Monday, November 22, 2010

East Harlem, New York: Microcosm of the Melting Pot (1)

By Miriam B. Medina

Harlem is a locality in the New York City borough of Manhattan, long known as a fundamental residential, cultural, and business center for many minorities, but it is far more than that. It is symbolic of the many divergent cultures that have come together, that have grown together, called by the lure of the legendary flame eternally held high by the Statue of Liberty. It is symbolic of the melting pot known as America, a melting pot that has been cooking a tried and true formula of Freedom for over 200 years now. East Harlem is a symbol of the hope, determination, acceptance and strength that has made America great.

Harlem was once an area of quiet farms, much as the original 13 colonies brimming with agricultural immigrants who pooled together to eke out a living. In Harlem existed communities filled by a few Hollanders, French Huguenots, Danes, Swedes and Germans. For three decades, the Germans were the dominant cultural element in the borough, with the Irish ranking second in numbers and influence. The immigration waves of the 1880s and 1890s brought in different cultural elements from Israel and Italy. Like the young nation itself, Harlem had attracted people seeking a fresh start and a fair chance from all four corners of the Old World. Then African-Americans began to come to Harlem from downtown, from the South, and from the West Indies. By the 1930's, half a million people crowded into the largest area in New York. There were too many people and too few places, too little in the way of resources, and Harlem became the Nation's biggest slum. However, its people persevered.

As the young nation grew, so did Harlem, growing and defining its boundaries. The United States increased its size and its population with the Louisiana Purchase, typically defining itself geographically, opening up more territory for those seeking freedom. This brought more immigrants and diverse cultures from around the world, most coming through New York City, many staying there, and settling in Harlem.

To this day, Harlem's boundaries include the following: The East Harlem/El Barrio area, known as Spanish Harlem, a community that stretches from First Avenue to Fifth Avenue, from East 96th Street to East 125th Street. Then there's Central Harlem, which expands from Central Park North to the Harlem River, as well as from Fifth Avenue to St. Nicholas Avenue. West Harlem, comprising Hamilton Heights and Sugar Hill, expands from 123rd to 155th Streets also from St. Nicholas Avenue to the Hudson River.

East Harlem has been referred to as "German Harlem, Irish Harlem, Jewish Harlem, Italian Harlem and Spanish Harlem,' also commonly known as "El Barrio." It is a testament to the many, diverse ethnicities' that have made their home in the borough. A microcosm of a Nation that has grown so much and overcome so many issues caused by cultural diversity, that a minority is its President. Today there is a considerable amount of Central and South American immigrant populations moving into the area, which have begun to match the large number of Puerto Ricans who have dominated the area for years. The ebb and flow of East Harlem's diverse ethnic population has had a tremendous historical significance, and has been a microcosm of a nation forged by many diverse cultures, forming an interesting part of the early history of both New York City and the Nation.

Immigration to the United States, from the 19th century to the early 20th century has been the focus of much attention, and for good reason. A great mass of immigrants drawn from a myriad of various origins came in pursuit of the "American Dream", which symbolized for them democracy, equality, liberty, justice and most of all, material well- being. We are promised these opportunities right in the Declaration of Independence, "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," no matter who we are. There is no better testament to this promise than East Harlem.

To be continued: East Harlem, New York: Microcosm (2)

Miriam B. Medina is a Platinum Level Expert Author at

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