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Facebook South Bronx Folk Festival. One thing that I hope the film does for other people is to help them understand redlining. Discovering what that was like was one of the most profound parts. We had a general knowledge of the history. Tracing back these memories to policy decisions was very painful.

It was coming to terms with the trauma we experienced.

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What were the policies that turned the South Bronx from a vibrant, multiracial working-class community into a symbol of twentieth-century urban decay? The main policy we decided to focus on in the film was redlining which was part of the New Deal. Redlining has been a profound factor in the creation of our cities and we tried to demonstrate that with a series of maps. Government surveyors went into neighborhoods throughout America and drew up these maps which guided insurance companies, mortgage lenders, and all the services that were becoming instrumental in buying any kind of property at this time.

We wanted to dive into how redlining is about the hoarding of government resources. Underpinning that was language written into the Federal Housing Act which also assisted white Americans in becoming homeowners stating that neighborhoods that are not segregated or not purely white were doomed to fail. This started very early and at a time when the Bronx was very much integrated. What we heard from people was it took a while for the impact of the redlining to be felt in a widespread way.

But when it did hit, it happened quickly and in conjunction with white flight. Whites — but also any middle-class person who could afford to move out — left in the s.

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It was generally a time period of dislocation and the time when a stigma over crime and drugs associated with the neighborhood moved to the forefront. I can go on and on. So as Gretchen is talking about these policies, these messages helped to justify redlining and the use of urban renewal to get rid of tenement buildings. Racism played a big role in allowing these policies to take hold.

The fires were a result of these policies, and yet the people who live through them are considered to be a bunch of criminals. The main policy leading up to the budget crisis that has a lot of resonance with people today is austerity. It was done under the guise of making things more efficient and bringing consultants to make things better. But at the end of the day, they were cutting firehouses in poor neighborhoods.

It was about seven years before anyone official in the city, even the Bronx district attorney, acknowledged that a crisis was happening. You can see me almost crying. Nothing I saw in that research helped me answer why people did not save the South Bronx. There was eventually a request from the Bronx DA to the federal government to address the arson. On a macro level, people were displaced. We have research that shows about a quarter of a million people were displaced.

People were moving from place to place.

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You can imagine how disruptive that is to a family or to children or to anyone who wants stability in their lives. We had forty fires day and night.

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We lost 80 percent of our housing stock. Fires are also scary. People died. This was no way to live. It seemed that the infrastructure of the community was weakened: we had weak schools, hospitals, and social service, and everything around was in a weak state. It was the entire lifeblood of the community that was affected.

At this time, Puerto Rican and African American youth were blamed for the fires. They are depicted by the media as violent gang leaders destroying their own neighborhood. Young people were behaving irrationally because our environment was irrational. What we want to say in the film is that yes, young people did all kinds of stuff, but who were the forces behind it? Who is creating these conditions?

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It happened back then, and we see it continuing it today. I want young people to question and to understand that back then there were these conditions that were created and led to the fires. As I say in the film, a lot of young people I knew growing up ended up dead, on drugs, and in jail. There were moments I thought I was going to fall apart.

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  5. I want to empower youth to fight injustice. Knowing that there are actual policies and actual people behind those decisions, means that we have the agency to fight injustice.

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    But we have to get involved. I hope young people see that because they have to play a role and have a voice. Organizing emerges as a powerful antidote to the state abandonment and hopelessness.

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    Today the neighborhood you grew up in Vivian is under the threat of gentrification. What gives you hope about organizing against gentrification today?

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    What gives me hope are the young people fighting. We are learning our lessons from what happened in Brooklyn and LES. Now we are a bit ahead of the curve. We want decent houses but we want to be able to afford them.