By Natalia Sucre, Instruction & Digital Services Librarian
Still from “Decade of Fire,” Banana Kelly Community Improvement project
Righting the writing of history is a crucial act of civic engagement. Vivian Vázquez Irizarry and Gretchen Hildebran accomplish precisely this in their probing documentary “Decade of Fire.” The short film, now available through Channel Thirteen Passport, documents the systematic government failures that led to the Bronx burning during the 1970s. Just as important, the documentary highlights both the multicultural, working class communities that preceded this period of devastation in the Bronx and the many grassroots civic projects that pulled the borough back from the brink. In tandem with the Manhattan campus library’s discussion of citizenship, we decided to focus the November “Pizza & Conversation in the Library” session in the Bronx on this recently released work of civic engagement, accompanied by an illuminating interview with the filmmakers.
Many Bronx campus students expressed interest in the film, recollecting the disruptive reality of burning buildings, abandoned homes, and displaced families in their own experiences of the Bronx. Others recognized the film’s unique value for constructive action (CA) projects focused on Bronx organizations. For those completing Bronx-based CAs, note: A query of su: New York-Bronx in the MCNY library general search box will retrieve a rich array of additional sources.
The documentary’s narrator, Vivian Vázquez Irizarry, can be especially relatable to MCNY students. Based loosely on Vázquez Irizarry’s family history, the film showcases her active research, from conversations with several generations of family and neighbors to the sharp-eyed, tenacious scrutiny of fire report records. Such research is exactly what students undertake in their constructive action projects at MCNY. In Vázquez Irizarry, you have a familiar and inspiring model.