June 23, 2021

Bushwick and the Beast

by Resistance

Background show artwork for Resistance

When Flako moved back home to Bushwick, he noticed hella changes to the place that raised him. But Flako’s determined to not let gentrification win. Instead, he’s digging in and fighting the beast with the tools his community gave him.

Where to Listen


Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr.: Hey, what's good y'all? Just a quick warning before we get started: this episode of Resistance has some strong language in it. We'll get started right after this short break.

Flako Jimenez: Yeah, buddy. Mi la senora Yolanda. Esta frituda. Y'all want some? I don't want this in my car. You're not gonna eat this in my car.

Yolanda: Thank you!

Flako Jimenez: Y'all ain't never had pig intestines like these, right? She's been out here selling ...

Saidu: I'm on the corner of Knickerbocker and Harmon in Bushwick, Brooklyn, with Modesto Flako Jimenez. He's lived on this block for 30 years, ever since he stepped off the plane from the Dominican Republic at nine years old to come live with his Grandma. Flako is a tall, lanky man in his 30s. He has these eyes that get real wide when he's excited, and this beard that forms around his chin like a crown. He kinda looks like Nipsey Hussle—the Bushwick version. And it's very easy to tell that he cares about his neighborhood just as deeply. Over the years, Flacko's developed a special relationship with Bushwick. Like this corner, for example. The lady he's introducing me to out here? Her name is Yolanda. He says Yolanda's been posted up selling all kinds of goods to the neighborhood for decades. And apparently, the market she's been cornering lately is grilled pig intestines, which smells heavenly.

Flako Jimenez: Best fucking pig intestines in Brooklyn, bro.

Saidu: Yes!

Saidu: I want to take a picture of Yolanda to capture this moment, how these hot beads of pig fat are flying directly in front of her face, and it doesn't even seem to phase her at all. But Flako tells me nah, chill, chill. This is not that kind of experience. Don't act like a tourist. Out of respect, we gotta get to know each other first, get to know the neighborhood and its people on a deeper level. So he starts telling me the story of Yolanda.

Flako Jimenez: Yolanda has been on the corner of Knickerbocker and Harmon hustling, selling scrunchies, those butterflies that girls used to put in their hairs back then, those little shiny butterflies with glitter and, like, Duracell batteries. Tempo, the stuff to kill the cockroaches, and all the different—like, every type of shit that you could hustle. She was the dollar store before the dollar store, right? So when the dollar store displaced her, what she did? She started selling her people food. You can't find this shit nowhere else. Look at that corn!

Saidu: Flako tells me that, during his 30 years in Bushwick, he's passed by Yolanda on this block almost every single day from the time he was a skinny little Afro-Latino kid walking to school in the morning, to the grown actor, playwright and poet who now runs his own production company. He says Yolanda has seen him grow up through all of that. She's seen him drive a taxi to make extra cash when the theater gigs were slow and he didn't have enough to get something to eat. And sometimes he'd park next to Yolanda's food cart and barely be talking to her for five minutes before she would hand him a hot meal for free, until his next ride, his next show, his next bag.

Flako Jimenez: Right? It's not just corn. Put some respect on that moté, right? Check out the chicken, right? Check it all out, baby. Put it all out there.

Saidu: It looks so good. It looks so good.

Saidu: And while she's seen him grow, he's watched her business grow, too.

Flako Jimenez: This lady's reminding people of their world. When she picked up this pan where she had all the pig intestines, and a lady was like, "Yo, you know, I've been trying to, like, figure out how do I buy the intestines?" Like, this is another Ecuadorian lady asking another Ecuadorian, "Yo, where the plug? Where the plug? I need them intestines in my life, bro! Like, but I need the whole jar. I need to have this at the crib!" She's like, "Yeah, $150." I was like, "Yo, $150 for a tin of pig intestines not cooked? Oh, that hustle real. Yolanda, I see why you moved on to the bigger hustle. You said, '99 cents so you can have those batteries. I'ma go cook for my peoples, be the lady out here with the grease stains on the floor forever.'" That's Yolanda.

Saidu: I love hearing Flako talk about Yolanda, because his relationship with her is so Brooklyn. You live here long enough, you have at least one favorite spot where you develop a very specific relationship with a person who works there. For me, it's my local Caribbean buffet. This one dude who works there, he never smiles at me, and he's always arguing with me loud as hell about how many oxtails come in a size small. But he'll also do some random nice shit like slide me an extra plantain because it's Friday, and sometimes he'll call me "Bredrin." I've only been in Brooklyn for four years, and I'd be sick if anything ever happened to that place or that guy. But Flako, he's been in Bushwick for 30 years, and he's seen hella businesses in Bushwick shut down and get replaced by luxury condos or hipster coffee shops trying to pass off lattes as cafe con leches. It's gentrification, but he doesn't call it that. Instead, he calls it "Gege."

