By Emily Cardenas, 2019 Cashin Fellow
Home is the Bronx. It’s the booming music shaking your bones as you walk down the avenue to your local pizza shop. It’s the open fire hydrants showering cars and young kids like glittering confetti. It’s the small businesses with flashing signs attracting customers of all races and ages as they take on the latest fashion trends. It’s the constant “boom bat, boom bat” of the trains running overhead that overcome the lively chatter of the neighborhood. The Bronx is all these things and so much more. And my journey in and out of this place has reshaped my ideas on resilience, diversity, and beauty.
For the past five years, I have studied at private schools hundreds of miles away in hopes of getting a better education and opportunities. While I am grateful for the experiences and lessons I learned, I feel as though the knowledge I came away with was about the rest of the world and not about my own home. I felt fake for representing my borough when I didn’t actually know what I was representing. This past summer at Community Food Action, however, has opened my eyes to the richness of the Bronx that runs deeper than I imagined.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the Bronx, dominated by black and Latino communities, faced clear institutionalized racism through redlining and a reduction in government services. High rates of crime, unemployment, homelessness, and arson led to a desolated borough with no means of recovery. Yet community members from all walks of life united together and took it upon themselves to rebuild and revitalize their homes because they believed in the potential of the Bronx. They restored abandoned buildings and created impactful community-based programs that improved quality of life. Their hard work can still be seen decades later in the vibrancy and liveliness of our Bronx streets, no matter the time or weather.
In learning and see this history in books and movies, I realized that the Bronx is not simply another borough; it is a spirit moving in and around us. It is hope and courage beating in our hearts. It is teamwork and leadership despite our outward differences. It is art and imagination carved into our buildings. It is life after death.
As my time at Community Food Action wraps up, I am also just getting started on a long journey towards creating a better Bronx. There is still so much revitalizing work to be done even 40 years later in regards to our education, legislation, and environmental sustainability efforts. But I feel committed to being part of that change and adding to the already marvelous history of the Bronx. No matter where my life takes me in future… You can take the girl of the Bronx but you can’t take the Bronx out of the girl.