Friday, September 16, 2011

Brooklyn gentrification meets resistance from longtime Latino residents in South Williamsburg

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Friday, September 16th 2011, 4:00 AM

South Williamsburg, which is predominantly Latino, is seeing an influx of hipsters from the rest of Williamsburg. Residents hope to fight back.
Anthony Lanzilote for News
South Williamsburg, which is predominantly Latino, is seeing an influx of hipsters from the rest of Williamsburg. Residents hope to fight back.
Luis Garden Acosta, director of El Puente, is seeking to reclaim and hold onto the Latino flavor of the south Williamsburg community as hipster restaurants and shops replace latino establishments.
Todd Maisel/News
Luis Garden Acosta, director of El Puente, is seeking to reclaim and hold onto the Latino flavor of the south Williamsburg community as hipster restaurants and shops replace latino establishments.

Hipsters Taking Over

Do you think longtime Southside Williamsburg neighbors can reclaim their neighborhood?

Hey hipsters, keep your skinny jeans out of my Southside Williamsburg neighborhood.

A local Brooklyn Latino organization wants to help long-time residents take back the community before hipsters and their trendy bars and overpriced clothing stores wipe out the area's Latino culture for good.

"When you wake up one morning and you see the corner bodega is now replaced by a fancy cafe or restaurant and you see your neighbors being pushed out because they can no longer afford the rent, all of a sudden you've lost your friends," said Luis Garden Acosta, head of El Puente. "You begin to wonder, 'Am I next?'"

El Puente (The Bridge) has landed more than $2.8 million in federal, city and private grant money for its Green Light District project to send swarms of volunteers door-to-door in the next 10 years to help Latino residents get healthier, more educated and more cultured.

The goal is to raise their quality of life so Latinos in Southside can stay in the area and promote their heritage, Garden Acosta said.

"The buzz is about the culture that is coming into Williamsburg, not from Williamsburg," he said. "If people are not feeling like this is their community then they won't feel like they have a future here."

Though Southside remains largely Latino, hipsters from Williamsburg are encroaching quickly.

"We want to spark the Latino community to take back their community," Garden Acosta said.

Longtime locals seem ready to fight back.

Anibel Pitre, 51, who grew up in the neighborhood, used to shop at a bodega on South Fourth St. - and now it's Pies 'N' Thighs, a restaurant popular with newcomers.

"This was my culture and now it's fading because everyone moved out," said Pitre, who moved to Glendale, Queens. "I can't afford to live here anymore. I wish I could move back."

Raul Peralta, 48, works at Diaz Cleaners across the street from Pies 'N' Thighs. He said the dry-cleaning business is thriving with new customers - but not Latinos.

"There's not as much Latinos around here anymore," Peralta said. "All the kids used to play baseball in the streets. Now we don't see that anymore."

Jana Debusk, 25, who moved from Kendallville, Ind., three years ago, said she hopes Garden Acosta is successful in his bid to keep Latino culture alive.

"I don't want them to be pushed out," Debusk said. "I like the community. They've been here longer than the hipsters and they're more interesting."

Garden Acosta has volunteers for his 10-year mission, but said if he's going to be successful he'll need more - hundreds more.

"If we don't do it, we will be displaced," Garden Acosta said. "It's time to say enough."

knelson@nydailynews.com

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