Subject: Outraged Residents Take Control of Public Space: Modify Offensive
Date: Tue, 13 Jun 2006 13:14:30 -0400
Outraged Residents Take Control of Public Space: Modify Offensive Billboard
i'm putting the message and the photos behind an LJ-cut because of the size of the photos. Enjoy!
Tuesday, June 13th - Miami: Under the cover of darkness, outraged residents re-take control of public space, transforming an offensive anti-immigrant bill board on the NE intersection of 79th Street and I-95 into a work of public art that poses some serious questions about Miami's future. The anti-immigrant billboard read "Stop the Invasion. Secure our Borders,"
until late Monday night when a community group armed with a ladder and paint buckets added their own words. The sign now reads, "Secure our Hoods. Stop the Invasion of Yuppies. Stop Gentrification," drawing attention to Miami's housing crisis and the impending displacement of low-income residents by new development and condos.
The anti-immigrant billboard was erected about a month ago, not long after the nation watched millions of immigrants come together to march for legalization and immigrant rights. Participants in the group that modified the billboard felt that the anti-immigrant billboard was motivated by racism. One person explained: "As immigrants, many of us end up here because of US interventionist and racist foreign policies, this same racism towards our communities in the US will not be tolerated nor will attacks of white-supremacist groups." The billboard strategically faces the thoroughfare that connects the highway to the INS building, an eyesore to immigrants on their way to wait hours in long lines for a chance to file for citizenship, petition for reunification with family, or to make a case against pending deportations.
While the canvas may not neatly fit behind the glass of galleries in the Design District, the modified sign can be read as a piece of public art that questions: where is the invasion? Immigrants have been a part of Miami's history for over a century, becoming more than the majority of its residents and an indispensable part of the economy. The billboard itself sits atop a warehouse in the Little Haiti neighborhood, home of one of the largest concentrations of immigrants in the city. The sign reminds us that demographic changes in Miami are most likely to come from a very different kind of invasion.
"Gentrification" refers to the displacement of residents in urban centers by new development that makes housing unaffordable. The city has no comprehensive plan for the relocation of residents of Wynwood and Overtown, sites of booming condo construction and high-end development. Condo developers are marketing to draw in "yuppies," young urban professionals with expendable income, and pushing out the low-income Black and Puerto Rican residents that have made these neighborhoods their home. One participant explained her motivation: "It is not coincidental that it is low income people of color who are those displaced from their neighborhoods because they can no longer afford to live in these now 'up and coming' areas. We cannot stand back and 'behave' while this ethnic cleansing is taking place. People are being forced out of neighborhoods that their families have been established in for generations, and something must be done. This gentrification is eating away at what makes Miami a beautiful, vibrant and culturally diverse place to live."
All of the participants of the public art action wished to remain unnamed: "While we would hope that our work would be celebrated as public art, we know that the police and city officials prioritize the rights of property owners and developers over its community members. Free Speech is limited to those who can pay for it. Public art is criminalized when not in line with their agenda."
The group can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.