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Bittered Beliefs: A Bronx tale

in Gentrification by

While reflecting on long-held beliefs, a young Bronx native comes to terms with how she truly sees her home.

When did I start seeing my borough as bad? Now nearing my 30s, I find myself recognizing little beliefs I never knew I held ⁠— thoughts on my appearance that stuck and the way I really saw men. With this belief, like the others, I cannot pinpoint when it started; I just knew that my friends and I rarely chilled in the Bronx. We always chose Manhattan because “there’s nothing to do here,” we told ourselves.

New York’s subway. An MTA sign for the orange line

My friends lived under tight Dominican rule and I grew up sheltered, playing in my godmother’s basement. So, we rarely explored much of anything as young kids. But when we reached high school, the extra ride from our lime green student MetroCards became our Golden Ticket, granting us freedom. 

We headed down to the Manhattan Mall to explore shops and snack on free samples from the food court. We picnicked in Central Park, playing cards on this large rock that I can no longer find. We slid through Times Square’s massive crowds to catch a movie, grabbing a bite from the neighboring McDonald’s before taking the D train home. We even spent hours at the grand‚ Toys-R-Us‚ that used to sit on the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway. As our former playground, we’d play manhunt amongst the toys. 

Union Square became another hot spot. You could find us at Barnes and Noble, browsing through books, comics, and magazines, or at the, now gone, Virgin Megastore, flipping through CDs (remember those?) and bopping to music in their large black headphones. 

The old Virgin Megastore at Union Square
When we did stay on home turf, we only bowled at Gun Hill Road, finding the prices cheaper. Or, took turns on the swings of Mullaly Park by Yankee Stadium. Carrying those memories, I did not think I held disdain for my borough, especially not in the way certain friends verbally expressed their hate for the Bronx’s streets and “mean” people. 

On the other hand, I never cared to explore the borough, much. Looking back at college, I never invited my friends to my home. As if I wore a cloak over my eyes, I boasted about New York City’s coolness to my Costa Rican cousins ⁠— the programs available to me, the festivals I attended, and the venues I frequented. But when I talked about the City, I never meant the Bronx.

A busy Bronx street

In a way, this cloak protects all of New York City, a site thought of as liberal, blue, free, fun, accepting, a champion, a political role model. But, this narrative stretches to cover how deep New York City’s corruption and segregation runs. Not until I entered the working world, did I see the City’s darkness play. Wrapped up in the charter school system, I realized how easily the City allows for white educators to invade communities of color and dictate who its children are and what they are capable of; all the while, exploiting them for money. 

The educational system long kept segregation alive in this city, trapping Black and Latinx students in underperforming schools and away from specialized programs. As Eliza Shapiro revealed in The New York Times, out of the 895 seats available, Stuyvesant High School only offered seven black students a spot in their freshman class this Fall. Not only is this number comically low, but these statistics do not seem to rise. Stuyvesant admitted 10 black students last year and 13 students the year prior.

Similarly, Bronx High School of Science follows this trend; its offer to 12 black students in September dropped from 25 offers given last year. This data becomes more real to me as I reflect on how middle-school counselors encouraged me to apply for the specialized Bronx High School of Science. As part of the top of my class, I expected to do well on the entrance exam, but when I took it, the test looked so foreign. 

Stuyvesant High School in NYC

“I’m smart, but not that smart,” I immediately thought, blaming myself. I did not understand then how my school’s curriculum alone could not prepare me for that exam. Then, I did not understand how my school’s lack of resources limited what I learned. I just understood that I was not enough.

My experience in the charter school environment further tipped the iceberg and I began to truly grasp NYC’s other troubles ⁠— the segregation in housing, unfair loan programs, rampant voter suppression, and so much more.

I quickly felt like a bitter child whose parent, the City, did everything in its power to oppress them. And I wonder if this bitterness ignited my refusal to leave the Bronx, as well as, a need to reacquaint myself with this place. I feel lied to, brainwashed into believing my home inadequate.

Let me reintroduce myself, I’m from the Bronx.

So now, in my re-appreciation of the borough I’ve low-key snubbed, I seek out and support ventures like The Bronx Is Reading, the Bronx Night Market, and the Lit. Bar. And I see others expressing Bronx-love as well. Popular shows like Showtime’s‚ Desus and Mero‚ and Netflix’s‚ The Get Down‚ celebrate Bronx culture ⁠— the food and fashions. While podcasts like‚ Tea with Queen and J‚ and‚ Bag Ladiez‚ allow audiences to hear authentic Bronx voices — the honest humor and crass wit.

At the same time, I am aware of how I laugh whenever Desus and Mero praise the chop cheese while cringing as the duo shop for sneakers with Anna Kendrick in the South Bronx. On one hand‚ I want to share and brag about my borough, but I also want to establish that “you can’t sit with us.” 

For the white mainstream to move in, gobble up and enjoy my borough too, after years of the Bronx-hate, pains me too much. I’m sorry; I’m bitter. And as I continue to watch and listen to Bronx portrayals in mainstream media, I can’t help but fear how this mutual appreciation may entice and further encourage the Bronx’s gentrification. 

A few years back, I welcomed gentrification openly and for very selfish reasons. I desperately craved a Trader Joe’s for its variety and fresher fruits. I wrote to FreshDirect begging for the same convenience my sister enjoyed living down on Wall Street in Manhattan. I wanted cool clubs, lounges, and restaurants nearby my apartment, so that I could experience those tipsy, 10-minute walks back home as my Brooklyn friends did. 

Now, I see a white person in the Bronx and I snarl at them. Now, I understand that all the good of gentrification is not meant for me or people and families that look like me. Now, I understand how growing up without these truths created a bliss. But I would rather stay bitter because, now, I am aware.

And as another gatekeeper to this awareness, Ark Republic’s 18-day major collaborative project on gentrification exposes its influence on cities like Oakland, Newark, Seattle, and more. With gentrification’s unstoppable nature, it is important to compare our cities’ similarities, learn from their differences, and witness the evils targeting the Black and brown communities around us.

Gilmarie Brioso is a creative writer, editor and tech savvy creative from the Bronx. With an M.F.A. in creative writing from The New School, she oversees copy, poetry and co-directs story development for major collaborative projects.

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