"There is a tree that grows in Brooklyn. Some people call it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed falls, it makes a tree which struggles to reach the sky. It grows in boarded up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps. It grows out of cellar gratings. It is the only tree that grows out of cement. It grows lushly... survives without sun, water, and seemingly without earth. It would be considered beautiful except that there are too many of it."
From "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn' by Betty Smith
This project documents the neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn in New York City. It captures the neighborhood's changing character with a focus on the Latino men who manage to maintain a foothold despite the significant economic and social pressures of gentrification and urban renewal.
The demographics of Williamsburg, Brooklyn have forever been in a state of flux. Starting as a German enclave, this same neighborhood has been called home by Jewish, Irish, Polish, Italian, Mexican, Dominican and Puerto Rican communities as the city has evolved. The South Side of Williamsburg, known colloquially as “Los Sures,” maintains a sizeable population of Latinos, with a majority having emigrated from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic in the mid-twentieth century.
I came to Williamsburg myself from the Dominican Republic in 1989, when it was still a working-class and primarily Latino enclave. I graduated high school right as this neighborhood was being popularized by hipster culture in the early 2000s and the area was beginning to change again. This shift was expressed through the growth of music venues, bars, and art galleries, culminating in the building of condos and other high-priced construction projects with ludicrously high rental costs, and the homogenization of the area towards an affluent, and mostly white, population.
Since 2011, I have documented this change to the neighborhood, focusing primarily on the men I would often see and meet on the streets. There is a public facet to Latino culture which means that many of the social interactions of this community happen outside, on front stoops, outside bodegas (convenience stores), churches, and parks. The men of these communities tend to be the most visible presence on the street, and through them I have been able to represent what remains of my community, the values they hold, and the difficulties they now endure.