Pre-Gentrification Movement in Williamsburg

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Baby portrait of Mercedes Urquidez. 

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Provided by Social Explorer, this map shows the population of Puerto Rican residents in Los Sures in 2014. Mercedes was born and still resides on the West Side of the neighborhood, which is currently 25.967% Puerto Rican, 12.112% Dominican, and 47.886% Non-Latino.

Movement of people and capital was occurring in Williamsburg long before gentrifying forces arrived. Mercedes and her family arrived to the South Side from Puerto Rico in (what year?) when she was 6 months old. “Our year was, we started from the 50s,” Mercedes said. “Puerto Rican decade. Then in the 90s, the Dominicans came.” In Harvest of an Empire: A History of Latinos in America, Juan Gonzalez describes the staggering numbers in which Puerto Ricans arrived to New York. “More than 40,000 migrated from the Caribbean to New York in the year 1946 alone…by 1960, more than 1 million were in the country, part of what one sociologist dubbed ‘the greatest airborne migration in history’” (Gonzalez 2000, 81). By 1990, there were 300,000 Dominicans living in the city (Gonzalez, 117). Though the South Side quickly became predominantly Latino, the Puerto Rican and Dominican communities stayed largely separate. In fact, a Puerto Rican-Dominican rivalry was ever present in the neighborhood, and the influx of Dominicans was in many ways the first sense of displacement Puerto Ricans felt (Gonzalez, 127). To many, that displacement is observable through one establishment: the bodega. “Then the Dominicans took over the bodega,” Mercedes said. “The Puerto Ricans left, they sold it to the Dominicans. Now, the Dominicans are selling to the Arabs, like they call, you know. And now they changed the name: deli. Delicatessen.” 

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When Mercedes first resided on Taylor Street as a child, her home was a Brownstone apartment, pictured above. 

Mercedes grew up on the predominately Puerto Rican West side of the neighborhood. “I was raised there in Taylor [Street], those were brownstone houses. Brownstone, the bathroom was in the hallway.” She described her childhood in the Taylor Street brownstones, one characterized by lack of money but a wealth of experience: “We wasn’t rich—my mother couldn’t pay for fare and everything, and the cost of living those days was much less. But the money wasn’t there. So my mother, they used to put the [hydrant on], we used to sit and near the sidewalk and play around. We used to play jacks and a lot of games. But I had a good childhood. My mother was a single mother but she gave us respect, morals, and love. She was a wonderful woman, to this day she’s resting…and what’s more than respect and values? It’s more than money. So you know, we were raised good.”

Pre-Gentrification Movement in Williamsburg