New Screenings & Tour Update From El Barrio Tours Creator Andrew J. Padilla (February 2014)
Last update we were getting ready to screen in Vieques, Puerto Rico. Since then we’ve screened at the University of Puerto Rico, Vanderbilt University and have been involved in a host of community conversations/actions surrounding gentrification & displacement.
Below is just a fraction of what we’ve been learning and documenting as we continue our tour:
Screening at El Fortin in Vieques, PR
For 6 decades, as a US Military bombing site, the island suffered displacement and extreme pollution. Now, in addition to the uncleaned contamination, high cancer rate, lack of a full service hospital and large portions of the island that are still restricted. The island’s residents, and small businesses, now face gentrification.
Leaders of the Vieques struggle, community members, and even some new residents shared their thoughts.
Ismael Guadalupe, one of the historic leaders of the Vieques peace movement, spoke out:
“The military didn’t just displace our people, it displaced our economy. Before the military we had a fishing industry, we had sugar industry. We were one of the most productive areas in Puerto Rico. Gentrification displaces people, and their economies. Today, in the islands main economic strip, El Malecon, out of the (17) small businesses, only one is owned by a Viequense.”
Dr. Liliana Cotto: “This is why we devised a plan, to recreate the economy of Vieques on our terms, when the military left. It just, was never enacted.”
*Both were part of the Professional and Technical Group in Support of Sustainable Development on Vieques 1999-2004 (Report here)
A young woman rose from the crowd:
“My grandfather was mayor here. He was mayor when the military took two thirds of our island and displaced thousands of our families so they could begin bombing. But, I now live in San Juan. Am I Viequense?”
Hands shot up, “Yes!” “Of course!” “Seguro que si!”
“What if my grandparents left, and both my parents and I were born in San Juan, would I be Viequense then?”
Half raised hands. Voices unsteady.
“What if I was Asian, spent decades here, but wasn’t born here?”
Confidence gone. Talking over each other, the crowd loses itself in debate over what a Viequense truly is.
Coming to us through Skype, Dolly Camareno, an elder from Vieques’ neighboring island Culebra, joined our panel. Thanks in part to the many tax breaks the Puerto Rican government gives wealthy migrants to la Isla, including a 100% tax break on tourism income in Vieques & Culebra, gentrification has affected Culebra as well.
While the islands are just miles from each other, without a direct ferry between them, it can take almost an entire day to get from one to the other. Instead we skype. Through the buffering image and static noise, Dolly shouted, from her generation to ours:
“We got rid of the military first. We pushed them out in the 70’s. Way before Vieques. But we’ve lost our island. Don’t let what happened to us, happen to you…”
Screening @ the University of Puerto Rico - Rio Piedras
More than any Ivy league school or museum, for me, as a Puerto Rican, given la UPI’s history of struggle, to be invited to screen there, was an honor.
I ask our last class:
“How many of your are planning on leaving Puerto Rico when you graduate?”
1/3 of the students raise their hands.
This is a freshman class.
1/3rd of these freshmen, from Puerto Rico’s top university, are already planning on leaving the island when they graduate.
As the film ended, many of the students were shocked. One student remarked:
“I didn’t know it had been that hard for Puerto Rican’s immigrating to the US in the 50’s & 60’s. I thought things had worked out better. They tell you how much better the states are, like your going to a whole new world, and its just crazy to see that, its not always the case”
While gentrification is occurring in Puerto Rico, in large part due to la Islas heavy reliance on the tourism and banking industry, much of the island is still reeling from almost a decade of recession. Jobs cut, services cut, pensions cut, abandoned building after abandoned building, Puerto Rico is in many ways where NYC was in the 70’s. Upper and middle class families escape, the poor try to hold on, as wealthy investors descend like scarecrows to pick la Isla’s economic corpse. They plant roots and plan for the future.
Residencial Puerta de Tierra
A Public Housing complex being demolished just blocks from the tourism center of Old San Juan.
From a Colony to a former Confederate state, we are seemingly worlds away.
After our successful screening at Vanderbilt University we head to the city’s Williamsburg: East Nashville.
Just 15 minutes from Downtown, East Nashville boasts a beautiful view of the city’s landscape. With Nashville projecting around 1 million more residents in the next 20 years, the area, once populated by poor & working class families, has become a prime redevelopment target. Walking past “The Pharmacy” and “Mas Tacos”, some of the hood’s trendiest new eateries, we find the James Cayce Homes.
Cayce currently houses 2,000 people in 716 units in East Nashville. It is the largest remaining public housing complex in the city.
Officials want to demolish and replace them with mixed income housing. The city promises tenants will get apartments in the new building.
The last 3 public housing developments to go down in the city displaced 80% of the tenants that lived there.
For more info on the planned demolition and community resistance to it: (Here)
For more info on Gentrification in East Nashville in General: (Here)
Thank you to our supporters, donors, volunteers and all who are working to make project possible. This is just the beginning…
Thanks to your support we have arranged screenings in the Twin Cities, Phoenix and more!
If you are interested in coming with us to any one of the cities on our tour/connecting us with individuals/orgs we should be collaborating with please reach out: email@example.com
This work isn’t easy or free, go here if you’d like to support financially.
For photos/updates on our progress.
Check out El Barrio Tours on Instagram & Facebook
Andrew J. Padilla
Creator of El Barrio Tours