Dedicated to the the community of South Williamsburg
whose vibrancy and authenticity makes New York City feel like home.
A Changing Landscape
$67 dollars. That’s how much the Martinez family paid for their first apartment in the Southside of Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 1967. Adjusting for inflation, that’s $475.64 to live in now one of New York City’s most coveted neighborhoods("US Inflation Calculator"). Unlike the millennials perusing the ubiquitous coffee shops that plot the streets of Los Sures, the Martinez family did not come to the neighborhood in search of shopping nor did they come for the numerous art exhibits, and they most certainly did not come for the coffee (that coffee Jasmine hinted, is nothing like true Spanish coffee). Instead, the Martinez emigrated Puerto Rico in search of a better life - the coveted “American Dream.” South Side, it turns out, had cheap rent and an already-established community of like-minded Puertoriqueños. The decision was clear, the next generation of the Martinez family would become true New Yorkers, Sout Siders at heart. Jasmine Martinez was the product of her parent’s and her grandparent’s dreams. Like them, her life was in Brooklyn. She lived there, she ate there, she went to school there, but unlike her grandparents, Jasmine won’t be able to stay in South Side for much longer. She won’t be able to go the Commodore Cinema, she won’t be able to walk down her block without seeing Puerto Rican flags hanging from every balcony, it’s just too expensive.
There is no doubt that the area still has a noticeable Puerto Rican presence. Though few census records isolate South Williamsburg from Williamsburg at large, the research done shows an alarming change. The Center for Urban Research notes that, “Whites increased their number in what the Planning Department refers to as Williamsburg-North Side/South Side by 10,245,” a difference of 34 - 52% in representation. On the other hand, the institute notes that,” The Latino population declined in this neighborhood by almost 25%,” going from a majority representation of 57% to 38% ("Analysis: NYC 2000 to 2010 demographic change"). The historically latin area has already begun to lose some of its hispanic character, some residents like Jasmine noting that, “it’s hard to even find an authentic Spanish restaurant anymore" (2016).
Long before the artisanal coffee shops and vegan bakeries, families just like Jasmine’s made the heart and soul of Brooklyn. Most, as census records indicate, traveled from Puerto Rico. Regardless of their origin, the people that immigrated into South Williamsburg left their distinct mark on the neighborhood, many around even before the arrival of the Martinez family in the 1960s. As more and more are displaced, however, the Puerto Rican identity may very well begin to follow suit, the “American Dream” that many hope to established and their personal narratives lost in time. Though many first and second-generation children of immigrants in South Williamsburg consider themselves to be from Brooklyn, just as Jasmine does, the cultural identity of their parents and great-grandparents remains alive and well. The heroic story that many endured in their migration to the United States sheds a very different light on gentrification, one filled with a narratives of personal struggle in Brooklyn and beyond. Much like gentrification, the migration of Puerto Ricans to South Williamsburg ensued as a result of several factors and was not an overnight phenom. Instead, the immigrants arrived in waves over a period of time, with each new arrival establishing a stronger and stronger expatriate presence in the area. Though the names of Puertoriqueños can be found throughout all time periods in the notaries on Ellis Island, four distinct “waves” are often used to periodized the flow of Puerto Rican migrants to New York, many of whom landed in the enclave South Williamsburg.
Just as the one told by her parents and her grandparents, Jasmine refuses to let this story be a sad one. Intead, the Puerto Rican inside of her pushes her to do just as they did, perservere. This is the story of Jasmine, her grandparents, her parents, her cousins, her aunts, her uncles, her people. This is the story of how Puerto Ricans traveled 1,614 miles from their home to establish one of the most well-known communities in the United States, now one of the most desirable.