No discussion of the state of things in Bushwick would be complete without a philosophical brainstorming session on what a “hipster” is, and whether the label applies to anybody or everybody around. On Monday night, 22 people sat in folding chairs at The Living Gallery for a round-table discussion called Bridging Bushwick, an event meant to “erase stereotypes and negative energy that surround our community,” according to its Facebook page. Two friendly cats, one black and one gray, wandered around distracting everybody.
One guy in his twenties, who had moved to Bushwick by way of Russia and whose longwinded explanation of his job can best be summarized as a putter-on of raves, announced that he wanted to separate himself from the hipster stereotype, then tried to verbalize its definition.
“It’s those people,” he said, “you know – apathetic, insular…”
“Rich,” interjected Nyssa Frank, owner of The Living Gallery and co-coordinator the event.
“It’s a cultural circle-jerk,” said the young resident.
“That’s not what I think of when I hear the word, or at least that’s not what it’s supposed to be,” said Yazmin Colon, owner of Jazzabels Boutique and co-coordinator of Bridging Bushwick. “I think of someone young, free, who doesn’t care what people think, and just wants to express themselves.”
Colon and Frank launched Bridging Bushwick as a monthly discussion series in an attempt to open a line of communication between the young artists and college grads moving in droves to the neighborhood and longtime Bushwick residents, many of whom are Hispanic and working class. “Get to Know Your Neighbor” is their tagline.
“The goal was to start having people open up in a safe place so we can diffuse certain perceptions,” Colon told Bedford + Bowery. “I think we just need to learn more about each other’s backgrounds and cultures. I understand that not everyone is as welcoming or sociable as the next person, but that does not mean that we can’t try to know each other.”
The biggest hurdle for the project, according to Frank, was to attract Bushwick residents who wouldn’t normally attend an event at the Living Gallery. “There are a lot of predispositions about this place,” Frank told us before the event. “It’s an art gallery, and a white girl owning it.”
Frank handed out Spanish translations of the event flyer to local business owners, and Colon, who grew up in Brownsville and has lived in Bushwick since 2005, encouraged her network of friends to attend.
“I’ve known Nyssa for a while, we run a youth program together,” said Colon, who had the original inspiration for the discussion series, “and I felt that this movement needed to be done with her. We are from different backgrounds and love the crap out of each other, so I felt me and her can set the example for this community.”
The only Bushwick native present at the first meeting was Ronnie Diaz, who owns Express Yourself Barista Bar on Central and Jefferson.
“We opened the space specifically for new people in the neighborhood to meet us who were born and raised here,” he said. “We put conference tables in on purpose, to force you to talk.”
The night’s discussion began with theories about the tension between cultures in the neighborhood (“a lot of people just have social disorders,” somebody said), but things quickly turned more hands-on and political. Horror stories of fake eviction notices and tenants being priced out of apartments were exchanged, and plans for a rent strike half-jokingly bounced around. Colon explained that tenants can call 311 anonymously on their landlords, and Guadalupe Martinez, a fairly new Bushwick resident who is studying to become a real estate agent and an electrician in order to buy old houses and rewire them to be eco-friendly, explained the rules of legal rent withholding in New York state.
Several attendees were members of the community group Northwest Bushwick, which formed this September in opposition to the Rheingold rezoning, after Community Board 4 approved it in a controversial closed meeting. Northwest Bushwick organizer Bridget Blood spoke about using affordable housing as a tactic for staving off displacement. Bushwick’s many manufacturing warehouses will continue to be rezoned into residential areas, she said, like what’s happening now with the Rheingold development. Advocacy groups should be involved each time they do.
At the end of the night, Frank gave a homework assignment: “We want everyone to go and talk to somebody that they would normally never talk to,” she said. “That guy at the bodega, who every time you get your coffee you know he wants to kill you for some reason? You should invite him personally to the next meeting.”
Bridging Bushwick will have a second, more involved meeting on Dec. 30, complete with a potluck dinner (the invite asks attendees to “bring a dish that represents you & your culture”) and performances by the children in two of Colon’s and Frank’s youth groups.
“We want 90-year-old women to come, and 14-year-old kids to come,” Frank told Bedford + Bowery. “We want it to be for everybody.”