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On Monday, August 18th, a group of over 60 Boston area residents came together to watch “El Barrio Tours: Gentrification in East Harlem” at Villa Victoria in Boston’s South End. The event, organized by Inquilinos Boriquas en Accion (IBA), City Life/Vida Urbana (CL/VU), Right to the City, and Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), focused on the dynamics of gentrification in our city and how we could grow and strengthen the movement to prevent displacement.
The people at the El Barrio film screening were from a range of neighborhoods, backgrounds, and organizations. They came from East Boston, Jamaica Plain, Lynn, Dorchester, Somerville, the South End, Malden, Roslindale, Roxbury, Chelsea, Cambridge, Brockton, and Newton. Many community-based organizations, including the Chelsea Collaborative, Neighbors United for a Better East Boston (NUBE), Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE), the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA),the Brazilian Immigrant Center, Roslindale Village Main Street, and the Somerville Community Corporation (SCC) were represented by staff, members, and volunteers.
Eliza Parad, a Community Organizer with DSNI, and Darnell Johnson, the Right to the City Boston Coordinator, introduced Andrew J. Padilla and his “El Barrio Tour” project. Andrew, a photographer and independent journalist, made this award-winning film in 2011 to tell the story of gentrification in his East Harlem neighborhood. The film was intended to kick off the evening, but some technical difficulties sidelined the screening and led to our first discussion of gentrification in Boston. While tech-savvy event organizers worked to play the movie, Eliza and Andrew asked the group how we recognized gentrification and what it meant to us.
A man stood up in the back to talk about the signs of gentrification in his East Boston neighborhood; “now people are talking about how there are families living in East Boston, there are people pushing strollers and raising kids. There were always families here, just not white families. It’s like we weren’t real families.” This striking comment kicked off a string of stories and questions about how the processes of gentrification made people feel like they weren’t “real.” A woman from Bridgeport, Connecticut described how highways were built through her city, around working class neighborhoods so that folks traveling from the suburbs or New York wouldn’t see the vacant homes and dilapidated storefronts.