Outrage gave way to relief Saturday as Brooklyn’s Puerto Rican community welcomed back a temporarily removed city street sign honoring their homeland.
The Avenue of Puerto Rico sign, mistakenly taken down Friday by the city Department of Transportation, was back in place a day later after irate Williamsburg residents launched a social media campaign for its restoration.
“I ran out and tried to stop him,” said Radames Millan, 79, owner of a neighborhood record store who watched as the sign disappeared from the intersection at Moore Ave. “I was very surprised and upset. I asked what was going on.
“He told me he was taking all the signs throughout the city because they were too big. He was lying to me.”
Christopher Torres, 34, a U.S. native with Puerto Rican roots, was equally aggravated over the sign’s sudden removal.
“It’s our culture,” said the lifelong neighborhood resident. “Why do they want to take it down? It’s been here for years. It’s very hurtful to us. They’re trying to tell us something.”
Raymond Vega, a 37-year-old born and raised in the borough, also wondered if more nefarious forces were behind the removal.
“Maybe they’re trying to change the neighborhood,” he suggested. “Gentrification, or push people out and some people in. I feel like that’s happening all over the place. The neighborhood’s amazing, but it has changed a lot from what it used to be.”
Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso was among those complaining, and the sign was back shortly after he was assured by the Transportation Department of its return.
The city agency quickly addressed the situation in a Friday tweet about the sign’s disappearance.
“An overhead sign on Graham Ave in Brooklyn was mistakenly removed this morning,” read the DOT tweet. “The proper Graham Ave-Ave of Puerto Rico sign has been reinstalled and will remain. Thank you to the members of the community who brought this to our attention.”
Claire Durant, who moved to Williamsburg from Pennsylvania six years ago, was walking through the neighborhood with a cup of coffee Saturday as the hard feelings lingered.
“I think it’s wonderful to celebrate the neighborhood and its origins,” said the 28-year-old software engineer. “I think it should stay up ... It’s the city almost siding with gentrification.”
Millan recalled coming to New York when he was 16 and landing in Williamsburg 56 years ago. Just last week, he marched in the annual Three Kings Day parade celebrating the day when the three wise men visited with the newborn baby Jesus.
“The Hispanic community are very nervous,” said Millan, noting he saw someone crying as the sign was removed. “I also think that eventually they will try to take it down when nobody’s watching at night. And we’ll be on the lookout.”