Open City: Blogging Urban Change
How Damaris Reyes Became an Organizer
By Celina Su


Damaris Reyes is Executive Director of GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side), a housing and preservation group that has worked in Loisada since 1977. They combine services for tenants with community organizing to ensure that the neighborhood continues to flourish, benefiting from economic development without displacing long-time residents.

In my interview with her, Damaris talked extensively about her childhood growing up in Loisada public housing, how her community was more tight-knit back then, and how her neighborhood has changed. In this video post, Damaris talks about two experiences that influenced her decision to become a community organizer: She describes how spending time with her grandmother planted a seed of social justice in her, and how, when she had been aspiring to move up the career ladder at her telecommunications company to save enough money to leave the neighborhood, a public housing rally made her see herself and her local environment via a new analytical lens.

For more information, see:
The Good Old Lower East Side website
An interview with Damaris Reyes at the Lo-Down blog

Una Abuelita Para Cada Plaza Pública

—I was working, I was wearing a black suit and commuting from the Lower East Side to the Upper West Side, I was moving up and over like a knight, I was telecommunicating. I was getting out of here, por que, aunque, sin embargo ella me dijo que, Sin el pobre no hay rico. (¿Por que? It was a day like today, daylight gray, the climate changed version of a romanticized Vermeer haze, cast on my claustrophobic tableau, still-life with stigma, poverty, and stroller.)

—I was trying to climb upstairs, but this crowd stood in my way, obstructed my view. (Yo no sé, ¿estabán luchando? So I stayed still and watched the blockade. And in my mind’s eye, the colors of a panoramic vista marbleized into clouds of soft focus blur, a ribbon of a longer time horizon tied into itself with frayed knots. To work towards what we have lost, a redress cut from what social fabric.)

—Mira, ella fue una seamstress, pero ¿de cual fábrica? She worked in so many, manufacturing these hope-shaped cloaks. Me recuerdo mi abuela, quien me dijo tambien: En el día de mañana we will visit everyone, we will know those no one else knows, we will work for the blind among us, we will be attached at the hips, we will become Siamese. Ojála, to be bilingual, to have a place in this city, in these projects, in this sphere, in this square, to shape these privatized shapes: Let us make them public, let us install some benches, let us sit. (¿Donde, cuando? When we bow our heads in contemplation, let us raise our voices.)

(Thumbnail photograph by GOLES, all rights reserved.)

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About Open City
Open City: Blogging Urban Change is an interdisciplinary neighborhood blog and community project coordinated by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Five commissioned writers, called Organizing Fellows, are working with community organizations and neighborhood folks in Manhattan’s Chinatown/Lower East Side (LES), Flushing, Queens, and Sunset Park, Brooklyn to collect oral histories and interviews, offer commentary about gentrification, neighborhood change, and produce new creative work around these themes. Read more.
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Featured Profile
CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities was formed in 1986 (formerly known as the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence) as a response to an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes both in New York City and around the country (which included violence by police officers against Asians).
They have two offices – one in Manhattan’s Chinatown (which houses the Chinatown Tenants Union, and the new Asian Youth in Action organizing project) and the Youth Leadership Project office in the Bronx – and have members from all over the city. Over the years, CAAAV’s main campaigns have focused on community-based organizing work rooted in Asian immigrant and refugee communities. Although their advocacy and organizing work is focused mainly in Manhattan’s Chinatown and the northwest Bronx, CAAAV’s work also touches upon larger issues (such as affordable housing, war, and immigration) shaping communities all over the world: “Our work is primarily centered around issues facing New Yorkers, but always with a global analysis.”
CAAAV’s mission is to organize and build the power of working-class Asian immigrants, refugees, and youth to change concrete conditions and participate in a broader social justice movement. In the past, CAAAV’s work included organizing South Asian taxi drivers, Korean women workers, and Filipina domestic workers. Several of these organizing projects have gone on to become their own organizations, such as the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and Domestic Workers United. CAAAV’s current work focus on three different program areas: Read more.

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Community Announcements
Manhattan CB3 Land Use, Zoning, Public & Private Housing Committee
Monday, May 2 at 6:30 pm -- Rutgers Community Center, Gymnasium - 200 Madison Street (btwn Rutgers & Pike Sts)

Brooklyn CB7, Land Use/Landmarks Committee Regular meeting
Continued discussion on potential 8th Avenue rezoning

Manhattan CB3 Economic Development Committee Tuesday, May 3 at 6:30pm -- Community Board 3 Office - 59 East 4th Street (btwn 2nd Ave & Bowery)

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