Saidu: I think it's because gentrification—the way we're used to talking about it—only using luxury terms like "renewal" and "displacement," it can start to feel so impersonal and distant from the actual violence of it all. It doesn't capture what it feels like to fall in love with a place, only to get pushed out by scheming landlords. It doesn't pinpoint the gut punch of walking down the block one day and not seeing whoever your Yolanda is because they can't afford the neighborhood anymore. Like, sometimes the way we talk about gentrification feels gentrified. And Flako's trying to change all that.

Saidu: It's why he came up with this immersive theatrical experience called Taxilandia, where he takes two or three people in his taxi on a ride through Bushwick to tell the real story of how Gege is running through his neighborhood unchecked. And I feel like a whole bunch of people have tried and are trying a lot of different ways to fight gentrification. But how about a play in a taxi from somebody who's lived through it for 30 years? Have we tried that?

Flako Jimenez: Erasure is happening to me and my peoples, and the only way I know how to talk is through my art. If not, we're gonna fight or some weird shit.

Saidu: I'm Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr., and this is Resistance, a show about refusing to accept things when they change.

Flako Jimenez: I see you. I see you. That's what I'm talking about.

Saidu: Flako walks me and my producer Navani to his taxi. It's a 2004 Lincoln town car that shines like expensive red wine in a clean glass—a way more comfortable ride than the cab he used to pass Yolanda in back in the day. And almost as soon as we get there, he gets a call from the dispatcher, and the show begins.

Dispatcher: 13, 13, Broadway-Lafayette. Your regular customer. 13, 13, 13, Broadway-Lafayette, your regular customer.

Flako Jimenez: 13, 13, Broadway-Lafayette. Tell him an hour and a half. I'm a little busy right now. An hour and a half.

Dispatcher: Copy, 13. Copy.

Saidu: Flako slides into the front seat and we hop into the back, a plexiglass divider between us. But I can see a laptop in the front seat, running some kind of program in green text. And in front of our knees on the center console is a tablet. Flako pushes a few buttons on the laptop, the tablet lights up, and that's when it really starts to sink in that this ain't no taxi for real, it's a full-on black box theater on wheels.

Flako Jimenez: Hey, yo. Welcome to Bushwick!

Saidu: We pull out, and Flako is checking his mirrors, looking at the road, and at the same time performing lines from a script in his head. Sometimes he'll stop the show and look back at us, say something wise and slick then pick back up where he left off.

Flako Jimenez: Why not? I'm in my community.

Saidu: If he messed up any lines or deviated from his route in any way, I couldn't tell. Everything feels so synchronized, like he's as familiar with these streets as he is with a stage. And Flako doesn't call this a tour—he doesn't even call it a play, really—he calls it an experience. Because back in 2015, when he was first developing the show, he went to a couple of graffiti tours that were happening in his neighborhood. You know those touristy things where guides try to tell you the story of the neighborhood through the art on the walls? He says they took people through more developed parts of Bushwick, showing murals painted by artists from out of state, and they weren't taking people to the parts of Bushwick that had real graffiti. They weren't talking about what that culture really meant to the community. So, of course, the very first stop on Flako's experience is at a graffiti wall. When we pull up, it honestly just looks like any other wall in Bushwick.

Flako Jimenez: Now we're gonna talk about graffiti culture.

Saidu: The building it's on has fogged-up windows and peeling paint. The graffiti is really the only thing decorating it.

Flako Jimenez: So let's talk about graffiti culture. There are three terms you will learn here: tagging, buffing and crowning. Tagging. Tagging is what they are all doing, right? Putting up a name. The more that you tag, the more you build your catalog. Just like writers, like poets write a poem. The more poems we write, we're building our catalog. So that's all these graffiti writers are doing, tagging.

Saidu: Flako says the graffiti that's on so many surfaces in Bushwick, on trains, bridges, the sides of old buildings, they tell a story about the people who tagged them. And on this one, all the colorful names tagged throughout, are artists from all over New York who've come here to Bushwick to claim a spot on this wall. And as they do, the wall gets crowded, the tags start to overlap. Blues over greens, yellows over reds, blacks over whites. It's like they're competing for space.

