By John Black
Gentrification isn’t a new phenomenon to a city like Boston. Walk through almost any neighborhood and you can find people who remember the way it used to be, way back when…like when they could afford the increase in their rent.
Faced in a struggle between its traditional ethnic neighborhood and a rising tide of upscale invaders, residents of Egleston Square, ‘that great neighborhood where JP and Roxbury shake hands,’ have joined forces with a team of artists, designers and illustrators to make sure their story gets told before their rents go too high.
“Egleston Square has always been a neighborhood of immigrants and working class families, with Dominicans, Puerto Ricans and African Americans calling it home,” explained resident and artist Denise Delgado. “A lot of that is under pressure because of gentrification so we wanted to find a way for the people who live here to tell their stories to anybody who comes through Egleston Square, either to visit or to live,”
Since December 2015, Delgado has met with Egleston Square residents and recorded their neighborhood stories in both Spanish and English. With community partner Egleston Square Main Street, Delgado also organized community activities including a neighborhood dinner, bilingual writing workshops, story circles, a Poetry Block Party, and oral history interviews.
The result, called Bodega Signs and Wonders, consists of a series or murals and paintings installed throughout the town. The idea, Delgado explained, was to capture the visual style found at a local bodega shop and then incorporate the stories that happened near where the art is displayed.
“People who own bodegas can’t afford fancy signs so instead they made sure the sign they used was colorful and informative. They would often write out what was for sale along with a picture of the item so anybody passing would know what to find inside,” she said. “For me, those signs are like poems on the landscape. They add so much real beauty to life in the neighborhood.”
Although an official kickoff celebration for the Bodega Signs and Wonders project recently was held, Delgado said it will be several weeks before all of the art is official completed and put up around Egleston Square. In the meantime, the public is invited to join the Bodega Signs group on Whatsapp, where they can record stories and photos to contribute to the project: