July 23, 2013 -- Twenty-three year-old Andrew Padilla has lived in East Harlem all of his life. He loves his Manhattan neighborhood also known as El Barrio. During the past century, East Harlem has been home to Italians, Puerto Ricans, and most recently Mexican immigrants – but in the past few years, he started to see changes: Gentrification.
"I started seeing a lot of the friends, family, small businesses I'd known, grown up with my whole life, leaving the area, and I wanted to know why. Why was a neighborhood that was completely disinvested in from the public and private sector for decades all of the sudden valuable and of interest to people who never would have otherwise imagined coming here?" he said.
In February, Padilla quit his job as a paralegal and moved back in with his parents in order to work on his documentary, entitled "El Barrio Tours" precisely about the gentrification of East Harlem. His 28-minute-film features different residents of the area – each chronicling his or her struggles with the gentrification process. "I originally wanted to profile these changes through an examination of my grandfather Jose Antonio Padilla's 60 year stay in El Barrio, but he passed in 2011. This film is dedicated to him," said Padilla. "He worked 60 years of his life here trying to build a better life for my family and I realized that many of the reasons I could even be in the middle class growing up, aside from the hard work all of my grandparents did, is they also had advantages, like public housing allowing them to only pay 30% of their income in rent. Those tools, while far from perfect, allowed them to save and help my family work into the middle class. Its clear that those steps for upward mobility are now fading away as our city becomes an increasingly more expensive place to live."
Now Padilla offers free screenings of the documentary around New York City in hopes of sparking conversations about gentrification in his neighborhood. Oh yeah - and he also gives tours in his free time, taking tourists and locals throughout El Barrio. He also hopes to take his documentary around the country. "No one in this community has an issue with better schools, safer streets, better housing," said Padilla. "But if they have to leave for others to enjoy that, then we're not actually solving the problems that New York has, we're simply moving them."
If you're in New York City, there will be a free screening and discussion of "El Barrio Tours" tomorrow, July 24, 2013 at El Museo del Barrio.