Alexis Miranda, an Ecuadorian immigrant and a resident of Bushwick for more than 15 years, met Maria Herron, the founder and co-owner of Mil Mundos, a bilingual bookstore and community center in Bushwick, at the beginning of the pandemic.
Herron was volunteering at a distribution event being put on by the neighborhood collective Bushwick Ayuda Mutua (BAM), handing out food and essentials to families like Miranda’s. Miranda had been left alone with one of her children, who lives with a disability. The rest of her family had left the city in search of work.
From there, Miranda was introduced to Mil Mundos and its full team, Mil Mundos Colectiva, which runs the bookstore and community space sitting at 323 Linden St, a couple of blocks from the Myrtle-Wyckoff subway stop. Its shelves and counters are stocked with books in English and Spanish.
“I feel very strongly that if you are not concerned with or occupied with the concerns of your community members, you are not in community with them,” Herron said.
In October, the Colectiva announced Mil Mundos en Común, its non-profit division that seeks to collaborate with the Bushwick community so that more neighbors can access essential goods, literature and digital literacy. The group’s first project is “Getting Bushwick Connected,” a fundraiser seeking to raise $10,000 to fully subsidize the installation of free internet in at least 100 Bushwick households through NYC Mesh, a volunteer community network dedicated to combatting the city’s digital divide and bringing reliable, high-speed internet to all New Yorkers.
The launch of En Común and its first project represents a continuation of the work that Mil Mundos Colectiva has done through the bookstore, as well as the creation of a more deliberate framework for the neighborhood to understand itself and its structural problems, Herron explained. “Why is a student not doing well in school? … Because they don’t have the essentials, because they do not have a bed, because they do not have a refrigerator … because they have just arrived [to the country]. If there are resources in the city, why don’t they use those resources? Because they don’t have internet,” said Herron, “But why don’t they have internet? … Because they don’t have a paper with their address, they don’t have a bank account … How to pay? It’s not possible. It is very expensive.”
According to the Citizens’ Committee for Children, in 2019, one in 10 children in Bushwick didn’t have internet at home. In addition, the committee estimates that, in the same year, almost half (43.56%) of the more than 7,000 Bushwick households that didn’t have internet access earned less than $20,000, a comparatively low income according to the city.
Meanwhile, thanks to BAM’s assistance request form, Mil Mundos has received 300 requests from neighbors who currently do not have internet at home.
For this reason, En Común is not going to wait to raise the money to do the installations. “We’ve been doing it since June,” said Herron, “We just need more money. Some of the very first installs Mil Mundos paid for, the bookstore, with money from book [sales].” Miranda is among the neighbors who have already received help from the collective to join NYC Mesh.
A community network
Miranda, unlike other members of the community, did have internet at home. But in recent years, her provider, Spectrum, raised its prices to $70 a month, an amount she could no longer afford. Despite calling and sending letters to the company explaining that her son needed the connection to do his homework, Spectrum didn’t lower the price. In September, she heard about NYC Mesh through Mil Mundos. “They told me ‘you have to cancel your entire account with Spectrum and we’re going to install internet for you. This is free for those who can’t afford it.'”
Although the service provided by NYC Mesh seemed strange to her at first, Miranda didn’t hesitate to get the router installed when the installers arrived at her house because she trusted her community. “I didn’t know [NYC Mesh], but I knew Mil Mundos, I know Maria, I feel I can trust in them. … If it came from a different person, maybe, then I would’ve been unsure,” she added.
NYC Mesh members use wireless routers mounted to the roof or windows to connect with other members in the network. An apartment can connect to it, and if you can afford more sophisticated equipment, even an entire building can get connected. The only cost is the initial setup fee, which ranges from $160 to $290, depending on whether you can afford the full cost or not. Mesh also accepts monthly donations to help maintain its service.
One of the peculiarities of NYC Mesh is that the only way for this community network to become more powerful and stable is by increasing its community members. Each NYC Mesh neighbor or member becomes a “node,” which is part of the network. The more neighbors that join, the more reliable and faster the connection becomes.
According to Miranda, her connection is stable and fast, enabling her and her children to be online simultaneously. For example, at the time of our Zoom conversation, her child was also connected to the same network. Occasionally, if they experience a connectivity issue, it happens because they have also decided to share their network with a neighbor on a different floor who also needed it.
“You need the internet for everything. You needed the internet to send your child to school last year. … Why is it that in New York, the largest city in the United States, there is no infrastructure for that? Because it’s monetized,” Herron said. “It does leave people out. And it’s gonna matter that people are left out. … The precedent that has been set by the current infrastructure is that it doesn’t matter. The people who have been left out are a substantial portion of the neighborhood.”
If you are a resident of Bushwick who doesn’t have internet at home, you can use this form to request assistance from Bushwick Ayuda Mutua and Mil Mundos. If you want to donate to the “Getting Bushwick Connected” campaign, you can use this link. If you want to help Mil Mundos install the antennas, you can contact them via Instagram. And if you’re a neighbor who can pay for the service and wants to become part of the community network, you can contact NYC Mesh.
The interviews for this article were conducted in Spanglish and have been translated into English with the permission of the interviewees for clarity.
Featured Image: Community information session about NYC Mesh outside of Mil Mundos in late November. Natalia Sánchez Loayza
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