9 thoughts on “What would El Barrio/Spanish Harlem be like if you could have it your way?

  1. If I could re-invent El Barrio…
    I would firstly, restore its theaters and La Marketa, perhaps not completely the way it was–but recast in maintaining the core of Latinidad and extending outwardly to all.

    I would look for permanent, self-owned housing for our artists, musicians, writers, etc. of all ages. I would establish self-owned workspaces or coops. I would set up cafes, organic gardens and markets. I would make sure that our district would be re-zoned for jobs–not low cost hamburger flipper jobs, but solid blue-collar or skilled craftsman work. More later.

  2. My Barrio
    My Barrio can feel like summer even in the middle of winter… The smiles are always equaly warm…

    My Barrio smells like cuchifritos and plantas frescas at La Marqueta, like Sunday afternoon sajumerio, agua florida and “indian house blessing” from a spray can…

    My barrio sounds like the twirling slide of dominoes, like scraped ice for piraguas, the skin of a drum and the ‘kan”! of a cowbell…

    My Barrio tastes like mango-cherry-coco-raimbow icies, like smashed hot sandwiches at 4 in the morning, like a mixta de bisté encebolla’o con arrocito blaco, habichuelas colorás and tostones… and a cold malta..

    My Barrio looks like brick and pavement, like lil’ oldschool viejos in guayaveras and wide-brimmed hats, like lit candles on my grandmother’s altar, like HOME…

    Oddly, I keep very fond memories of El Barrio, growing up in the Johnson Houses where ‘uela lived at 1830 Lexington Avenue. Oddly, because in the 50s there was the evil force more commonly known as the Viceroys. There were also the Dragons, but they were not nearly as bad or frightful as the Viceroys.

    The Viceroys represented the very best of criminal behavior as we know it today — against adults & children alike. It was like living in terror for almost a decade. Not even the Italian Red Wings, who early on didnt want any Puerto Ricans or Blacks east of 3rd Avenue, inspired the level of fear the Viceroys did.

    The Piragueros, The watermelon trucks straight up from the south, the Mothers sitting on the benches watching their kids to all hours of the summer nights. No one apartment door was ever locked — ever!

    All of us playing Johnny ‘n the Pony, Ring-o-Livio (only Edgar Degas was faster that me, sometimes). Jefferson Pool, Summer Camp from the Boys Club, Galvani JHS, Gaylord White (Union Settlement House); Nena, stuck-up Gladys, Rosie & Yollie (their big sister Mary) — the most beautiful girls living in 1830; Pete & Angel who made Bronx Science. All extraordinarily fond memories. Oh, dont forget Katie’s at 115th Street, just East of Lexington, across the street from PS 57, where I attended elementary school. We used to pour into Katies after school let out to get our egg creams,

    & for me my 3 Musketeer candy bar.

    That is the Past. I dont want to go back there. Ive already been there. I love the evolution I see now: Puertorriquenos, Dominicanos, Mexicanos (in all of their ethnicity), other groups as well; our African American brothers & sisters, all together.

    The energy is enough to levitate a community; the different colors, languages, accents — foods: arepas, tacos, tortillas, mangu — the Cuchifrito Restaurant at 116th Street — STILL there, & still my greatest temptation in El Barrio.

    Its better now! I want more of whats happening now. Politically. Think of the alliances!

  4. I’d get rid of all the losers sitting on milk crates with their “40” in their hand, I’d turn down the music and teach people that their are other people in this world besides them, I’d wave the American Flag before the PR flag and ask people what “exactly” are they “proud of” since PR’s have yet to contribute anything to NYC but the bodega (find me a decent PR neighborhood. Good luck!)

  5. Poor, struggling Hispanic immigrants are being victimized by their own people. Sham groups such as the Movement For Justice In El Barrio and its notorious leader, Juan Haro, aided and abetted by a citywide umbrella group of like movements called Housing Here And Now, are systematically sucking the life out of their countrymen under the guise of organizing them against their landlords. One has only to go to the Housing Here And Now website called nyc worst landlords to see that it is nothing more than a total rant against all landlords and they will support any group that claims to be fighting against their landlord. The manner in which these people are victimized is shameless. They are packed 15 – 20 people at a time into tiny apartments meant for a few people, children and all. What’s worse is that, even though it is illegal and dangerous, the city of New York tacitly sanctions the overcrowding. Landlords are complaining to HPD, DOB and the FDNY with no response. Inspectors from all of the city agencies refuse to issue violations for overcrowding and judges refuse to give evictions without the violations. It’s a vicious circle that leaves the poor tenants sitting in the middle, with no place to go. Instead of ranting against landlords, the legitimate groups should condemn the people who rent the apartments and then sublet them illegally to a dozen or more others. All they are trying to do is deflect the blame from themselves and direct it at the landlords, who make a convenient target. What is even worse, the people doing this, like Juan Haro, are being legitimized by their misguided NYC councilwoman, Melissa Mark Viverito, who is under pressure from people like Sister Kathy Maire, from St Cecelia’s RC Church, to back their schemes. Instead of helping the poor immigrants find decent housing of their own, they are perpetuating the overcrowding by rallying them against their landlords. Who in their right mind would condone herding people, like animals, into tiny packed apartments, except someone who had something to gain by it; something like votes or donations or dozens of rents from each apartment.

  6. On August first, the New York Times had a special supplement covering Harlem Week. It was a glorious celebration of…..Gentrification. Parts of Harlem, which is generally inclusive of West, Central and East Harlem, seem to have embraced gentrification zealously. The reasons are obvious; there has been no real displacement, most of the development has been vacant buildings and the residents are benefitting from the influx of working people, professionals and developers into the area. Unfortunately, the east side has been noticeably lacking in enthusiasm and, although it has been gentrifying, the pace is slower than in other sections of Harlem. If you try and build anything other than low income housing in East Harlem, there is a public outcry. Yes, there is a place for low income housing but in moderation. Why would we want to import large numbers of low income and public dependent people when we already have an extremely large indigenous population? We obviously wouldn’t, unless we were a local politician and dependent on maintaining the status quo. Melissa Mark Viverito, the council member for East Harlem, made preventing gentrification one of the key elements of her campaign and her constituents bought into it. In one of the Times articles, they trumpet the success of the Auto Mall on East 127th Street and it is described as housing several of the largest black owned dealerships in the northeast and the first new car dealership in the area for 40 years. But, wait a minute, this is on the east side, commonly referred to as Spanish Harlem, so why not the largest Hispanic owned dealerships? The answer is that the Hispanic population on the east side keep getting in their own way while the black population on the west side is accepting change. They are working together, bringing in capital, developing political muscle and solving problems while we beg for money to keep our low income population intact. There is no real difference in the gentrification process on the west side or the east side; for both it involved renovating empty buildings and developing vacant lots into livable space. However, our narrow minded councilwoman and her narrow minded constituents seem to want to turn back the clock to a time when crime, rape, drugs and gangs were rampant and El Barrio was a dirty word. Melissa Mark Viverito has gone on record as decrying the fact that building a Home Depot in the East River Mall would be a boon to building owners and hasten gentrification of the neighborhood. This is being built on the site of the old Washburn Wire factory which has been vacant and falling down for decades, and will create hundreds of jobs for local residents. How about banding together instead and insure that there will be some Hispanic owned stores in the mall? That’s the west side mentality….and the mentality of the far sighted people who came in when East Harlem was a ghetto and began the gentrification process that led to the nice neighborhood that it is today. It could be nicer if we re-zoned Third Avenue, our Main Street, and allowed it to gentrify instead of maintaining the present eyesores. That probably won’t happen until enough open minded people come here to live and vote for change. Then, maybe, we will have East Harlem week and publically celebrate our gentrification.

  7. Iwas once a shade on the streets of the neighborhood where Viceroys,and Dragons, Latin JRS, and Turbans did exist. I was affarid of the gangs but had to be o I stayed to myself and prayed a lot for my servivial. I made it somehow I did so,through the streets of the barrio throughty the hell I found MY heavens.Right on the pavement,where so many would perish,I played and sang banged cans rode scooters,and skated, even fought not to belong to playboys or untouchables.

  8. As I was writing a poem of my youth I wished to share it,
    I was on a merry go round dreaming of the days when we sang,and danced to the music of
    Ray, Tito,Bataan,La Lupe,and all the great salsa that we were able to hear
    with a little Frankie Lymon, and the Teenagers,Pragons,and Jesters,I thought of
    Mary Santos,
    She was a dream a prayer a hope,
    I mean I was in love with that girl, but she had no feelings for me,but any way I danced in my dreams with her.
    I would see us walking through Jefferson projects,or at the pool,
    we were tight as you could get with out being stuck.
    It was a play street game of red rover send Mary on over,or some dsodge ball always she was in the dreams,on 114th street and Lex,i was their looking for her pretty face and grougious legs she was a dance a song a cool breeze on a summers muggy night she was a wonder a joy a I wish she was my girl do wop,shing a ling booaloo,Pacho,Colon rythem.

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