Flako Jimenez: So a lot of that is happening here, right? Cool? Let's go learn crowning now.

Saidu: At the very top of the building, there's names spray painted that have nothing overlapping them, they're just suspended above all the other tags below. They're so high up, that you ask yourself how the hell did they get up there?

Flako Jimenez: So now think about those graffiti writers that have risked themselves to tag up really high up on a building. Just think about that for a while. As New Yorkers, you've seen places get tagged up like crazy, really, really high. That is me risking my life so you can't buff me and my artistry lives.

Saidu: We pass by walls like this every day in New York City, and a lot of us don't even take a second look at them. But Flako tells us: look harder. What's happening here is people going to really great lengths to mark their presence in Bushwick, to say to the neighborhood, "I was here."

Flako Jimenez: So those are old graffiti writers that are never being erased, right? Which are some of the problems that I have with the art that's coming in now. The first step that they do is full paint coat of white. Then the whole block gets erased. Now let's just take it in, right? This is Bushwick, Brooklyn. The mecca of cool and grimy, and that's a quote from 2014 when Vogue called us that and made us the fourth-coolest spot to live in in the world. Mi nombre es Flaco, and I grew up here. Bro, I used to love to sell bootleg CDs right in front of McDonald's, right? It was easier than selling crack. [laughs] That's a lie. Crack sells itself, baby. Let's not bullshit ourselves. Start looking at people's feet: Adidas, Puma, Nike, Adidas. No, Asics, actually. Those are the only ones that I'm like, "Oh, shit. I haven't seen Asics in a while." So let's keep going.

Saidu: Let's go.

Saidu: We stop outside a neighborhood bargain clothing store. The kind of shop that sells sneakers like Vans, Converse, Pumas. Affordable shoes. It's real nondescript and low-key. It's not the kind of place you'd think to walk into if you're not from the neighborhood, but it's the next stop on Flako's experience. He says in Bushwick, if there's any uniform, it's what people are wearing on their feet. And if you're not wearing the right thing, it's harder to blend into the community—especially as a kid. Flako learned that lesson the hard way when he moved to Bushwick in the '90s at nine years old. His grandma wasn't worried about no uniform; she wanted him to get an education. That's why she brought him here in the first place. So instead of going to one of these neighborhood bargain stores and copping him something slight, she just got him some off-brand shoes from Payless.

Flako Jimenez: I come from DR. I have my chancletas, I have my dress shoes for church and whatever situation, funerals, parties, whatever it was, those were the ones you put on. And I had the sneakers. Grandma had me right, brah. I'm like, "Seven pairs of Payless shoes. Like, I'm balling!" Those were seven bad days of school.

Saidu: [Laughs]

Flako Jimenez: Like, you don't show up with no Patrick Ewings or some Shaqs.

Saidu: Shaqs. I had the Shaqs.

Flako Jimenez: Bro, you do not—you're going to get picked on, like, "Look at this n**** thinking he wearing Jordans." Shaq made his money. We got traumatized.

Saidu: When I came to the States in early 2000s, I was one year younger than when Flako came to Bushwick, but I was just as excited when I walked into the class the very first day of school with my Shaqs and thought, the Shaq logo on the shoe is of Shaq dunking, just like the Jordan logo is of Jordan dunking. No one will notice. But of course, people noticed in my school—the same way they noticed in Flako's.

Flako Jimenez: I was killing it in my mind, bro. Killing it, bro. Killing it, bro. Nice, nice, out here swaggity with my Shaqs. And then, you know, you see the pointings, and then you hear the words, because you don't know the tongue, but you see the body language and you see the smirks and you see the pointing, and you're like, "That shit's not good. I done that in my country. That's not good." That body language I know.

Saidu: [laughs] I've been on the other side of that.

Flako Jimenez: You know what I'm saying?

Saidu: That's a fact. And it's not even—for real for real—it's not even like, people whispering about—they will straight up tell you ...

Flako Jimenez: "What are those?" Where you think—that's the new term, I guess, these young bucks is using. Like, we were using "rejects." Like, we were like, "Oh, look at this n**** rocking rejects."

Saidu: Yeah.

Flako Jimenez: I didn't know that. I had to knock on my neighbor's door—bam, bam, bam, bam—and be like, "Lisa. Qué son 'reject?'" She's like, "Show me your sneakers." And I'm like, "Oh, shit. Oh, shit. Oh, shit." I knew I fucked up. I knew I fucked—I was like, "Damn, Grandma." And then I had to argue with grandma where, like, "I'm not going back to school."

