"Golden Home" and the power of community storytelling

The following post was written and contributed to our blog by artist Lina Maria Giraldo, reflecting on her Accelerator project Golden Home.

When you are an immigrant home becomes an abstract concept. What does it really mean to have a home? A place where your cultural roots are? A place where you identify with others? A place where a community supports each other? Or a place where you feel safe, loved and respected? Since I moved to Boston, and still 18 years later, the question of what home is is persistent. Every time I moved, I created new connections, found different ways to build together, and I created new memories. Sadly, those memories were threatened every time I moved again. My story is just one the thousands of immigrant stories in Boston and around other cities in the USA.

Rapid development in Boston is displacing entire communities and erasing memories. There is not enough affordable housing to keep pace with the huge demand, and the immigrants, minorities, families, small business owners and elders are struggling to keep up with the changes. This is happening too fast and memory, identity, and connections are constantly threatened.

Lina and the  Golden Home  balloons. Photo credit Lina Maria Giraldo.

Lina and the Golden Home balloons. Photo credit Lina Maria Giraldo.

I’m a witness of these changes. I have seen, and experienced my neighborhood’s history erased because of rapid development. Communities are struggling to keep generations together, families that fought for years to fix their streets and improve their neighborhood are suddenly displaced. I’m compelled to humanize this process, to change the narrative and to put a face to these numbers, to collect a story from a passerby, a business owner, a community leader, or the new generations; to create a public art piece built from the collective memory that highlights 13 community member and an interactive map with the stories

Golden Home started as a personal mission. As an immigrant, mother, and Latina I felt the need to create a public art work based on the collective conversations with the Community in Egleston Square and Hyde-Jackson Square. Both communities have changed drastically in the last 10 years and each of them has embraced and struggled differently. For the last two months and thanks to the help of Luis Cotto from Egleston Main Street and Gerald Robbins from Hyde Jackson Square main street, I had the opportunity to be with the community and collect their stories.

I was there before movie nights, before theater Teatro en el Parque, as well as mornings at the YMCA and Community center. We exchanged stories for balloons, each of them representing a conversation, a dream, a challenge, an idea, or suggestion. The balloons are golden with a logo of a house, and the interchange is documented in text, audio, photo, or video.

I’m humbled by the community members that have sat with me under a tent in the middle of the day, under oppressive heat, to share their most intimate stories of love, memories, frustrations, fear, desperation, and hope. While at Hyde-Jackson Square the conversations focus on how to preserve the cultural roots. At Egleston they have a more of a critical approach and focus on the lack of opportunities for housing opportunities, how the developers and landlords are limiting affordable housing, how women are more vulnerable to losing their home, and how organizations such as Urban Edge are helping.

Photo credit Lina Maria Giraldo.

Photo credit Lina Maria Giraldo.

One day, a woman who was driving on Washington Street saw the balloons and stopped immediately. She was looking for housing opportunities and she was hoping to find a solution. She was a kind spirit with an optimistic smile and shared with me how she was one step away from being homeless. She shared her challenges, how she is not eligible to receive benefits from a shelter that are available because she is couch surfing and not sleeping on the street. She and her special-needs daughter have been waiting for section 8 housing for 16 years and struggling to find an opportunity as a single mother. Since she must care for her child non-stop, working is almost an impossible task... every night is full of anxiety because she doesn't know where her next bed is going to be.

Another story is from a business owner on Washington St. How he feels the city is turning its back on him. He told me of how the Dominican community has embraced challenges for 20 years. How this area has gone from a dangerous place to a safe family oriented community and now how the same community members are being displaced because they can’t afford to stay or keep the businesses afloat. For 20 years they created history and cultural roots, now these same families are being displaced because developers prefer to rent rooms to students. It’s more profitable. How suddenly Washington Street’s rich community, with their music, their warmth, and their soul is endangered because of a sordid economy. Stories from other business owners are more decisive on how they are embracing change, hiring fluent English speakers so they can accommodate the wealthy community that is moving in, or just closing the store because it’s too expensive and operating online.

Like these, there are many other stories of hope, despair, and displacement, all of them with different perspectives that will be documented on an interactive map.

Photo credit Lina Maria Giraldo.

Photo credit Lina Maria Giraldo.

During September and thanks to Kevin Brill, I will be working with the High School Students from Greater Egleston High School sharing and recording their stories. The culmination of the project includes 13 portraits of the community accompanied by words installed at the windows on the second floor of the Greater Egleston High School looking out to Washington Street.

I’m thankful for the community from Egleston and Hyde-Jackson Square and others who are sharing so many intimate stories. These are putting a face to the challenges of rapid development, a face of courage, and love.

Lina Maria Giraldo is a Colombian born, Boston-based artist focusing on Interactive Storytelling towards social change. She created Golden Home as a participant in Now + There’s inaugural 2018 Public Art Accelerator.