Emilio Garcia has lived an American life, one he reflected on as the Fourth of July was approaching. A native of Puerto Rico, he immigrated to the United States in 1953, at age eleven, and settled with an aunt in Bedford Stuyvesant, just over the southern border of Bushwick, on Broadway. He moved to George Street between Knickerbocker and Wilson Avenues in Bushwick in 1964, and has lived on the block ever since. He first lived in a tenement building that once stood at the corner of his block, and in 1989, he was able to buy a home under a special tax abatement program. This was a great time of recovery in the neighborhood following serious blight, he said.
Emilio worked for New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority for 26 years. During that time, he was a motorman for the NYC subway system, driving the J, L, and F lines, and also was a bus driver. He remembered with a smile the day he first drove the DeKalb Avenue bus—“December 12, 1968,” he said.
While talking to me from the other side of the short fence protecting his front yard, his young niece, Ruby, played behind him with Pearl and Lucas, two small dogs, and his sister-in-law Rosa sat in a lawn chair by the front door. Emilio has a warm, round face, and a calm demeanor. Soon his daughter Lisa showed up with her husband, Riaz. They live in Ridgewood, Queens, just a few minutes away by car.
Lisa and her father Emilio share a deep knowledge of the neighborhood. “My dad is considered the ‘Mayor of the Block,’” she said. In fact, Emilio seems to have known every local politician in office since he’s lived in Bushwick, and was personally involved in recruiting and working with a number of them.
After retiring from the MTA, he formed a block association, which he regrets did not survive. He also volunteered on Community Board 4, serving as vice-chair nineteen years ago, and also served as vice chair of the school board for District 32. “Bloomberg eliminated the School Board,” he told me. He and Lisa joked that since Mayor DeBlasio has friends in Brooklyn, the Fourth of July fireworks are back on the East River this year.
On the Fourth of July, “if it doesn’t rain,” Emilio tells me, he and his family will have a big barbeque in the front yard. There was a large barbeque grill in place already. “There are always lots of people coming by,” Riaz said. The real cause for celebration will be his grandson Adam’s second birthday. Lisa and Riaz’s son is not a Fourth of July baby, but the family is using the occasion to bring friends together.
Now 72, Emilio spends most of his time at his home in Titusville, Florida, but likes to return to Bushwick for part of the summer. “We call him the hurricane,” Lisa jokes. “Watch out when he comes to town.”