed but then it changed again. My son lives in Williamsburg and it’s thriving. Bushwick is the new Williamsburg–and it actually makes me sad that many people are going to be outpriced. Just like I did when I had to leave Manhattan. Now I’m rambling. Sorry. YOUR POST WAS ALLSOME!!!! XOXOXO!!

  60. Very true, everything in Brooklyn is becoming so gentrified, the property costs are rising thus forcing people to move out of their homes. I can’t say I knew much about the Brooklyn back then, but i can sympathize with how much its changed. What then would you call home, if ‘home’ no longer brings with it a nostalgic feeling?

  61. Brooklyn wasn’t always pretty but I knew everyone and it was home. Everything changes but it’s just not the same. I revisit the neighborhood I grew up in and it’s hard to associate with anymore. Not much has been preserved. Some wasn’t so good and I am glad to see it gone but I miss those characters and people you knew would always be there on a milk crate playing cards or just people watching. Those people have gone and now it feels like just a lot of overpriced living spaces, overpriced bars and foot traffic. Like I said Brooklyn wasn’t always pretty. It was worn and it was dirty and it had its flaws, but that’s what made it home. It reminded me of my great grandmothers house. The floors weren’t always swept and curtains hadn’t been changed in a decade but the food was delicious and there was a lot of love. Brooklyn became fashionable and now it’s just an airbrushed jpeg. Sad…

      • I can help you with that! WordPress has unplugged its FreshPressed feature and replaced it with a new one called Discover. It’s essentially the same thing. WP editors select posts that they feel deserve a wider audience and this post was featured. I’m surprised you weren’t notified. They always shot an email across your bow when they FreshPressed a post.

      • Ah, that makes sense. I know this essay was fresh pressed a whole back but this new feature is boosting my views. No complaints. 🙂 thanks!

        Sent from my iPhone


  62. Beautiful piece, Vanessa. I’m not from Brooklyn, but it resonates with many of us who’ve seen the good, the bad, the ugly of gentrification around the world. With “progress”, something is always lost. Many want to forget that or say it’s always for the better, but yu gave tribute to what’s lost. This could be written about the old gritty San Francisco before tech money came pouring in and took away the soul of of many neighborhoods.Or Seattle or Istanbul. Thanks!

  63. Brooklyn died when Ebbets Field was torn down. Don’t know what’s there today. Brooklyn Dodgers were a hoot. Do people nowadays know that a “dodger” was slang for “con man”? Brooklyn named a team after con artists. How’s that for different?

  64. I like your post. I was born in Puerto Rico. My mother brought me to new york at a very young age. We lived in Harlem for a bit then moved to Fort greene where I went to school. When I went to the doctors appointments with my mother we would stop by a bakery and bought bread around myrtle avenue. When I took long rides on the train sometimes I passed the williamsburg bridge. I liked going to the stores by canal street. I guess things have changed a lot. I don’t live in New York anymore. I relocated somewhere else. My life changed and I went along with it. I was one of those people that had dreams too when I lived there. I grew up in the 80’s and saw the different colors of the city. The graffitti filled train cars. It was a change that came quick and left in a blink of an eye. I later figured out it’s the people that change and their mentality. Everything else changes as time goes by, but memories remain. I rather think of how much I enjoyed myself in those times than the way things use to be.

    • Gentrification is a problem for the numerous reasons I listed here. It’s more than a simplistic nostalgia for how things used to be. There are some serious socioeconomic factors at play here, and it’s not just happening in Brooklyn; it’s a problem everywhere. As I writer and activist, it is my duty to write about these issues. I do so via my own story.

      • I like when I come across stories like yours online. Some of the new generation don’t remember anything about things use to be in their new neighborhoods. I’m glad someone can share this with them.

  65. We should remember that Brooklyn was where Jackie Robinson made his major league debut and broke the color barrier in professional sports. That changed America’s race perceptions in a very big way.

    • I do remember that. I also remember the countless headlines over the past few years of unarmed men being gunned down by police, so I hardly buy the notion that race relations have “changed” enough.

  66. Beautiful, thank you. As a military kid it is hard to have the kind of connection you have with Brooklyn but I truly appreciate the idea of having a place to always think of as home.

  67. I proudly say I’m from Brooklyn. There are days I long for the Brooklyn I once knew and grew up in. I’m a Greenpointer, born and bred; now I live on the other side of the country. The Brooklyn, the Greenpoint of today is not the ones of my youth. Things have changed, times have changed. While it will always be the Home of my heart, it will never be home again. I couldn’t afford to live there as it is now.
    Loved the post!

    • I was Born in raised in Greenpoint/Williamsburg and I know exactly what you’re saying. I live in Ridgewood now and I miss Brooklyn every single day!..

  68. Awakening the past. Was only a visitor in my time, late 50’s, early 60’s. Last year I drove Linden Ave. the length of it getting to the Verrazano bridge. So many little county’s along the way. The parks were full, families, sporting events, open air markets, diverse cultures living among each other. We are the World. Thank you for the insight.

  69. Reblogged this on authenticitee speaks and commented: this?! This is one of my ABSOLUTE favorite vintage pieces written by Vanessa Martir. I remember when it was a featured piece on WordPress a couple of years ago!

    As a native New Yorker…born and reared in Brooklyn it speaks to me on so many levels.

    So SURPRISE this one is for you MOMMY!

    Yep…my MOMMY reads EVERY single post and then emails me about it. From my grown woman poetry to every interview or featured poet. (My parents were born and reared in Brooklyn and were newlyweds living in Bushwick where my late Dad grew up and is buried).

    So MOMMY meet Vanessa…she is fire personified. Just like you…my first Shero. Happy early Mother’s Day! I love you and miss you with my every thing.

    (Insert nickname only you can call me)

    Everyone else…. ENJOY!

  70. Wow! I am not from brooklyn but I used to be a frequent visitor so this hit home.

  71. Extremely late in finding and reading this essay, but it’s beautiful. Reminds me of my emotions around the many ways my hometown of metro Detroit has changed, each time I return I feel more and more a stranger. Thank you for this.

  72. That is the precise blog for anybody who wants to find out about this topic. You notice a lot its nearly exhausting to argue with you (not that I truly would need…HaHa). You undoubtedly put a brand new spin on a topic thats been written about for years. Great stuff, just nice!

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