All photography presented in this article is the property of Michael Cruz.
Zanab: So where are you from in New York?
Mike: I'm from Woodhaven Queens in New York
Zanab: Do you consider yourself to be a native New Yorker? What's like the criteria for that--what does someone have to do to call themselves an NNY?
Mike: Yeah, I like to call myself a native New Yorker. I guess a better term would be City Boy(TM), because I hate suburban areas. But for me to consider somebody a native New Yorker, right off the bat they have to be born in the city. I hate it when people that come from out of state come in and settle for a little while and they call New York City "their city" you know. What makes a person a native New Yorker in my eyes is at least that they know where to go and know where not to go and know how to take the subway and have a sense of direction you know? And they work, you know, like you're always on the move whenever you're in Manhattan. I can always pick out people walking down the street who's from here and who's not. You can tell because they walk so damn slow man. New Yorkers are always on the move. Whether they're working or trying to get something to eat or you just, you know, you're on the move, trying to get to the next store or their next errand. But yeah, I think that's what makes people a NNY.
Zanab: You said you were from Queens, and as of 2014, Queens is the most multicultural neighbourhood/metropolitan area in the world. There are so many people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds living in such a high density that it actually takes precedence over Toronto, which is the most multicultural city on the planet. What I wanted to know was; what are some examples of, like, the globalization in Queens that you see on a regular basis?
Mike: I really like this question because--so I live in Woodhaven, and if you go to the right of me which is only a few blocks away, I'd say about ten blocks, you hit Richmond Hill, and Richmond Hill is very multicultural. You have a lot of Spanish, Guyanese, Jamaican, Trinidadian, Pakistani, and Indian people--mostly the last three. It's pretty crazy, I mean, when I was in high school I was around that crowd a lot so I got to try a lot of different foods. I got to see how a lot of cultures worked. It was pretty cool to see, and it's funny because if you go up about 2 miles you hit Kew Gardens and that's mostly Jewish and some Italian people, and a high density Asian population as well. I'm Dominican and my aunt met this Indian dude and she ended up marrying him and it's really cool because I experienced an Indian wedding and tried so many different foods--which is really fucking good, Jesus Christ. Biryani and--what's it called? That gobi soup? Any day of the week, son. That shit is too good. But yeah that's another reason I really love Queens. You never know who you'll end up with. Every food you can think of is here, and I sincerely mean that. Any food you could think of, you can have. It's not like Brooklyn, you know? Where Brooklyn is just like a hipster cafe on every corner now. It's pretty sad because before it was very diverse and now it's just the same old shit.
Zanab: That actually brings me to my next question; Brooklyn there's like this overdevelopment where you see the same kinda thing over and over and basically like the same coffee shop on every corner. And that's like a clear result of an extended period of gentrification and reconstruction where Brooklyn was kind of reconstructed to look a certain way and house a certain kind of person. The cost of living has risen by a substantial amount, and New York being the city that it is and being famous for each separate borough, when these places are gentrified it's newsworthy for a lot of people. So I guess my question is, have you ever noticed this kind of thing creeping into your neighbourhood in Queens? Have you seen this kind of thing taking over places that used to look a different way and housed different kinds of people? How do you think it affects multiculturalism?
Mike: Yeah, I mean, it's wild the amount of gentrification that's been going on in New York over the past couple of years. It wasn't until 2011 that I really began to notice the affects of the whole process. And rapidly within the past years it just changed everything. Williamsburg was notoriously known for a lot of crime, gang-activity, and now you can walk around there without even looking over your shoulder and it's crazy. Does gentrification have an affect on multiculturalism? Definitely. Definitely, it does. Without a doubt. I'm pretty sure there have been businesses that have had to shut down because of the rise in cost of living and that they just can't afford the rent for their business and it's the reason that a really good ass Chinese spot might close down suddenly. Personally, it wasn't until last year I noticed a lot of white families and people moving into the area, and Woodhaven historically has always been a German area, but when I was growing up here the neighbourhood was predominantly black, hispanic and Asian. It wasn't until last year that the makeup of the neighbourhood kind of started changing, and it's become more white since then. I live near the J-train line and when you're on that train you pass through Brooklyn and Williamsburg and Bushwick--which is another place that's just been crazy gentrified over the past little bit. It's pretty scary and it's sad for people who were able to afford a spot and maintain a low-income job while having a place to live that can't have that anymore because fuckin' John and Paul want to move into Brooklyn just to say they're "from Brooklyn." At the end of the day it's all about money.