Saidu: Flako could've kept wearing the Shaqs and toughed it out. I mean, they're perfectly fine shoes. But I think he made the same calculation I did when I came to America. If Bushwick is supposed to be home now, he can't have the people here seeing him differently than he sees himself. He can't be a joke, or else he'll always feel like an outsider here. His grandma heard him out, and she went and bought him a pair of Vans from the bargain store around the corner, something in that $30-$100 price range that cost the same as Shaqs but carried none of the shame. Flako started to blend in more at school. Bushwick started to feel more like home.

Saidu: Back in the '90s, Bushwick was home to a lot of gangs. Bloods, Crips, The Ñeta Association and the Latin Kings all had a major presence out here. And Flako says that's one of the reasons his grandma was so strict growing up. In elementary and middle school, she'd calculate just how far each school was away from home. Five minutes, 10 minutes, didn't matter. He had to come directly home with no stops—or else.

Flako Jimenez: Grandma didn't play, bro. Grandma knew her son was already a drug dealer, so her grandson wasn't gonna be that. She already saw the paths, and she was like, "Nah, not you. It doesn't take you that long to get home after the bell rings. You should have all your stuff in your bag. So why is your stuff laying around? Why were you three minutes late today? You telling me it took you that long to put everything in your bag? Okay. I'ma make sure I ask the teacher. Don't worry about it."

Saidu: But even as a kid, Flako was always going to do his own thing. He started coming home late after school, not because he was banging, but because he was going to yoga class every day in his neighborhood. He went for a week straight, and for a week straight his grandma whooped his ass. He says at some point, she must've got tired of hitting him, because she took a day off work and went down to the class to check if he was actually telling the truth. And when she pulled up, there he was doing downward facing dog or something in a classroom with a bunch of other kids. He wasn't a gang member, he was just weird. Her grandson really was getting his ass whooped for yoga like he said. So she let him develop his other interests, like swimming and writing and theater.

Flako Jimenez: She started opening up to letting me do after school shit like the cadets and, like, all this shit that gave me moments outside of the house, but safe and secure.

Saidu: It meant more freedom.

Flako Jimenez: Yeah. And then that's when you joined the gang. The Latin Kings intrigued me because them n****s had Bibles and books. And that blew my mind. Like, six inches type of shit, thick book of lessons, and all Latino-focused, when everything I'm being shown in school is white, or us being hurt. And these lessons spoke godliness of us and, like, all the powers and connecting me to, like, Virgin Islands and, like, Puerto Rico, and, like, Jamaica, and all of us in unity and five points and, like, weird shit like that. Like, shit that I haven't forgotten: Respect, honesty, unity, knowledge and love, I'm like, "I want all that. Some of this shit crazy, but some of this shit dope."

Saidu: Flako says it was rare to grow up in Bushwick in the '90s and not join a gang, because there was a real need to clique up with people who looked like you so you could provide for each other. Especially when there were so few resources available in the 'hood, and the cops were constantly snatching people away during that era of broken windows policing in New York. He says the Latin Kings would sometimes bail their members out of jail. Other times, they would help dudes make rent at the end of the month, put money on people's books. The yellow and black colors of the Kings had real power in Bushwick back then. They made people proud to be Latino, and they were respected for it. So when Flako's grandma found out he joined, she was upset because she knew it was dangerous, but she told him if he was gonna do it, he should live up to the best qualities the Latin Kings had to offer. There was this one day at school, he noticed some kids getting picked on, and he decided to do something about it. So he sent word to all the non-affiliated kids he could: he told them to start wearing yellow and black to school.

Flako Jimenez: "And I want all of you at third period on this floor. We're just gonna stay there the whole period." The block starts thinking that, "Wait, there are three hundred Latin Kings in the school now?" No, we just all decided to wear the same colors today. Every Tuesday, third period, yellow and black. Third floor. It spread. You don't got to say nothing else, it'll spread in the community that, "Yo, you seen the Kings on the third floor, bro? Them n****s is deep!"

Saidu: How did you think of that? Like, that's so ...

Flako Jimenez: What you mean? West Side Story. Gangs. Romeo and Juliet. Theater.

Saidu: [laughs]

Saidu: Flacko was getting deeper into his love for theater, and he was seeing the parallels between the plays and what was happening in his real life. The high school Flako went to, Bushwick High School, had a lot of gangs there, so the school didn't always feel safe. And when he would leave school, he'd hear about shootings and stabbings and all the other foul shit poverty makes people do to each other. So the streets didn't feel all that safe either. But there was one place that young people in Bushwick could go to leave all that behind. It's the next stop on our ride.

