If you show up on a weekend, Terraza 7 train Cafe gives off the feel of an old venue, like Knitting Factory when it was still in China Town, except you won’t find bouncers in front of the open barn doors checking ID’s or collecting a cover, you’ll just have to make your way through a mostly twenty something Latino crowd smoking cigarettes and discussing politics or art in spanglish.
You can always tell who’s making their way over to grab a drink and karaoke, watch a film on cine-club Mondays, listen to poetry the first Tuesday of the month, or catch some live music between Wednesday and Sunday after 10pm; they clash with the backdrop of the other Jackson Heights nightlife. The cholos who sold fake social securities in the daytime now whisper “chicas, chicas, chicas,” on Roosevelt Avenue. The disheartened day laborers, once looking for work, stagger out of bars where women charge you for a dance. Straight men under full moons transform into drag queens, but Terraza’s crowd never changes.
They are a diverse group of Latino hipsters who buy in even less to the mainstream. They wear a slightly outdated regalia of bootcut jeans and UFO pants, baggy t-shirts, fedoras, and artisan jewelry and accessories. They cultivate their own local music at Terraza and use the rickety stage to shed light on social issues through art. It has become their own.
“Valuable are the spaces that allow for creative uses of free time in ways that add to the quality of life of the neighborhood’s inhabitants and generates ownership,” said owner Freddy Castiblanco, sitting lopsided on a worn couch by the entrance. “Artistic expression is a way to empower a neighborhood, and particularly important in immigrant communities,” he added.
Castiblanco opened the doors to Terraza 9 years ago, in June of 2002, in hopes of bringing together diverse Latin American expressions. What he found was a group of people more interested in rock and pop.
“Before, I used to be young, and they used to play metal, and it was fucking awesome. Crappy bands of course, but interesting people,” said Jessica Ilm, a local sheltering herself from the rain with a hand above her head.
After a year of giving into the demands of the neighborhood, however, Castiblanco sought a different sound. He began by creating an in house Latin-jazz band that later incorporated Afro Colombian instruments like the tambor and gaita. And as the music matured, so did the crowds.
“It opened the doors…to people that were concerned, or that would care about something interesting that would happen in a melody, something interesting that would happen lyrically in a song, rather than ‘that’s a nice beat i can shake my ass to that.’” said Juan Velez, a classical guitarist who attends open mics.
Castiblanco also uses the space as a platform for political expression. With Main Street Alliance, Castiblanco spearheads talks and has even spoken in front of Congress to combat unfair treatment of small businesses. “I think small businesses have an important roll in the development of a neighborhood,” vehemently preached Castiblanco during our meeting. Organizations like Make the Road and Movement for Peace in Colombia have also used to space host events and talks with local leaders and politicians.
Just standing outside, you feel the difference from other venues in the atmosphere. It incorporates the neighborhood and its needs in an unprecedented manner. It cares, in large part, because of Freddy.