Skateboarding and social justice aren’t usually two worlds that co-exist, but for one skating crew in The Bronx, New York, the two are inseparable.
The Brujas, an all-female-of-color skate team, use their love of skating to build a sisterhood of badass women who are as into landing kickflips as they are into fighting gentrification, sexism, capitalism and racism.
Skateboarding, which has evolved from its rebellious anti-establishment roots to become the mainstream moneymaker it is today, has always remained a mostly white male-dominated sport. The Brujas are challenging the sports’ lack of diversity and basic assumptions of what a skateboarder should look like.
The Brujas are challenging the sports’ lack of diversity and basic assumptions of what a skateboarder should look like.
Their name, "Brujas," is Spanish for "witches." They named themselves after a 1986 video called “Skate Witches” that features female skaters and their pet rats pushing men off their skateboards. However, proving their worth as skateboarders in a sport where they are seen as outsiders isn’t the Brujas' main objective.
Instead, their main focus to is to reclaim their identity and communities from society's divisive and destructive forces by becoming agents of change.
Arianna Gil, the collective's 21-year-old co-founder who started skating at 14, told The New York Times that skating was her escape from reality:
"There’s so little opportunity for young people of color in terms of jobs and education that we don’t feel like a part of this city. Skating is a way to reclaim our freedom."
For many of the Brujas, skateboarding came into their lives during trying times, and it provided them catharsis. Nineteen-year-old collective member Sam told Dazed Digital how getting on a board has had a positive effect on her life:
"When I was in high school, I always found my zen when I was skating.
I had a lot of anxiety and went through a lot of stuff when I was younger, but I always felt that at the end of the day, if I just had my skateboard, it helped me appreciate more of my time by myself… All of that is very peaceful to me."
"Skating is a way to reclaim our freedom."
The Brujas are using skating to spark conversations about issues that affect their community, including gentrification, which has threatened the freedom these women cherish as skateboarders.
The influx of new, wealthy residents in Upper Manhattan has brought more cops to the area, which in turn has led to more harassment for Sam and her crew by law enforcement.
She describes what it’s like for the Brujas:
"If I walk down the street and my hair is not done, I don’t look the cleanest, I’ve got my skateboard, me and my friends are laughing too loud, someone who just moved into the area will think you are being intrusive.
And will be more likely to call the cops. Little do they know, we’re not intrusive, it’s just been our neighborhood. And doing stuff like that to quiet down the culture that’s already alive, is killing the culture.
That’s why we have to preserve it."
The Brujas use skating to spark conversations about issues that affect their community, including gentrification.
Gil told The New York Times why it makes sense to battle gentrification with skating:
"Skateboarding is a political act. It allows us to question private property and reclaim all the spaces in our city that have been rezoned and redeveloped into oblivion."
As the collective's numbers have grown and its members matured, so has their activism.
You can often find the Brujas organizing in their community, attending City Council hearings on rezoning, protesting against mass incarceration, holding alternative medicine workshops and collaborating with other groups. Back in June, the Brujas collaborated with By Us For Us, a project advocating Black-Asian solidarity, to hold an alternative to the traditional prom called Anti-Prom for L.G.B.T minorities.
But as the city undergoes changes and people are displaced, Gil takes solace in the power of community-building and skating. She told Dazed Digital:
"Physical and geographical space in New York is always going to change. But we’ll just move and keep skating…
Taking our memories and continuing our community no matter what. In terms of my memory of New York, I’m thankful for skating because it at least preserves that continuity in community.
That’s the only thing that really counts anyway."