A group of witches are casting spells throughout The Bronx, using their special powers to fight social injustice. And how are they spreading their magic, you ask? On skateboards. These badasses are ollieing and kick-flipping their way through sexism, hate and inequality in the Boogie Down. In an interview with The New York Times, the girls discussed their sisterhood, what they’re up against, and why they created las Brujas.
Through skateboarding, Brujas are sending the message that girls—of color, no less—can play rough too, and defy standards with flair. Yet, autonomy and equality are but two of the many things at stake for the young women, who are also moving against aggressive gentrification. Despite the fact that skateboarding was born sometime in the late ’40s, it remains to this day a largely white, male-dominated sport.
@lizpelly 📝 for @dazed .. 📷: @m0stefinitely 💌 “For the Brujas girls, their crew is about more than skating: it’s about friendship, and the radical potential of sisterhood to foster real support systems, outside the mainstream social norms. They see the preventative and healing power of friendship as a source of collective empowerment, especially in the context of Western medicine and philosophy, where it’s discouraged to tap into extra-spiritual realms.”
“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,” said founder Arianna Gil. “Skating is a way to reclaim our freedom.”
Yasmeen Wilkerson, 18, was introduced to skateboarding by her ex-boyfriend. Hesitant at first to take her feet off solid ground and onto the four-wheeled plank, Wilkerson soon fell in love with kick-pushing through the concrete jungle. “I dumped the guy but kept the skateboard,” she quipped.
For these girls, friendship is key. Naming their crew after “Skate Witches,” a 1986 video of female skaters and their pet rats terrorizing boys off their skateboards, their main principal is sisterhood. Together they’ve even created their own merchandise shop, selling hoodies and T-shirts with the word “Bruja” splayed across. According to their Instagram, their merchandise spreads support for young women’s entrepreneurship.
“Skateboarding is a political act,” added Gil, who moved to Washington Heights in 2009, after being priced out of an apartment on the Lower East Side. “It allows us to question private property and reclaim all the spaces in our city that have been rezoned and redeveloped into oblivion.”
💙🐣 @lizpelly 📝 for @dazed .. 📷: @m0stefinitely 💌 #linkinbio 🌻 “It’s mad violent,” echoes Arianna. “A lot of the concept of private property is super violent. And skateboarding doesn’t really respect that. A lot of people in our gang come from indigenous ancestral lines. Where their concept of private property didn’t exist. To be seen as wreaking havoc on land that was originally ours, but was re-appropriated by a colonizer and was developed by a colonizer, is not something that I identify with. I see it more as treating it like it is. War. Industrialism.”
A photo posted by brujas (@wearebrujas) on
She continued: “I’ll put it this way. Every time we skate, it’s a way to tell the city we’re not just going to take these changes in stride. We’re here to add a little chaos.”
With the help of social media, these board-flipping witches spread information about events, as well their own charity work. Lately, they’ve been putting together a free camp for young people with nothing to do during the summer. Playing games like capture the flag, teaching nutrition classes and putting together hikes in Van Cortlandt Park, they aim to be more than just a group of skaters. “Brujas was never just limited to skateboarding—it’s about regaining power for our community,” explained Gil, “in any way we can.”