BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Carlos “Chino” Garcia, the legendary “godfather” of Lower East Side activism, is still in rehab in the Bronx.
Long plagued by heart problems, he is currently said to be suffering from heart failure, kidney failure due to diabetes and, unfortunately, dementia as well.
The CHARAS director is currently staying in the Bronx at Isabella House at 515 Audubon Ave., which is connected to the Isabella Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Care. He’s in room 1373. The main phone number is 917-563-2662.
Loisaida Reality’s Frank Gonzalez said Garcia’s daughter, Tina, is responsible for her father’s care. Gonzalez said Garcia receives visitors and sometimes takes phone calls.
Friends are raising money through GoFundMe to help pay for Garcia’s medical care, housing and other expenses. As of Friday August 12, a total of $15,980 has been raised by 88 donors towards a goal of $100,000.
The GoFundMe page includes a nearly 5-minute video portrait compiled by Melvin Audaz de Garcia, in which the veteran activist talks about CHARAS/El Bohio’s history at old PS 64, at E. Ninth Street and Avenue B. The band were being evicted from the old school building in 2001 by a massive police force after the East Village property was bought at a city auction in 1998 by developer Gregg Singer for a bargain of 3, $15 million.
“The goal was to try to keep the building as a community facility forever, as long as the community exists,” Garcia says in the video. “My story is the story, basically, of the neighborhood, in some ways…because I was part of it. And I did my part as a neighborhood resident to help save as much as possible.
Garcia said the legacy of community activism dating back to the 1960s and as seen in CHARAS/El Bohio lives on today in other existing local institutions, such as the Clemente Cultural and Educational Center on the Suffolk Street (which was also founded in a former school building) and the Lower Eastside Girls Club on Avenue D, as well as in newcomers’ appreciation for the diversity and history of the neighborhood.
As Bonnie Rosenstock reported for The Village Sun, last May as part of Lower East Side History Month, Garcia was among the “Loisaida Legends” honored at La Sala de Pepe in the East Village. At the event, the Puerto Rican activist shared how he went from being a teenage member of the Cheyennes, a Lower East Side gang, to being involved in “sweat equity” building rehabilitations, pioneering efforts to solar and wind power for local apartment buildings, the creation of La Plaza Cultural Garden, the founding of CHARAS, and ultimately the group’s occupation of the former E. Ninth Street School building, which they dubbed El Bohio (“The Shack” in the native Taino language of Puerto Rico).
Meanwhile, the old PS 64, two decades after it was purchased by Singer, sadly continues to sit vacant today – save for the flocks of pigeons that roost on its upper floors and the teenagers who occasionally sneak and post TikTok videos of themselves breaking things inside.
Singer has an ongoing and unresolved lawsuit against the city and the Department of Buildings — along with other plaintiffs including local “angel investor” Aaron Sosnick and the East Village Community Coalition — accusing them of “interference tort” for allegedly blocking his efforts to turn the place into a college dormitory at market price.