Zanab: You know that i've been a fan of your work for a long time, and one of the things that really appealed me to your photos is all of the shows you capture--I think it's like one of your trademarks at this point. I wanted to know if the music you're into influences your photography at all, and what just in general what drives you to take pictures?
Mike: Well first I want to say thank you for the compliment, and the question too because I like this one. I feel like I've generated a lot really good memories going to shows and that's probably what drives the photography in that moment. Especially with Show Me The Body shows since they're so intimate, or really any punk rock shows I saw last year. In the zine I put out last year you see a lot of Show Me The Body and Death Grips. DG was a significant part of last year for me and if I had a top ten, DG would probably be number 1. That was the first time I saw them live and it was such a good experience because I really felt I created memories with someone I loved and enjoyed being with, and met some really good people in the process as well. If there's anything I learned about myself last year is that I depend on people for happiness, and I wish it wasn't that way, but that's why I take photographs. I want somebody to be with me whenever I'm trying to memorize one of those moments. It's pretty much an open invitation for anybody to--I seriously hope that one day somebody just finds one of my photos and my work and just hits me up and wants to hang out one day. Out of everything, that's my goal; I want to know people. Through all of these shows I was able to do that, I met someone I could understand and we made so many good memories through music that it drove me to give them a kind of permanence through photography.
Zanab: Where would you suggest people go when they visit New York? What are some of your favourite places?
Mike: Stay away from Times Square. Just pick a place and get lost. I think you learn New York a lot if you get lost, because you just find your way somehow. New York is a really big place but if you walk around Manhattan, it begins to feel pretty small. But what I do, for quote-unquote fun I guess, during the summer, I always visit Washington Square park or on the pier on Chelsea. Some of my favourite food spots are near there, like Artichoke Pizza on MacDougal street is by WSP. I love Artichoke's so much that my friend and I were at the point we were getting free pizza from there (laughs). The best thing is to just walk around and get lost in lower Manhattan, you'll always find interesting things, food and people.
Zanab: Which cities do you want to photograph in the future? And do you feel like, because you're a photographer, you're a better traveler? Do you think you pick up on things that people miss?
Mike: Hm. Places that I want to go to. Well, I definitely want to visit Canada again. I went to Montreal twice last year and I really liked that spot--specifically Mount Royal, which reminded me of lower Manhattan a lot. I'd like to go there, Toronto and San Francisco. I don't really think California's that amazing to be at but SF sounds appealing. Country wise I'd really like to visit the U.K and experience the London music scene because I hear it's fucking crazy. I'd love to go to Brazil, Japan, India, and South Korea. Does photography make me a better traveler? I don't necessarily think it was photography, but I think New York definitely did. You just have a better sense of direction from all the years of living here and getting lost. For example, it took me an hour in Montreal to really figure out the map and the locations and where I needed to be on trains and stuff like that. So I think it's more being a New Yorker that allows me to navigate cities quickly. At the same time though I do tend to look around and see what's different that some people wouldn't catch in their own home towns.
Zanab: Finally, where do you see photography taking you?
Mike: Where do I see photography taking me? I don't know. I really don't know. It's a hobby at this point, but I'm noticing it's getting some kind of traction though I really don't wish to make this into a full time career yet, I don't want to ruin it. I mean, if I grow, I grow. I still feel like none of my work is good, but people seem to like it which means I must be doing something right.