Saturday, January 23, 2010

Spanish Harlem-1939 (1)

Though called Spanish Harlem, this district is not the home of Spaniards but of Latin-Americans. European Spaniards have their own small colonies on West Fourteenth Street and in the vicinity of cherry Street. Living in the Harlem quarter side by side are Puerto Ricans, Cubans, American Negroes, West Indian Negroes, South Americans, and Mexicans. Puerto Ricans are in the overwhelming majority, numbering about one hundred thousand persons, or 85 percent of the area's population.

Spanish Harlem first acquired its present character after the World War, when thousands of Puerto Ricans and Latin-Americans came to New York. Poverty, famine, or successive political upheavals in their native countries drove these people to the United States. They settled in Harlem because of the cheap rents and the sympathetic environment. Sixty percent of the residents, however, have not been able to obtain regular employment since their arrival. The section around the 110th Street station of the Lexington Avenue subway, with its clutter of shops, tenements, and dime movie houses, is typical of the community.

The neighborhood's more important business places are on Fifth and Madison Avenues, between 110th and 116th streets, and on 116th Street, east and west of Fifth Avenue. These range from small well-kep0t shops to fairly large and prosperous establishments. Numerous restaurants offer such typically Spanish food as arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) and gazpacho (Andalusian stew). Much of their patronage is drawn from visitors, who have more money to spend than the local residents. Noticeable, too, is the number of music shops with large assortments of mandolins, Spanish guitars, lutes, and bandurrias, phonograph records, and such sheet music as La Violetera (The Violet Seller), La Partida (The Parting), the universally popular La Paloma (The Dove), and other old favorites.

The near-by side streets are crowded with lightly stocked drygoods stores, bodegas (grocery stores) and carnicerias (meat stores) and with blocks of old, broken-down houses, their stoops alive with people.

It is perhaps the PUBLIC MARKET PLACE that expresses most vividly the Latin-American character of the locality. The market, owned by the city, extends along Park Avenue under the New York Central viaduct, from 111th to 116th street. Its block-long, steel-and-glass sheds, replace an old pushcart market. Besides little green limes, tangerines, oranges, bananas, and lemons, many tropical fruits grown in the various home-lands of the inhabitants of Spanish Harlem are in season displayed here. Piled high in the racks are avocados (sometimes called alligator pears), mangoes with their strong flavor of turpentine, guavas from Cuba, and melon-like papayas, the leaves of which the Puerto Rican wraps around tough meat to make it tender. Tamarinds are sold to make a lemonade-like drink called tamarindo; and the long brown roots of the tropical cassava swing overhead.

Garbanzos (chick-peas), red kidney beans, dried peas, and lentils are in open sacks. Strings of fiery red peppers hang above their sweet-flavored kin, the pimientos. From the spice stalls women pick twenty or thirty different varieties which are mixed and stuffed into one bag. Fish of all kinds are on display, including huge tuna sold in slices.

To be continued: Spanish Harlem-1939 (2)

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