This is about a world that, to me, decades later, is neither forgotten nor lost. It’s a place where my mind and heart were stirred to life by the sound of Papi playing guitar by our bedroom window on Beck Street. Those boleros—which he had learned as a child in Puerto Rico—were beautiful and heartbreaking, dramatic and romantic. They were about a place that was physically gone, but ever-present—if only in his mind. Yet those songs kept him rooted to Caguas, a town he left at 14 years of age, and would never again see before his death in 1980. I would learn to relate.
The Bronx has always centered me. The stories of those who stayed, and the friendships of people like Jacob and Father Flynn, showed how to rebuild a community that had been shunted aside, abandoned, and incinerated. From community gardens to street fairs, from Hunts Point to Crotona—this series documents the random encounters with people and places that occur on the margins, geographically and otherwise. Along stretches of industrial waterfronts, parks and neighborhoods, I find myself at home, emotionally above all. I start random conversations with people about anything—the kinds of encounters that have always kept us together in good times and bad. My Nuyorican generation learned during the fires long ago how to weave through cultures, classes, languages, and even attitudes—knowing that our stories go way beyond victimhood, or being ignored.
These images, which span four decades, may not be what you expect—either of the Bronx or of me—especially if you’ve been accustomed to the usual urban tropes (or marketing plans). They have everything to do with the Bronx. They have nothing to do with the Bronx. This is my Bronx life.
This 2009 cover story in the NYT Metropolitan section goes deep into the backstory:
A 2017 talk and slide presentation at the School of Visual Arts: