SPANISH HARLEM, (El Barrio).... this was my family's old neighborhood . In A personal memoir of my childhood life growing up in the neighborhood of East Harlem, New York, I describe how my family of nine-- seven children and my parents--struggled financially, housing their sprawling family in a crowded two bedroom apartment. A detailed description of our daily lives offers the reader a personal glimpse of tenement living in the forties and early fifties. I take you through El Barrio step by step, naming streets and businesses. The gang wars between the Italians and the Puerto Ricans, picnics on the roof, stick ball playing, Mr. Morris the bookie taking bets, the Irish man singing for money in the backyard, the Feast of Mt. Carmel on First Avenue, the kind loving Reverend Wilson of the Methodist church, domestic violence among the neighbors, Jack the Irish cop, who always had free movie passes in his pocket for the kids of the neighborhood, visits to relatives’ homes, the illness and death of Papa—and how it affected the family as a whole: these are the grist of my narrative. They are part of "Recollections of the Old Neighborhood ." If you would like to view the article, Click Here. A Spanish translation of this memoir is also available. To View.
SPANISH HARLEM: (El Barrio) Also Called East Harlem: It clusters around the 110th street station of the Lexington Avenue subway. East Harlem covers the area between Fifth Avenue and the East River from 96th to 142nd Street. The bulk of the population in this area by the 1930s were circa 50,000 Puerto Ricans, though it is today becoming increasingly mixed. The Puerto Ricans settled here because of low rents and freedom from racial discrimination. One of the sites not to be missed in El Barrio is the market place "La Marqueta," that extends along Park Avenue from 111th to 116th streets. You will find a large variety of affordable international food and meat products. As far as I could remember it was there in the 1940s. Restaurants and cafés offering such irresistible alluring aromas of numerous Spanish dishes draw much of their patronage from visitors to the area. For a variety of Puerto Rican recipes from the Boricua kitchen click here.
Before I give you a few samples of Latin music favorites heard among the El Barrio community, I would like to give you a brief summary on Spanish Harlem. However, as a start I highly recommend this website " CUNY Honors Neighborhood Website Project: " which also contains a historical description of Jewish Harlem, Black Harlem, and Italian Harlem as well . (Please be patient, the music will take time to load.....then blast away).
Whew! I'm so out of breath...didn't think I could still move it.....now wasn't that fun? Maybe we can sneak in one more try? What do you think? CUNY Honors Neighborhood Website Project:
Okay! It's time to get back to our history lesson............................
Puerto Ricans have lived in the mainland United States since at least the 1830s.During the 1890s, a first small group of Puerto Ricans arrived in East Harlem. The 1917 Jones-Shafroth Act converted the former Spanish colony into a United States Commonwealth state, granting Puerto Ricans American citizenship and entitling them to live and work in the U.S. They did not have to go through the Ellis Island Immigration processing which Europeans and other Latin Americans had to endure. New York City became a major focal point for Puerto Rican migration. Many settled in East Harlem, located in upper Manhattan, which eventually became the largest Puerto Rican neighborhood in the U.S. East Harlem is often called "Spanish Harlem" or "El Barrio."
The Puerto Ricans that moved into East Harlem began replacing the Jewish Delis and Italian grocery stores and markets with their religious shops, bodegas and restaurants, as well as filling the air with their Latin music.
n 1926 there were mob attacks on Puerto Ricans living there. As a result of this, La Liga Puertoriquena e Hispana was established to unify Puerto Rican clubs and organizations in New York City.
During the 1920s-30s, the radio was easily available to the consumer market. Cuban and Puerto Rican songs as well as local broadcast in the spanish language could be heard on the radio in every Puerto Rican household of El Barrio, as a form of entertainment. Through the forties and fifties the Latin crowd would go to the Audubon Hall.
By the time 1920s-1930s rolled around, circa 45,000 to 50,000 Puerto Ricans had moved from the Island to New York City of which a great percentage fanned out to East Harlem.
By 1940 there were nearly 70,000 Puerto Ricans in the mainland United States, mostly in or near New York City. Because of its high Latino population, the district soon came to be known as Spanish Harlem. Among New York City puertorriqueños, the Latino-populated area was referred to as el barrio, or "the neighborhood."
Migration from the island slowed to a crawl during the Great Depression and practically came to a halt during World War II. In 1945 after World War II, a great wave of Puerto Rican immigration to New York City began and continued through the 1960s. The inexpensive airplane fares between San Juan and New York City increased the Puerto Rican community to more than triple in size by 1950. In 1958 New York held its first Puerto Rican Day Parade. The parade later became the National Puerto Rican Day Parade in 1995 and a fixture in New York City's annual cultural events. In 1961 after the assassination of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, thousands of Dominicans left their homeland and came to the United States. More than three quarters of these immigrants settled in New York, primarily in New York's Washington Heights and Inwood sections.
During the 1980s Puerto Rico had entered a state of severe economic decline brought on in part by the recession. Highly educated professional Puerto Ricans began losing their jobs, where one third were government employees and began to migrate to the United States in search of economic opportunities.
The Puerto Rican people embrace their family traditions and customs as they pass them from generation to generation, though as young people increasingly move into the American culture, these traditions and many others seem to be waning but only slowly. In the celebration of their holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's day and Puerto Rican day, is when the Puerto Rican families come together with such love and warmth. Puerto Rican people are famous for throwing big, elaborate parties-with music and dancing-to celebrate special events.They sing, dance and eat their traditional foods of which are included in the abovementioned Boricua Kitchen recipes. Many Puerto Rican dishes are seasoned with a savory mixture of spices known as sofrito .This is made by grinding fresh garlic, seasoned salt, green peppers, and onions in a pilón ,a wooden bowl similar to a mortar and pestle, and then sautéing the mixture in hot oil. This serves as the spice base for many soups and dishes. Their asopao which is a stew made with vegetables, rice, and meat or fish, is so delicious.
Most Puerto Ricans are Roman Catholics and the one custom that is very meaningful to the Puerto Rican community is when parents and grandparents bless their children with "La Bendicion." In addition, rosaries, busts of La Virgin (the Virgin Mary) and other religious icons have a prominent place in the household.
Music such as Salsa, Mambo and Cha-Cha-Cha play an important role in the Puerto Rican way of life. Their style of music rich in Latin variations of tone using instruments such as trumpets, trombones, saxaphones, piano, drums, maracas, cowbells and guitars electrifies the atmosphere and makes everyone who hears it, get up and start dancing to the beat of the music.
So If you love to dance to the Latin Beat.....I suggest you put on your dancing shoes, and crank up your speakers....in preparation for these musical numbers played on YouTube. If you don't have a partner, then just dance away...and shake that booty....GO BABY GO!" Just close your eyes and YOU ARE IN EL BARRIO......Dance away to your heart's content.....
For the Spanish Harlem Page: (Click Here)