Flako Jimenez: It's not a business, it's a home. This is El Puente Bushwick. Built in 1992. Project living during the '90s was treacherous. Gang life reigned supreme, but El Puente? El Puente was never to be messed with, bro. The OGs knew that that was a safe haven, even for their kids to learn. I'm talking about math, science. Need a hookup with a resume? Like, they got you real, real help, yo.

Saidu: El Puente is this beautiful building in the shadow of this large cathedral. Its walls are painted in this warm, comforting yellow, and on top is a mural of people's faces: Latinos and Afro-Latinos, with all different kinds of hairstyles and all different ages. But the one thing that's the same is that they look like family: aunties and uncles and cousins. And when you walk through the front door, the huge heart painted on the door opens. Flako says this place was like an exhale from everything: home life, gang life. He could escape it all here. If you wanted to type up and print out homework, they had you. If you wanted a quiet place to read or a space to run lines for a play he was in, they had you. El Puente in English means "The Bridge," and Flako says that's exactly what it is. The whole mission is to help Bushwick kids who are just trying to make the transition into adulthood without going to jail or getting killed.

Saidu: El Puente helped him make it through. He graduated high school. But after that, he had to pick a path on his own: continue further into gang life or keep chasing after theater. He thought about it. And it was an easy choice.

Flako Jimenez: I did the gang life. We did everything that we were supposed to do in the gang life. I saw the n****s go to jail, I visited the big homies, big, big, big, big, big homies in the jails, took the pictures, everything, everything, the beat-ups. Like, I did it. All right. Ain't nothing else here, I'm realizing. I'm going to college.

Saidu: He told the guys in his tribe he was going into the Marines, but he was actually going to college out of state in Vermont, a place that couldn't have been more different than Bushwick. And while Flacko was away, Bushwick was starting to change. GeGe was coming. Fast. That's after Flacko's intermission.

Flako Jimenez: So right here is my people's bodega: Estevez Deli. I got a little surprise for y'all, right? While I get the surprise, keep hitting that paper, right? Keep writing down how you interact with Gege, positive, negative, neutral, right? Add to that list. Put it on that paper. I'll be right back.

Saidu: What's good, y'all? Welcome back. So during the intermission, Flako's been grabbing snacks in the bodega. It's called Estevez Deli, and after a few minutes, he walks out with the owner.

Flako Jimenez: They got it all, bro. They got everything you need.

Joseph Estevez: We got everything you need. Chips, the water y'all drink.

Saidu: He tells me he does this every ride, making sure a portion of whatever money he's making from these rides goes back into community businesses, even if it's just five bucks here and there. He knows that one of the most important things you can do to at least slow down GeGe is spend money at local places like these. Flako hands my producer Navani and me two black plastic bags filled with water and the saltiest chips I've ever tasted in my life.

Saidu: Rap snacks!

Saidu: Navani gets the Cardi flavor. I get Biggie.

Joseph Estevez: Biggie and Cardi, those are the best.

Saidu: Flako's main purpose in his Taxilandia theater experience is to get people to invest in the stories of Bushwick's residents. People like this dude, Joseph Estevez, the owner of the bodega.

Saidu: Nice to meet you. How long you been open?

Joseph Estevez: We've been here for about, like—owning the store for about eight years.

Saidu: Eight years. Wow. So you've seen the neighborhood change, too.

Joseph Estevez: I've always been around. I've been around, I've been always living around here.

Flako Jimenez: Hey, yo. Now check it out: give him one line of what this was during the '90s.

Joseph Estevez: It was bad.

Flako Jimenez: Right?

Joseph Estevez: It was real bad. We turned it into something good.

Flako Jimenez: Right? Like, we did what we had to do negative and turned all of that shit into goodness, right?

Saidu: How does it feel right now to be where you're at from where you came from?

Joseph Estevez: It's much better now.

Flako Jimenez: We could sleep good, right?

Joseph Estevez: Sleep good.

Flako Jimenez: Don't that shit feel so good that we could sleep good, Pop? No more trauma building?

Joseph Estevez: No, we living good, yeah.

Flako Jimenez: We living good, n****. We own our own companies. I own a theater company, he own a—you know what I'm saying?

Saidu: Yeah.

Flako Jimenez: We doing it for our people. Making sure our people still have the goods they need. Now let's ride out.

Saidu: Let's ride.

