• MoMA PS1 / Danielle de Jesus

Danielle de Jesus

In Conversation with Gardeners Jose Alicea and Gina Rosario

  • Audio
  • Interview

Danielle de Jesus. Jose and Gina. 2022. Acrylic on U.S. currency. 7 13/16 × 6 1/8" (19.9 × 15.6 cm).

Photo credit: Courtesy the artist and Calderón, New York

La Finca Garden is easy to miss—it’s located on a narrow lot on a commercial street in Bushwick. But it was one of the first stops for artist Danielle de Jesus, whose work is featured in Life Between Buildings, after she returned to the neighborhood where she grew up. Jose, the head gardener at La Finca, remembers meeting Danielle: “She got out of this taxi and said: ‘Just leave me in front of that little yard because I want to see if it's still there.’ And I see this young lady come crossing the street with that big smile on her face.” Danielle created a portrait of Jose and his wife Gina on this dollar bill, one of many of her explorations of green spaces in Bushwick. 

Danielle, Jose, and Gina sat down to discuss the garden as a site of communion, Bushwick's Nuyorican culture, and a history of the Puerto Rican flag you might not know. Hear their conversation below.

Danielle de Jesus, Jose Alicea, and Gina Rosario in Conversation: Track 1

Time remaining:

Jose: Hi, I’m Jose. I’m the one in charge of this La Finca over here on Flushing Avenue, Brooklyn.

Gina: I’m Gina Rosario, I’m his wife.

Danielle: I’m Danielle de Jesus and I am the artist who painted the portrait of Jose and Gina.

Jose: Puerto Ricans have been around this neighbor for a lot of years and most our members, they are Puerto Rican.

Gina: The garden help the culture here.

Jose: Preserve our culture.

Gina: Preserve our culture, yeah.

Danielle: I think the thing about Puerto Ricans is that we always make our presence known. You always know Puerto Rican lives there or is there because there’s a big flag, just like that one. And that’s just one. There’s 20. There’s one on a [inaudible 00:00:42], there’s one on a wooden thing.

Jose: It’s just like when Danielle, what was it, a couple of months ago? She got this taxi out there and she said, “Just leave me in front of that little yard over there because I want to see if it’s still there.” And when I see Danielle, I mean, I’m seeing this young lady come crossing the street with that big smile in her face and she comes in, “Oh, hi I’m so and so.” I say, “What? I know your grandmother, blah blah.” I mean, she just wants to know if the yard was still here. She came here with that big smile.

Gina: These people are born here. Their parents are Puerto Rican, they never say that they are American. They say, “I’m Puerto Rican.” Even if they were born here.

Danielle: Yeah. That’s right.

Jose: Yeah. That’s something that we always [inaudible 00:01:23].

Gina: Always.

Danielle: Exactly. And I think that’s the most beautiful thing. And I think there’s a lot of history why we are so proud of our flag too. There’s a law called Gag Law 53 and the United States imposed on Puerto Rico. It was illegal to own a Puerto Rican flag. It was illegal to wave a Puerto Rican flag, to sing a patriotic tune about Puerto Rican independence. So you can get up to 10 years in prison just for owning a Puerto Rican flag. So a lot of people don’t know that, but the reason why we wave our flags so high and we put it on everything, we put it on our cars, we put it on our houses, we put it on our windows, we put it everywhere, is because at one point it was illegal to even own Puerto Rican flag. So I think that’s what’s so beautiful about our pride and that we are resistant through the usage of our flag. It’s our symbol of we are still here no matter what. Did you know that?

Jose: No, that’s news to me.

Danielle: Yeah. So.

Danielle de Jesus: Danielle de Jesus: Hi, I’m Danielle de Jesus and I am the artist who painted The Portrait of Lafayette and Gina. I feel like this community… This community garden specifically, is kind of like a time capsule of what I remember Bushwick being pre gentrification. So when I pass here to me, I’m getting a glimpse of what I remember Bushwick being. People often think about the crime that occurred in Bushwick. But they don’t really acknowledge the community that was here, and the love that was within the community.

Even back when I was growing up. Yeah there was crime, but there was so much more love, so much more community. You knew your neighbor. He knew my whole family that was across the street. She saw me grow up from being a child. So there was that sense of safety, even though “yeah there was crime” but there was also community. So when I pass by this garden and I see this garden and I see the people here. It makes me think of the Bushwick that I remember. It being the loving community that I felt I grew up in, regardless of what was happening around too.