Thursday, December 31, 2009

"Hey Man! This is Our Turf...It's Rumble Time in East Harlem 30's-60's

By Miriam Medina (excerpts from my Essay "The Ebb and Flow of East Harlem's Ethnic Changes"

The 30s, through the 60s was an age of teen-age rebellion, drugs and alcohol and outright disrespect for parental and school authority. When the Puerto Rican population began saturating the East Harlem area during the 1930s through the fifties, many Italians continued to remain in the neighborhood. With the increase in population of this new ethnic group's arrival , both Italians and Puerto Ricans found themselves in constant conflict competing for housing, educational and employment resources.

The atmosphere became explosive, with rumbles between the black Dragons, Italian Dukes, Puerto Rican Viceroys and the Italian Redwings. Puerto Ricans and the Italian teen-agers clashed with one another to establish and maintain their turf and honor. These rumbles were easily set off by the side that was looking for a fight, whether it was over the boundaries of their turf, establishing claims over streets and parks, testing their machismo and as usual petty things over their ladies. The girls had the protection of the gang and if any of them would be insulted, which in many cases were fabricated stories just to provoke a war, they would defend her honor, even if they all knew she was a whore. The gang members, anywhere from fourteen to nineteen years old would strut with their chest pushed out, carrying with them zip guns ready to fire just in case, baseball bats and switchblades which were common weapons back then. Yeah man, it made them feel real macho, cool and tough, they were prepared, anytime, for a good rumble, knowing that no matter how afraid they were, they would not admit it. Racial slurs tossed back and forth provoked frequent confrontations which would many times result in death or being hospitalized with crushed heads and serious crippling injuries from switchblade knifings, beaten by tire chains or shot by bullets. Some members of the gang in preparation for a rumble would store on the roof tops piles of gravel-filled milk bottles, bricks, iron scrap and whatever else they could find to use as ammunition. I remember seeing this when we used to go up to the roof to get sun in the summer.

"In East Harlem the dark-skinned Puerto Ricans organized a gang called "the Viceroys," while the light-skinned rivals formed the "Dragons." These gangs would fight among themselves as well as with the Italian gangs to the east of which one of them was called "The Red Wings." They even fought against the African-American gangs to the west. " (5)

The block I lived on was called "The Red Wing." The Italian Red Wings, who were East Harlem's largest and most powerful Italian street gang, defended Thomas Jefferson Park which was located between First Avenue and the east river, from 111th to 114th Street.

This is an excerpt from stonegreasers.com which will give you an insight into the gangs of that time from my old neighborhood. "Italian Harlem consisted of Italians mostly of the poorer southern provinces of Calabria and Sicily, who settled in the area east of 3rd Avenue, between 110th-125th Streets, known as "Dago Harlem." During the 40s, 50s and early 60s, a street gang known as the Harlem Redwings controlled this turf. Their main rivals in East Harlem were the black Dragons and the Enchanters, a few Irish gangs from Irish Harlem, along with the Puerto Rican Viceroys - who controlled 86th Street.” “The RED WINGS and the DARLING DEBS were known to hang around 120th and Pleasant Avenue in the area of the Wagner Projects. Red Wing hangouts included: Shep's Candy Store on the corner of 115th and Pleasant Ave. right across the street from Franklin, Artistries on 118th St. and Pleasant Ave, the Night Hawks on 119th St and Pleasant Ave and Osies Candy Store on 116th St. between 1st and Pleasant Ave. "

Source: (5)Vampires, Dragons, and Egyptian Kings: Youth Gangs in Postwar New York By Eric C. Schneider; Princeton University Press, 1999.

To read the complete 5 page essay " The Ebb and Flow of East Harlem's Ethnic Changes."

To Contact: miriammedina@earthlink.net
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1 comment:

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