Saidu: In the early '90s, Flako and Joseph and many Bushwick residents who were born here or had been here for a very long time, they were just trying to survive. New York City as a whole had almost gone broke a decade or two before, and certain neighborhoods in all five boroughs were going through serious neglect. Bushwick back then looked like abandoned buildings, vacant lots, a lack of jobs, a serious recipe for struggle. And at some point in the middle of all that, landlords start knocking on doors, offering cash. And while Flako was away at college, he got a call from his grandma. She said somebody came to their door.

Flako Jimenez: The landowner did the knock on the door and was like, "Yo, we got $25,000 for you." And she called me up like, "Yo, they're telling me I can move out, and they're going to give me $25,000. And like, you know, we don't pay much. We got rent control, so we could get, like, somewhere else." I'm like, "No, you're signing your rent control out of here. Like, you're buggin'. Nah, grandma, you buggin'. Ain't no cheap apartments like that."

Saidu: Say his grandma took the deal. She'd have $25k, but she'd also have a problem. She'd be giving up her right to pay the same low rent she'd been paying since she got to Bushwick. She'd have to move out and likely have to find a more expensive place to live, far from the neighborhood she'd called home for years. Chances are by the end of that year, that $25K would be gone because she'd have to spend it all on rent.

Flako Jimenez: "No. Chill. You good. Don't sell. Don't give up your apartment, because you're really not selling the apartment, you're renting it. But don't give up your rent control, you good."

Saidu: His grandma held on. The roots she'd been putting down since she migrated to Bushwick held strong, even as GeGe was starting to shake the foundation of the neighborhood. Between semesters at Bennington College, the rich, white school that he'd been attending up in Vermont, Flako would come down to visit, and sometimes he'd bring his Bennington friends, so they could see how people in Bushwick partied. And he started to see on these trips slight changes here and there to Bushwick, like luxury condos where there used to be a vacant lot, old warehouses turned into art studios. But he didn't pay much attention to it. When he finished up at Bennington though and moved back home for good, he noticed another change. Familiar faces on the street. Not from Bushwick, from Bennington. People who'd graduated a couple years before him had moved in.

Flako Jimenez: And I was like, "Oh, shit. You are living in my neighborhood, and you went to the college I went to."

Saidu: White people.

Flako Jimenez: Yeah. I wasn't really putting it all down until I moved back and I was like, "What the fuck is happening in my neighborhood? This is bananas! Damn! That happened to the hooker strip? Wait, pussy used to get sold here. What the fuck is all this? There's mad white people living around in these factories. What the fuck is this? Aren't these the factories that, like, make sweaters and shit? Like, huh? This is weird. Wait, when did the thrift store become this fashionable for people?"

Saidu: Hmm.

Flako Jimenez: What the fuck is going on?

Saidu: By the time you ask this question, it's already too late. That's what Bushwick historian Brian Purnell told me. He said basically, the deadbolt's already on the door before you realize you're starting to feel trapped in your own home. And he says trying to pinpoint exactly when certain parts of the home became off limits to you, trying to figure out how all this started, it's maddening. It's like trying to nail jelly to the wall. Taxilandia was a way for Flako to take on that challenge anyway, to widen the scope of how we understand GeGe. And he started doing some research. He went back to the very beginning of this land, and learned about what happened here long before it was even called Bushwick.

Flako Jimenez: So the Lenape people are out here, and all the other Indigenous tribes are out here, Canarsee and the Unkechaugs and all of them, they out here. And the French, the fucking Dutch come fuck shit up, right? And, like, start buying shit for nothing and, like, basically fucking people over and taking over land. Colonizing shit, bam, bam, bam, bam.

Saidu: Flako learned that money-driven invaders showed up wanting exclusive rights to the land, and they either killed off the original people or ran them out of their land entirely. And then they started trading portions of the land between each other, gave it a new name that reflected their culture, "Bostwick," meaning "Town in the woods." Then the English came, took it from the Dutch, anglicized the name and called it Bushwick. Then in the 1840s, after they've had their fill of the land for decades now, new people from their side of the world start showing up.

Flako Jimenez: The Germans came and built out here. This land became mad breweries. Like, we were the brewery capital, bro. Like, this shit was lit. And then we started going to wars. The German names started looking not that bueno, and it became the moment of World War I, right? And all the fuckboy shit.

Saidu: 12 breweries on 12 blocks gave Bushwick the nickname "Beer Capital of the Northeast." But even after all that, even after the Germans jump started a whole new industry in the neighborhood and made a name for themselves here, when World War I rolls around, the Germans had to start covering up really sacred parts of themselves.

Flako Jimenez: And then the people out here started being like, "Ooh, my name ain't looking that good out here. N****s is really wanting to fuck only with the people that don't got that sounding name like us because of that fuckboy shit that's happening on the other side. So now we gonna start marrying people that's not our name. We're gonna start really doing fuckboy shit like erasing our fucking culture and changing our street names so they sound more white, like Wilson instead of Hamburg."

Saidu: There's an old building in Bushwick that used to be a German Bank. And everything German, everything bank-ish about it is gone, except for the slightest imprint of the old name. It's still refusing to go away.

Flako Jimenez: Like, when you remove the letters, right, there's the oxidation of those letters there that you can still read.

Saidu: They still remain.

Flako Jimenez: Like the green of it, right?

Saidu: Yeah.

Flako Jimenez: You can still read "The Hamburg Bank." But you gotta ride the train and take that journey to be able to, like—n****s even took the sign off. That's how much I gotta erase you. Pah, pah, pah! This is when white on white is erasing each other. I don't know how to justify that shit, bro, if they're doing this to themselves. That's why I gotta be militant now 'cause I'm like, y'all n****s don't give a fuck about me. If you are erasing your own fucking history of the neighborhood, imagine what you're gonna do to the Black history and to the Spanish history of this neighborhood.

Saidu: As the brewery industry dried up in the '50s, white people started leaving Bushwick for the suburbs. And at the same time, people from the Global South and the American South started moving in. Black, Latino, and even some Asian folks were all pumping new vital energy back into the neighborhood, with bodegas, taxi services, food carts, street art, community centers. All the things Flako has been pointing out on this tour that are still here today. Black and brown people helped give Bushwick new life, even as some of the people fleeing for the suburbs burned their buildings to collect the insurance money.

Flako Jimenez: Not saying everybody burned, and not saying everybody's a fuckboy, but there was a lot of fuckboys there in those times.

Saidu: Flako sees what's been happening in Bushwick in the past few decades: how vulnerable people have been exploited so the land can be developed for people with access to money. And to Flako, it feels a lot like a continuation of colonialism. They're violent in different ways for sure, but low key, GeGe and Coco are cousins.

Flako Jimenez: It's literally the same shit we keep doing, bro. We keep repeating it in small neighborhoods or in big ass countries or in states or—right? Like, we keep doing it. And then when that part becomes what they left all fucked up? We fix back up, then they come back and visit, and eventually decide to move back. Oh, now you want to have an apartment in the city and live upstate? Because I guess it's no longer bad out here, because I guess you want to come and see Hamilton.

Saidu: As a transplant to New York City, it's hard not to feel kind of fuckboy adjacent. I've been out here in Flatbush for four years now, a predominantly Caribbean-American neighborhood that's faced—and is facing—some of the same challenges as Bushwick. I love it here. I love how people on the street sometimes mistake me for somebody's son. I love how Black it is, how the food, the language, the customs all feel very close to my own African culture. I think I fit in. But I know that me being here means someone else isn't. No matter how much I feel like I fit in, the space I occupy is space that could've gone to Black folks who helped make this neighborhood what it is today. But on the last stop on our ride, Flako brings us to a spot he says has proven to him that, no matter what your background is or where you come from, there are ways to show up for people once the neighborhood starts to change.

Flako Jimenez: You see it?

Navani: Yup.

Flako Jimenez: It's beautiful. So now let's talk about Tony's Pizzeria.

Saidu: Back when Italians started migrating to Bushwick heavy in the 1900s, they were part of a change to the neighborhood, too. And as they opened up businesses, there was this one spot that set up shop called Tony's Pizzeria.

Tony: What's up, guys? What's up? Hello, welcome to Bushwick! ¿Que pasa? ¿Que pasa?

Saidu: There's probably hundreds of Tony's Pizzerias throughout Brooklyn that have no affiliation to each other, and I'm sure they all claim to have the best slices. But Flako says this one right here on Knickerbocker Avenue is undefeated. Wedged between a tattoo parlor and a doctor's office, Tony's Pizzeria has been slinging pies out this three-story building for decades, and providing jobs to the Black and brown people in the community as drivers, clerks, chefs, every part of the business.

