“Mi Casa es Mi Casa”: Young artists voice views on displacement

“Mi Casa es Mi Casa,” an exhibition at The Point, highlighted the issue of displacement.

“Eye on My Flower”  Artist: B. Valdivieso

The sculpture depicts a forceful hand bursting through asphalt to grasp a multi-family residence. Roots dangle from the building as it’s being ripped from its foundation. Two pink orchids have bloomed from the roof, but the eye on the intruder’s palm sees only the dollar sign painted on the structure’s side. Its creator, artist/activist Brandon Valdivieso, was inspired by a single word: “Displacement.”

Valdivieso, 16, was one of several young artists and activists who contributed pieces to “Mi Casa es Mi Casa,” an exhibition at The Point that highlighted the issue of displacement. The show opened last month and will run through mid-April.

The show features the work of more than 30 artists from around the city, as well as submissions from ACTION, The Point’s teen political activist group, and from YUCA Arts, which offers free design classes to youth.

The organizers, Alberto Iñamagua, co-founder of The House of Spoof and Alejandra Delfin, a graphic designer with The Point CDC, say they came up with the theme because of their concerns about displacement happening in the immediate area. Delfin said she has seen many changes in the neighborhood over the years and, with new developments looming, she fears that local stores and residents alike could suffer displacement.

“I want people to be aware of what’s going on,” she said. “The show is not only about displacement, but also about culture – the Bronx culture that we want to preserve.”

As part of the grant that sponsored “Mi Casa es Mi Casa,” Delfin and Iñamagua worked with a group of local third-graders, talking to them about neighborhood stores or restaurants that may have closed or moved. As young as they were, some of the students could speak about changes to their personal streetscape in detail. “One student mentioned a bakery that they loved so much randomly closing recently,” said Iñamagua, “Another mentioned that there were more fast foods restaurants around the area.” The two took their students on a local walking tour to take photos, which are now part of the exhibition.

Delfin asked the Red Hook Digital Arts program to join the show because she saw parallels between Red Hook and Hunts Point, since both are waterfront communities with many of the same issues. “What happens with waterfront communities like this one, like Red Hook, where people of color live, they tend to fall into decay.” Her experiences as an activist have led her to notice a pattern that occurs when those communities of color try to build up their neighborhoods. Eventually, developers take notice and interest and the original residents get priced out of the now-improved area.

Grace Kuponiyi, president of ACTION with her contribution, “My World”

Grace Kuponiyi, 16, the current president of ACTION, submitted a self-portrait encircled by images which she titled “My World.” On the figure’s right are images of the Civil Rights Era, representing the journey of people of color from oppression to greater freedom. On the figure’s left is Barretto Point Park with a bulldozer at its entrance. Kuponiyi said the drawing represents her community as it is right now, being eyed by developers. Pointing to the construction worker figures, she said, “They don’t care about community. They don’t care about us. They’re just doing a job.” She said she wanted to depict “all of the accomplishments and perseverance we’ve made in our community as black and Spanish people and there are still people trying to tear it down away from us.”

“When you look at gentrification and displacement in the Bronx community, it happens slowly,” Kuponiyi said. “Our number one priority is to raise awareness.”

One contributing artist spoke about his personal experience with displacement.

“Having to move from one place to another is a part of my life,” said Soundview resident Roy Baizan, 17. He discovered The Point when he settled in Soundview after moving a second time because his family was unable to afford an increase in their rent.

He said that he had always viewed gentrification as a part of an improving neighborhood, but said his view got “turned around” after studying at The Point. “In its very definition exists the concept of displacement,” Baizan said.

“One of the beauties of the Bronx is the abundance of culture you can find within our neighborhoods,” says Breana Vasquez of YUCA Arts whose students also contributed works to the show. “These nuances of our homes are the very thing YUCA wishes to support and keep flowing for the next generation to come.”

Perhaps the theme could be best summed up in a single work by ACTION member Michael Ridley, 14, a former Bronx resident who now lives in Manhattan. Ridley said that when he was told to create a work inspired by the word “displacement.” only one location came to his mind: Seneca Village. Seneca Village was a thriving, free-African settlement located in what is now the northwest corner of Central Park. In 1857, Seneca Village was cleared to make way for the park. In creating his submission, Ridley relied on old photographs of buildings from the time period and on old drawings of the settlement. “I only just learned about it.” He added, “There was a community there and it was just pushed out.”

Ridley sees the displacement of today as the same process as the clearing of Seneca Village. In his own neighborhood in East Harlem, Ridley noted that smaller stores have closed ever since a new residential development was erected. Just recently, a deli he used to visit daily increased the cost of a sandwich from $3.50 to $5.00. “I paid for that one,” he said, “but I won’t be coming back.”

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