Places that Matter

Terraza 7

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Terraza 7 Big Band performance, 2015
Terraza 7 Big Band performance, 2015
Terraza 7 bar and mezzanine, 2015
Audience taking in a performance, 2015
Queens music venue and bar highlighting jazz and traditional Latin music
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Place Matters Profile

Terraza 7 is a bar and music venue located at 40-19 Gleane Street, near the Elmhurst/Jackson Heights border. Owned and run by Colombian-born Freddy Castiblanco, Terraza 7 is a reflection of Castiblanco's taste -- a veritable salon of Latin American folk and jazz. Opened on June 20, 2002, Terraza 7 hosts live music five nights a week, and features bands playing a range of sounds, from Afro-Peruvian, Afro-Colombian, and modern Latin jazz, to bolero to salsa to timba and jarocho. Part of Terraza 7's mission is to make people in the community feel more involved, and to incorporate the traditions of their homeland — "cultural memories," Castiblanco calls them — into their new city. The Tabalá Sextet, the Gaiteros de San Jacinto, and Diego Obregón are some of the traditional maestros whose music is heard there, and a long list of world-class jazz figures join in and jam out, all contributing to the enrichment of New York City’s cultural fabric on the part of immigrants, particularly Latinos.

 
Born in Bogota, Colombia, Castiblanco studied medicine and worked as a doctor in Colombia before moving to the United States. After moving to Elmhurst, Castiblanco studied English, observed for six months at New York Hospital Queens, volunteered at Elmhurst Hospital, and began to prepare for his Board exams. But there was something missing in his new life. The community he lived in felt fractured. “People of different backgrounds lived together, but rarely interacted,” he recalls. “When I came here, what I found was a very diverse community, but at the same time, really isolated." So in 2002, Castiblanco founded Terraza 7 to empower and build bridges between community groups through the generation of local artistic expression, as he says,
 
I found that jazz is a very plastic way to express culture, because of the elements of improvisation that you can use to express memories. Different people from different backgrounds start to admire others through music. And each culture, the same way start to contemplate each other. So then we start to work together. We want to create our own musicality, but we understand that we have to create a dialogue among the elements that we find in our new city, which is jazz, with our acoustic memories and cultural memories. So we try to create that dialogue among traditional masters of our music, and masters of jazz.
 
Edward Perez -- professional musician, co-director of the Terraza 7 Big Band, and sideman with a number of different groups who play at Terraza -- has lived in Jackson Heights for nine years, and has been a staple at Castiblanco’s venue for ten. Perez first came to Terraza to listen to music as an audience member. Shortly after he began performing at Terraza, Perez moved to the neighborhood. He notes that Castiblanco, who does the venue’s booking, goes the extra mile to spotlight bands that play Latin American music. “That happens organically here, too, because this is a neighborhood where there are a lot of people from Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. There’s always an audience here that will connect to that music. And there’s also a friendship, a relationship between Freddy, the owner, and the musicians who play that music.” In addition to supporting local musical traditions, Perez appreciates Castiblano’s support of the local creative economy. He regularly allows bands rehearse in his space, even when they are going to perform in a different venue.
 
Castiblanco also does what he can to support and surround himself with like-minded individuals: those who believe in "ethical" economies, wherein business owners prioritize employee rights and empowerment as much as revenue. He has lead important struggles for the integral improvement of the living conditions of vulnerable workers in New York and across the country by advocating for universal health care, an increased minimum wage, paid sick leave, and the inclusion of “Dreamers” in the activation of the economy, as well as the revision of policing policies against undocumented immigrants. In 2009, Castiblanco was called as a witness at a House of Representatives Small Business Committee hearing on healthcare reform, and he regularly sits down with local politicians, like Rep. Joseph Crowley, whose 14th Congressional District encompasses Jackson Heights and parts of Elmhurst.
 
For Castiblanco, Terraza 7 is a political tool to empower his community. “Basically, this is the way to empower us, but we understand also that music, our local artistic expressions, can also beget a process of displacement,” he says. “We need to make sure that our artistic production in our communities should lead to political initiatives that ensure that people keep living in our communities.” Castiblanco hopes that musicians and artists in his community will also support political initiatives to control the skyrocketing rents and result in livable wages and locally-based purchasing power. “So basically, it’s not an accident that we work with music to empower our community, and also work to protect our small business in our community. Some way to keep living here, to keep doing music, but at the same time, keep forever being part of this neighborhood.”
 
In 2013, Castiblanco spearheaded the creation of The Roosevelt Avenue Community Alliance (RACA), a coalition of local small businesses, street vendors, and residents opposed to the establishment of a Jackson Heights-Corona Business Improvement District (BID). The proposed BID would expand the existing two-block BID at 82nd Street into one of the city’s biggest, incorporating 81st Street to 114th along Roosevelt Avenue, as well as retail centers along Junction Boulevard, Corona Plaza, and National Street. Freddy and other local entrepreneurs worried that the proposed BID would result in increased land values, and, ultimately, the displacement of local small businesses by large corporate chain stores. RACA offered an alternative human development model to that of traditional BIDs, calling for the inclusion of artists, small business owners, street vendors, residents, and tenants on BID boards, rather boards with disproportionate landlord representation, as well as the enforcement of the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, which requires large financial corporations to facilitate access to credit for small businesses.
 
Despite Castiblanco’s deep and multivalent ties to his neighborhood, and his intensive efforts to stabilize the community for long-standing, family-run businesses, the clock is ticking on his own small enterprise. When Terraza 7’s lease is up on December 31, 2016, the rent will quadrupled and Castiblanco will be forced to find a new home for the musicians and neighbors who have become his family. He is currently searching for alternative locales, but finding the right fit at a fair price is proving difficult. But for now, both the music and community building continue, as Freddy says,
 
I consider that as a person that presents the beauty of the artistic contribution of immigrants, I also have the responsibility to encourage a conversation about the political and economic causes of the human displacement from our countries of origin and also I have talk loudly about the mechanism and risk of a second displacement within our New City.

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