Saidu: In front of me right now, I see Black families walking in and out with red, white and green pizza boxes. And Flako says back when he started a writing sanctuary for the neighborhood, Tony's let him use the space upstairs for free. He says, as the neighborhood changed around Tony's, they weren't satisfied with just trying to fit in—they had to support the neighborhood, too. And I can tell Flako really appreciates them for all that. Jack, Anthony, their mom Anna, their dad Pietro, he rocks with them like family, like he does with Yolanda. And some days, Flako drops off books for their mom, and she looks up from a previous book he left her that she hasn't even finished yet. Other days, like today, he pulls up on Jack and they'll play out this dark comedy where they call each other Mookie and Sal, like from the Spike Lee movie, Do the Right Thing.

Flako Jimenez: And we know these jokes are based off some craziness, but this was the first thing we had to, like, connect both cultures, right? The movie. So then it's—since then it's been nothing but love.

Flako Jimenez: Watch. Check this out. Hey yo, Mookie! Yo, Mook! Let me see you twerk. Let me see you twerk!

Saidu: Jack comes running outside with his apron on like he's been waiting for this all day, and he puts both hands on a table, and just starts throwing it back.

Jack: Mookie! ¿Que pasa? We've seen the good, the bad, the great. And we're still here. We're gonna be here for the next 50 years. Best spot in Brooklyn. Stop by!

Saidu: Before seeing Bushwick through Flako's eyes, my only relationship to this place was partying. On Saturday nights, the parties would be at this old warehouse turned into a club—the kind of place that was probably a factory once—or a brewery. And it always felt kind of weird to be dancing in this shell of what this neighborhood used to be, but I felt like Bushwick was probably a place that had lost to GeGe a long time ago. But Tony's is here, and has been here. So has Estevez Deli, El Puente, Yolanda, Flako. So much of what Bushwick used to be still is. The moment we say that a place is lost is the moment we erase the people who are still fighting to remain. And when GeGe realizes that nobody's checking for those people anymore, that's when a place is really lost for good. It's like the graffiti wall Flako took us to at the very beginning of this ride.

Flako Jimenez: ... the blue and red, right? If you look below on the P, there's an orange and purple. In between the P and the A there's a pink and purple.

Saidu: Even though there are hundreds of tags crowding each other on this wall, and there's new tags being thrown up all the time, being able to see the tags underneath other ones, blues under greens, reds on whites, browns over oranges, these artists have figured something out: you can claim your spot without having to erase someone else's.

Flako Jimenez: Find a spot that you're not displacing people, bro. I'm not saying we don't want ya. We love mixing. We've always loved mixing. But we don't need to go so you can come in.

Dispatcher: 13, 13. Broadway and Lafayette. Your regular customer again. 13, 13, 13.

Flako Jimenez: Man, that n**** waited all this time, bro! Yeah, yeah, yeah, I got you. Broadway and Lafayette. 13, 13, Broadway and Lafayette. I got it in five minutes. I'm gonna be right there.

Saidu: Thank you so much for listening. So we're gonna take a break now, to rest a little bit and then get back to work on new stories for y'all. And we'll be back at the start of September. But in the meantime, please go back and listen to any of the Resistance episodes that you've missed, or the ones that you loved. Share them, all that.

Saidu: This episode of Resistance was produced by Navani Otero, W. J. Sunday, Bethel Habte, Salifu Sesay Mack and Aaron Randle, and hosted by me—Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr.

Saidu: Today is Navani's last day, and I just want to say yo, thank you so much homie for rocking with us and producing this story. Best of luck with all the other awesome stuff you're gonna do in the future.

Saidu: Our supervising producer is Sarah McVeigh. We were edited by an all-star team: Jorge Just, Brendan Klinkenberg, Lynn Levy and Lydia Polgreen. We had invaluable historical input from my man Dr. Brian Purnell. Thank you Brian for schooling me on GeGe.

Saidu: Mixing, scoring and magic by Catherine Anderson. Thank you Catherine. Additional scoring and theme by Bobby Lord. Our music supervisor is Liz Fulton. Original compositions by Drea the Vibe Dealer and Teiji Mack.

Saidu: Fact checking is by Rosemarie Ho. Our show art is by Darien Birks of The Stuyvesants. Credits music—what you're listening to right now—is "My Block" by Joell Ortiz & Apollo Brown.

Saidu: And special thanks to Flako's team at Taxilandia: Sandra and Reuven. Be on the lookout for Taxilandia in your city, too. They comin'. And thanks also to Rose Rimler, James Top and Adam Suerte.

Saidu: If you enjoyed this episode, as always, tell a friend about it. We'd really appreciate it. And you can find me on Twitter at @saiduttj. You can follow us on IG @resistancepodcast. Resistance is a Spotify original podcast and Gimlet production. All right. See y'all soon.