Streams

'I Love My Hood': One Artist's Attempt to Reclaim The Heights

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Dister, like many street artists, avoids revealing his face. (Jennifer Hsu/WNYC)

Like many long-time New Yorkers, artist Dister Rondon feared his Washington Heights neighborhood was losing its unique character — a byproduct of gentrification and its attendant chain stores and bank branches.

That's when Rondon, 34, decided to give his neighborhood a splash of the Dominican culture that helped define it. He began painting vibrant murals depicting daily life for the Heights residents, emblazoned with the slogan "I Love My Hood."

"It's as simple as, no one asked me if they could put a Citibank on my block, so I shouldn't have to ask you if I can paint a mural on your block," said Rondon, who said he’s been arrested eight times for his street art.

Rondon grew up on 173rd Street and Audubon Avenue and lives just a block away with his daughter and girlfriend. With a successful career as a professional dancer taking him all over the world, he could have moved away long ago but he deliberately stuck around.

"If I move out of Washington Heights, chances are a person that doesn't care about my neighborhood will move in, and that's going to create a domino effect," Rondon said. "It's not about moving out of your hood and 'making it.' How about you stay in your hood and make it better?"

Since its inception 8 years ago, Rondon's street-art project has grown. He spreads his slogan around through stickers and T-shirts. If you take a stroll around the 170s and Amsterdam Avenue, you'll find "I Love My Hood" (or "Yo Amo Mi Barrio") stickers everywhere —— on street signs and bus stops, the back of iPhones and friends' cars.

And this year Rondon's project expanded far beyond Washington Heights, to cities in Uruguay, the Dominican Republic, and France.

In 2012, at the invitation of the U.S. Ambassador to Uruguay, Julissa Reynoso, Dister brought his I Love My Hood project to Montevideo and painted 3 walls. (Courtesy of Dister Rondon)

Tags:

More in:

The Morning Brief

Enter your email address and we’ll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.

Comments [8]

maw from Washington Heights, NYC

Washington Heights loves you, too, Dister -- thanks for making my block brighter!

Jul. 17 2013 07:47 PM
Really?

John - so why do you think he was arrested?

Jul. 17 2013 06:59 PM
A

ALLMightyGABY - what's so hard to understand? All the ppl that leave the Heights and Inwood that move and buy houses in Connecticut, or Pennsylvania, or Florida... do they import "murals" with them???? NO! Why? because it would lower their property value... AND because they were happy to leave "El barrio". They left because there were no "Citibanks" banks back then.
Don't tell me rubbish about "walk in our shoes"... My feet and shoes were very well aquainted with Audobon in the Heights and Thayer up in Inwood. Don't try to lecture me.

Jul. 17 2013 02:56 PM
ALLMightyGABY

The comment below has got to be the most idiotic comment I have read. Totally understood my friend if you have never lived a day in our shoes'!

A
I certainly agree and admire the part about "staying and making it better"... but that is NOT art... that is vandalism... WNYC should be more responsible in it's reporting. Citibank - like them or not - pays for the space they use. If he buys a building or rents and the landlord allows him to do his "art" - then fine. Otherwise this is glorified criminality. That is NOT character.

Jul. 17 2013 08:10 AM

Jul. 17 2013 02:02 PM
John from Washington Heights

There's a big difference between "taggers" that simply scrawl their name on any inch of space, marking it like a dog peeing to mark his territory, and what this guy, Dister, is doing. His murals are beautiful and they help cover up the blight of a rundown wall. He's not covering over a legitimate business owner's facade or the front doors of a residential building. And, no, I'm not a teenage vandal making excuses. I'm a middle-aged, professional white guy that is sick of seeing another Citibank/Chase go up in place of a much needed grocery store. I live in the Heights and I've seen and appreciate the murals. I don't appreciate the taggers (and think they should be fully prosecuted) and I bet the taggers even now are itching to deface his murals.

Jul. 17 2013 10:01 AM

I admire his creativity and dedication to his community. Clearly he isn't vandalizing businesses as he chooses to work on walls that could use a facelift to spread a positive message. The point about Citibank and gentrification speaks to the issue of corporations and wealthy individuals rapidly displacing communities all over NYC. I have many friends who are being forced to leave neighborhoods they helped make desirable. As we've seen all over the news recently, much of the positive change in society comes from individuals willing to work outside the system for a cause in which the believe.

Jul. 17 2013 09:22 AM
h34

I agree with A. This story ignores the issue of street art versus vandalism. It also doesn't challenge the artist's "philosophy" that renting a commercial property is equivalent to an individual damaging property, or that the simplistic assertion that since "A does not do B, therefore I won't do B", which is fallacious on numerous grounds, such that the there is a difference between renting a property with permission and painting someone else's property without permission.

Jul. 17 2013 09:00 AM
A

I certainly agree and admire the part about "staying and making it better"... but that is NOT art... that is vandalism... WNYC should be more responsible in it's reporting. Citibank - like them or not - pays for the space they use. If he buys a building or rents and the landlord allows him to do his "art" - then fine. Otherwise this is glorified criminality. That is NOT character.

Jul. 17 2013 08:10 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Sponsored

About Know Your Neighbor

Know Your Neighbor is a video series about the characters, legends, and good folk living in your midst.

Nominate your neighbor: I'm looking to profile fascinating people in every corner of the city. Leave a comment or email jhsu@wnyc.org about someone you'd like me to profile, and I just may come to your 'hood to produce a video about their story.

Feeds

Supported by