The late George Carlin was once jailed for uttering a set of words that are not allowed on most traditional broadcast formats. But we the intelligent media consuming public know that the English dictionary houses vast quantities of vile vocabulary. Many of these words can be repeated without legal recourse yet could result in one being shunned or labeled an outcast by others. One such word in question has come to describe a hot button issue which has been a serious concern for citizens of this nation for decades.
Need a hint as to what the word is?
It begins with the letter “G”. No it’s not the five letter one which is a clinical term for a part of the male anatomy. That word, which two numbskull cartoon teens from the 1990s used frequently with ease, could be used to describe the individuals who unscrupulously benefit from the word that is the central topic of this piece. This word was placed into the pop culture landscape in the same decade as the aforementioned one in John Singleton’s seminal classic Boyz N the Hood by Laurence Fishburne’s character Furious Styles. That dirty word is called gentrification.
“It was very hard because when you say gentrification a lot of people automatically don’t want to have that conversation”, shared Andrew Padilla a filmmaker and lifelong East Harlem resident with regard to promoting his documentary on the very subject. “It’s a dirty word. The thing for me I personally don’t care if you’re pro or against it. I’m pro having a conversation about it. I’m pro not pretending it’s not happening or pretending that everyone’s cool with it. Or that everyone is in some way against it. I’m pro actually us having dialogue about it.”
In order to do this one must truly know the definition of the controversial topic. The Oxford American Dictionary once described it as “the movement of middle class families into urban areas causing property values to increase and having [the] secondary effect of driving out poorer families.” However, there’s more to the topic than the definition it was once given. And in order to gain a better understanding Padilla gathered people together to create his film El Barrio Tours: Gentrification in East Harlem. The film is his way of touring visitors from all walks of life through his East Harlem neighborhood in order to speak of the topic, understand its countless nuances and the many effects it has on the people living in the area.
Padilla still conducts tours to compliment the film which premiered at last year’s San Diego Latino Film Festival. He is still promoting the film on a full time basis but has had some met some challenges from the most unlikely of places. “It was very hard. There were a lot of organizations, community organizations and Latino organizations that should’ve said yes and didn’t. And explicitly told me in some cases ‘Oh, we’re not accepting this’. It’s not even just generally not accepting this, they were telling me no because I did not talk enough about the good of gentrification. That was disheartening because I was hoping I could keep my job and someone else could premiere it”, Andrew revealed of his initial struggles to promote his documentary.
The twenty-three year old eventually made the difficult decision of quitting his well paying job as a paralegal and moved back home with his parents in order to premiere the film in New York City. He also received help from Lynn Roberts at the CUNY School of Public Health (Community Health Education Program). “She saw the merit in this. She saw this as a public health issue”, Padilla respectfully stated when speaking of the assistance he received from the school. This allowed him to continue on his mission. The film premiered in New York City at the Hunter School of Public Health on April 5th of this year.
To bolster his efforts Padilla started an Indiegogo campaign, which ends on September 1st, to raise $15,000.00 so he can screen the film across the country. At the end of this month he will have two events. The first is a screening at the Nuyorican Poets Café on the 22nd and a final fundraiser at La Casa Azul Bookstore the following night at 6:00 p.m.
The plan Padilla is looking to execute is to use the film as a tool to engage communities suffering from the same displacement as seen in East Harlem. He hopes to profile through film and photography how other communities have been affected by gentrification. Andrew also wants to see how communities fight back against and found reasonable solutions on how to combat the problem.