Dozens of people braved rain and hot weather to attend the annual “We Are Melrose” festival in Saturday. After the performances by poets, musicians, and dancers, the community organization gave out awards for distinguished local leaders and activists.
The event marked the thirtieth anniversary for Nos Quedamos, a Melrose-based organization that was founded to help rebuild the community wracked by arson and nearly abandoned by authorities.
“‘We Stay’ has been the principal and driving force behind the work we do,” said Jessica Clemente, who has served as the CEO of the organization for twelve years. “It’s about community self-determination, community planning, and being able to remain and thrive.”
Fittingly, the event was held in Yolanda Garcia Park, named for one of the founders of Nos Quedamos. As the event was underway, participants walked to a nearby intersection for the renaming of 160th Street. The street will now be known as “We Stay/Nos Quedamos Way.”
“Yolanda had this vision about how to take these empty lots and buildings that were abandoned and burned, and rebuild them to allow Bronxites to continue to live in these communities,” said Council Member Rafael Salamanca, who participated in the street renaming ceremony. “And here we are thirty years later, and look at how beautiful this community had become.”
Nos Quedamos was founded in 1993, when many residents were leaving Melrose due to the high incidences of crime, declining social investment, and apparent disinterest of government officials. Rather than fix the social problems and invest more resources in the neighborhood, authorities planned an “urban renewal” that would have displaced most of the remaining residents.
“When they found out that there was going to be an urban renewal, to get rid of the people that lived here to in order to make it a giant shopping mall,” said Anna Vincenty, who was a member of the organization since its founding. “People from the community said ‘no, you’re not throwing us out.”
Although the start was delayed by heavy rain, dozens of people stayed after the street naming for performances by the poet Jesus Melendez, the Mariachi Real de Mexico, the Chief Joseph Chatoyer Dance Company, and several other performers and bands.
The event concluded with an awards ceremony for the organizations and people that have made contributions to the organization’s mission. Among them was the Environmental Justice Alliance and the architect Petr Stand, who worked with Nos Quedamos on a revised urban renewal plan that helped revive the community.
“In 1993, over 65% of this land was abandoned, strewn with garbage,” Stand said as he accepted his award. “It has been an extraordinary experience. This has given me so much more than I could ever give this place.”
While most people at the celebration were local Bronxites, some traveled further–like Victor Colón, a Bronx-born professional dancer who now lives in New Jersey. Colón says that the community has changed a lot since his childhood. “I see a lot of new buildings and parks,” he said. “I’m hoping it’s changing for the better.”