up in the bronx

FORDHAM ROADI love trekking through Fordham Road in the Boogie Down Bronx where the people are fresh, especially now that my own Upper Manhattan neighborhood is experiencing a serious Taking Over of the most aggressive kind. (I couldn’t resist referencing my dear friend and hermano from another madre Danny Hoch‘s latest one-man show.) People of color, specifically, and real New Yorkers in general, are becoming endangered species in their own ‘hoods here, so does it really matter if divulge my coordinates? Na, not really. Sure, I’m delighted that C-Town now stocks soy milk and fresher produce, and that there are at least a dozen alternatives to the Dominican joints here (the fiesta roll @ Mama Sushi is damn good).  However, at times it feels as if the people who grew up here aren’t welcomed anymore. Like, on Valentine’s Day when we went to this local joint I used to frequent and take meetings in: although times are a bit rough, we decided to live in the moment and enjoy ourselves. There were other couples there, one I remember barely paying attention to each other as they were busy typing away on their laptops; some were like us, punch-drunk in love and having a great time; and we even had entertainment in the form of a dimwitted girl offering to read palms and dancing way offbeat to the piano player’s whim.  We dropped quite a bit of money wining and dining. And as we were finishing up dessert, pondering whether or not to have another glass of Cabernet, one of the cafe’s owner’s stepped to us and asked how long we planned to stay. He said, “Hey, I’m not asking you to leave but are you going to have another glass of wine or something? Because, if you’re not, well, that would help me figure out what to do with this table.” Or something like that.  Now, the place wasn’t packed. Funny thing is that while we’re just two colored folks, we are kinda, sorta connected to this dude. He worked on an award-winning HBO series whose credits include a writer and co-star we know. My better half’s sister owns her own establishment—she’s part Haitian!—and I doubt that she’d ask anyone something that asinine under the same circumstances. Anyway, we’re much happier giving our business to the Garden Cafe (just wish they’d open earlier and offer free wi-fi).


And that’s why sauntering down Fordham Road is extra special now. As a teenager, I’d save every penny of my allowance to buy a pair of sneakers or fresh gear at Easy Pickins or Alexanders. Sometimes, I’d walk over to Original Products on Webster Ave., one of the oldest supply companies and botanicas in New York owned by a family of Sephardic Jews. There was always an adventure to be had here. Today, it’s kind of the same: freestyle, dancehall and hip-hop music blaring forth—often, all at once—from clothing and sneaker stores; folks losing dough to Three-Card Monte sharks; the pungent smell of spicy chicken from halal vendors, and the sweet aroma of peanuts and almonds being fried in sugar wafting about in the air; the chunky girls with chunkier gold jewelry and fresh kicks enjoying the first few days of good weather…that’s what I’m talking about.


Inspired, we walked further down to Arthur Avenue, which I totally took for granted growing up in alto Manhattan. Today, I feel lucky to live so close to this enclave known as  the “Little Italy” of the Bronx. Now that real estate developers (devils, I tell you) are imposing new names like Spaha and Nolita on ethnic neighborhoods in hopes of morphing this city into one large yuppie zoo that wreaks of Williamsburg (where in the fuck did all the Poles and Puerto Ricans go?), areas like Arthur Avenue are all the more precious. Lunch there was almost as orgasmic as the cannoli I devoured at one of the local bakeries (where I met an Italian woman who, in broken English, told me she was going to become a priestess of Obatala in the Afro-Cuban Regla Lucumi religion, also known as Santeria and Yoruba—only in New York I tell you!).

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After lunch, we had to walked over to the bustling Tuff City Styles tattoo shop on East Fordham Road, owned by my man’s friend Med, an old-school graffiti artist. It’s definitely the freshest looking parlor I’ve seen in my life, eye candy to anyone whose every been even remotely interested in trains and graff. It was a treat to meet Comet, a ’70s pioneer of the original TC5 crew (side note: Crachee, my dear friends, is a Pulitzer prize winning reporter!). And if that wasn’t enough, in came Lava 1 & 2, a ’70s O.G. and Ex Vandals member rocking a Fraternal Order of Black Spades varsity jacket. It was all very surreal. ~ Raquel Cepeda


Comments 8

  1. Change is an permanent fixture of urban life. However, for communities facing gentrification, there are a number of factors that determine a neighborhood’s capacity to manage such change in a way that would benefit all. Low-income (current) residents are rarely the victors when such a financial and cultural shift occurs. Often current residents feel overwhelmed when faced with the transformational forces that gentrification brings. They are often not included during the planning or discussion phase. For the most part, this is intentional.

    With gentrification, more meaningful collaboration is necessary to benefit not only the new businesses and future residents, but the current residents of the area to achieve this win-win situation for all stakeholders. No system is perfect, but without collaboration there will always be definite winners and losers.

  2. i’ve always thought of “gentrification” to be a sort of abnormal mutation of a healthy cell…

    as Raquel puts it, it’s really a strange thing to think that suddenly those native ny’ers growing up in these communities, feel like the “other”…

  3. Living on the Lower East Side for the last few years, I’d be remiss to not add my voice to this poignant post. Unfortunately, I find myself in a conundrum I usually end up leaning left on. On the one end, gentrification has brought my hood Blockbuster’s and a safe place to drink and bring some of my best friends to whenever they’re in town. On the other hand, I see that it’s at the expense of those who’ve been there forever. Forget the thugs and criminals; how about those that have lived there all their lives, made that hood chic and cool, and work the 9-5 but can’t afford to live anywhere else? We continue to proliferate that culture secretly by not demanding better housing options, but that’s pretty much how this whole nation’s run. (naturally I lean on the second side).

    Thank you for writing this post.

  4. thanks ra,
    i’ve been around fordham road but have never been to the botanica and I’ve heard the best cheesecake in NYC is really in the bronx up around 196 and kingsbridge and not junior’s.

    I’m the poster boy for gentrification on the outside but there’s no way I’d be able to afford to buy property in Bed-Stuy(my current residence). As you know, Corcoran and other realtors have been trying their damndest to SOBRO (WTdoubleFF?!!) South Bronx but this has been slow compared to rapid change in BK or upper/lower manhattan neighborhoods due more to convenience of location.

  5. There are too many negatives to gentrification for my liking. This is NYC…there’s a distinct, a very special history of its culture and people, and I see that being washed away to memory. I understand the theme of this city to be constant newness and evolution, but now that theme has usurped a big piece of its substance. And that void is filled with generic vibes and the types that don’t care about community, let alone the existing ones they arrived into.

    At 5k a plot, I hear Detroit is up for the taking…

  6. You know I love Mamita, and for all the obvious b(ronx)- girl reasons. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home….

  7. Oh you are bringing me back! I used to hang out with my girls on “Fordham”. There used to be a movie theatre that we’d sneak into and the vendors….oh. It was so alive back then. Gentrification is a bit of a conundrum. I lived through it in Brooklyn in the mid 90’s. At first it was cool. Cute cafes, little boutiques and taxis would actually take you back to BK. But after a bit, it started to stink. The others that moved in started to give you the stink eye or they didn’t even look at you as you passed by. I became an outsider in my hood. I don’t know how to reconcile or if we’ll ever figure that one out.

  8. Couldn’t agree more, Fordham Road has kept its flavor. I recently took some pictures of Tuff City, haven’t post it them yet. I love the theme of that tattoo parlor.

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