Saturday, January 23, 2010

Spanish Harlem-1939 (2)

The women shoppers move about with dignity: fair-skinned Creoles with dark eyes, lean-faced, copper-complexioned Spanish Indians, sensitive-looking West Indian Negroes. Voices are musical, and bargaining is done in a friendly spirit. The first price asked is always more than the Puerto Rican vendor expects to receive: regatear (to bargain) is the custom in his country.

To Spanish Harlemites bargaining is more than a tradition; to save a few pennies is a necessity. Those who succeed in finding employment work as poorly paid domestics or at menial occupations in hotels, laundries, cigar factories, or on Works Progress Administration projects; women and girls earn meager wages in local embroidery shops. Racial discrimination and lack of opportunity to learn skilled trades have kept both sexes from better-paid jobs.

Many Puerto Ricans suffer from malnutrition and are physically so underdeveloped that they are rejected for manual labor. Their diet in New York, except for the addition of a few vegetables, remains much the same as in their native land: a roll and black coffee for breakfast; for the other meals canned tomatoes, white rice, dried fish, and meat about twice a month.

In Spanish Harlem, the death rate from tuberculosis is high compared to the 52 per 100,000 for white persons in New York as a whole: among white Puerto Ricans the rate is 200 per 100,000; for colored groups, 553 per 100,000. The district's infant mortality rate is the highest in New York.

With little money to spend, the residents of this neighborhood have few and simple amusements. They attend the cheap movie houses, and the TEATRO LATINO, at Fifth Avenue and 110th Street, and the TEATRO HISPANO, at Fifth Avenue and 116th Street, which show Spanish-language films, many of them made in South America and Mexico. (The Hispano also presents Spanish vaudeville.) They gather in the evening at each other's homes to talk and entertain themselves over cups of black coffee. The different national groups have their favorites among the inexpensive restaurants and cabarets, where there is much music and festivity on Saturday nights. Several cafes and night clubs, featuring Cuban music, draw their patronage from the Spanish-speaking element and from visitors.

To be continued: Spanish Harlem-1939 (3)

to contact:

No comments: