“Mi Casa No Es Su Casa,” a group of Bushwick residents frustrated with gentrification and the rezoning of their neighborhood, launched an “artivism” campaign to state exactly that: My House is not your house.
“We are a political project using visual art to engage the community and raise awareness around gentrification, and what it’s doing to working-class families,” said Pati Rodriguez, a longtime Bushwick resident and one of the group’s founders.
Rodriguez started the group in 2015 after receiving incessant calls and letters from real estate developers offering to buy her family’s third-generation home.
“They were harassing us, even calling my mom while she was at work,” she said. “That’s when I put up a ‘Not 4 Sale’ sign outside our house.”
Rodriguez realized that creating these signs could be a cathartic way for the community to express its frustration and to bring attention to the issue. She partnered with The NYC Light Brigade, a social justice organization known for making LED light signs, that advised her to use lights to make their signs more visible. Mi Casa held its first light sign workshop later that year.
“We invited community members, tenants, homeowners and activists to build these signs,” said Rodriguez. “We then installed them outside homes, community centers and small businesses.”
The group has taken its approach of community engagement a step further. Last month, in tandem with art activism group The Illuminator, Mi Casa projected anti-gentrification messages onto a wall in Bushwick. The messages were generated using The Illuminator’s technique “The People’s Pad” which allows participants to write messages onto a notepad and to project them in real time.
Some of the messages included: “Affordable Housing? Affordable For Who?” and “I was displaced from Williamsburg. I don’t want to be displaced from Bushwick as well.”
Mi Casa projected an image of the director of the Department of City Planning’s (DCP) Brooklyn office, Winston Von Engel, with dollar signs covering his eyes. The image was accompanied by a controversial quote Von Engel made regarding the rezoning of Bushwick at a community meeting in February. “Our intention is to preserve the character and the buildings, not the people in them,” said Von Engel.
Mi Casa co-founding member Bruno Daniel Garcia sees the DCP and Von Engel as the true culprits in the gentrification of Bushwick. “They’re holding this community hostage,” he said. “Anytime there’s been a rezoning in a community of color, it has led to further displacement.”
The DCP declined to comment. Meanwhile, Rodriguez said the calls from developers to purchase her home have only increased. She plans to continue the resistance.
“We want a more just community. We don’t want to be displaced or whitewashed,” said Rodrguez. “And we want the immigrant community to be respected, especially now that the country has become so dangerous for immigrants.”