By James Maher
Name: Alicia Mercado
Occupation: Medicaid Employee
Location: 5th Street and Avenue C
Time: Loisaida Festival, 5:45 p.m. Sunday, May 24
I’ve been a Lower East Sider all my life. I’ve been on 5th and C for the last 25. From what my dad tells me, because I was relatively young when he came to the neighborhood, this was a rehab. It was barren land. There were a lot of burned-down buildings. It was drug infested and there were a lot of crack houses.
My dad pretty much came in with a bunch of his friends, purchased the building at auction, and started a homestead. We had eight members and we had a lot of volunteers. We had a lot of volunteers throughout the years. It was great, it was fun. It was a lot of cold winters with no windows, walking on beams, but it was worth it.
We lucked out with getting a perfectly intact shell, but if you stood in the basement and looked up you could see the sky. The building was inundated with crack vials and syringes, so we had to be very careful when we were excavating. It was bad. It was infested with asbestos so we had to get special cleaning for that. That held us back another four years. It took about 15 years [total]. We did the sweat equity ourselves. That saved us a whole lot of money and then we hired general contractors to get the plumbing and the electricity done.
The Loisaida Festival definitely gets smaller and smaller every year. It used to span all the way from Houston Street to 14th and every year they seem to take away a block. It’s dwindling and it seems to be more commercial than [it used to be]. Before they used to have a lot of giveaways, a lot of face painting that didn’t cost the neighborhood anything, but now it’s changed.
The crime is here. We have a lot of drugs on our block. It’s heavy. We have a lot of dope. It’s coming back with a vengeance. You see like, they’re mummies. It gets worse every summer. The last four summers have been so bad. We just had a shooting. It was alarming. My son was playing his guitar and I was like, ‘duck!’ It was very loud. It was about 10 p.m. and then all of a sudden the cop cars were on top of the sidewalks. A guy got shot.
But the schools are a lot better. Ever since they broke them down into several in one building. It used to be one principal for one great big school. Now they’ve split them down to four different schools with four different principals in the same building. It makes it easier to manage. The one here has three schools in it and it runs well. My son goes to East Side. He’s got a middle school and high school on one side and a girl’s prep on the other side. It runs beautifully – winning schools. They’re going off to college now, whereas 20 years ago kids weren’t even graduating.
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.