East Harlem Remembered: Oral Histories of Community and Diversity


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Putting Humpty-Dumpty back together or leave him broken?

The chevalier editor has perhaps made our spatial analysis a bit easier. The Spatial Memoirs. Mapping and reading the whole text spatially is perhaps better left for another format, such as a chapter in a future book or an exclusively digital project living inside a web-site. The analysis of this moment will go -I hope- a long way into proving the fruitfulness of putting the Memoirs, and other texts, through this kind of spatial analytical treatment. This moment of interest to us regards the very arrival of Bernardo to New York City in early August He spends one day and one night in San Juan and on August the 3rd boards a boat, the Coamo named after a municipality in the island , headed towards New York City.

He lands in Hamilton Pier, Staten Island, as so many immigrants at the time. Why does he felt he had to pretend? Bernardo is commuting with a friend, he is not objectively lost, his friends knows where they are going; but deep inside we can surmise he is in fact lost. He talks about the price of potatoes, eggs, salt pork, prime steak, vegetables, suits, the subway; further adding useful information to a putative attribute table associated with the point of West 22nd Street.

All of this can be mapped on a GIS application.

Bell, East Harlem historian, featured at Vito Marcantonio Forum

The bus then ran north along Riverside Drive, from th Street to th Street, turning east one city block on th to take Broadway, still direction uptown, all the way to th Street; then at the meeting point of Broadway and St. Nicholas Avenue on th Street, the double decker took them up north on St-Nicholas to th Street, where they debarked.

We can map this route using GIS see fig 1. Things get more interesting, however, on their way back. Second, he seems to imply that at least one of these couples was Puerto Rican; if this is indeed the case, the space, the new city, had -by deeply changed the mores and public behavior of at least some Puerto Ricans that were already living in New York.

Are these kissing Puerto Ricans Nuyoricans already? In this specific case we know for a fact that the park around st Street and St-Nicholas Avenue was a meeting place where lovers could publicly embrace and kiss in ways that perhaps were not acceptable elsewhere. On their return downtown Vega and his friend Ambrosio follow the same path, but get off the bus at th Street and Manhattan Avenue. They start to walk, and the spatial descriptions naturally thickens with the slower pace.

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They walk on Manhattan Avenue from th Street to th Street. Three Puerto Rican brothers, cigar-makers all, from his town of Cayey lived there. Slowly, point by point, Vega is building a polygon. At this point in the text we still do not know precisely what or where are the boundaries of El Barrio, and in fact the area was not to be called that way for some time still; but Vega offers us a rather astonishing and uncanny view: he saw and recorded the Puerto Rican presence in El Barrio before it was a Puerto Rican neighborhood. Vega seems to have instinctively known that he had to keep track of the demographics of the area, that he had to record the points, lines and polygons, even before it became a Puerto Rican enclave.


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He saw the proto-Barrio for what it was: a nascent Puerto Rican community. Travis has done relevant theoretical, analytical and cartographic work about the layering of time-space from a Bakhtinian perspective in his book Abstract Machine, Humanities GIS p 49 Travis, Time, as it were, thickens, takes on flesh, becomes artistically visible; likewise, space becomes charged and responsive to the movements of time, plot and history.

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This intersection of axes and fusion of indicators characterizes the artistic chronotope. What in later years became known as El Barrio was, in , mostly inhabited by Sephardic Jews. He draws and organizes the spatial lines and polygons of the business life and the living quarters of the Jewish community emphasizing social class, adding resolution to his spatial description some of these can be seen both in the companion web map and in fig 2.

Here, among the poor Jews, was the heaviest concentration of Puerto Rican and Cuban families in , some fifty families according to his reckoning. Using the same census layer, users can also see that the Lower East Side, another area that was to become a Puerto Rican enclave, had the highest density in New York City at the time and was also populated mostly by Jews at the time.

It allows us to visualize not only the environment and demographics of the text, but to also juxtapose data from the present. The Jewish community had by then already established an open air market on Park Avenue, what was later to become the iconic Puerto Rican Marqueta. He injects a class-centered reading to his spatial depictions, and shows a nuanced understanding of how tenancy and ownership regimes determine the quality of the spaces he sees.

They were well maintained precisely because owners themselves lived in the buildings. Clearly, the Jewish people who lived in Harlem back then considered it their neighborhood and felt a sentimental attachment to it. East Harlem eventually became the center of a thriving Puerto Rican neighborhood, but Vega is committed to make us all see that the place had been loved and taken care of by another group before the arrival of his own ethnic community. It is hard not to feel that Vega is offering a point of comparison between what East Harlem was before the arrival of the Puerto Rican community, and what it later became.

He is passing judgment. Tellingly, the blocks where these two important centers of the progressive political and ideological life of the community at the time were located, were later developed as super-blocks for public housing. Later chapters see the Park Palace and the Park Plaza on the second floor of the same building as the Park Palace reappear constantly in the Memoirs. Vega obviously felt at home. The Memoirs , are intended to make Puerto Ricans feel at home in New York City as well; they reclaim not only history, but space.

Two things are worth mentioning here; first, it should be apparent that the Memoirs is not just a document about the life and history of the Puerto Rican community in New York City, but an invaluable contribution to the history and development of the physical urban infrastructure of the New York City left at large. By performing a GIS analysis of the book, mapping its spatial data, we gain a rich layer of visual information not only of the Puerto Rican community in the city, but about the activity nodules of its political life specially the left at the turn of the century.

While it is beyond the scope of the present work to study the relationship between the spatial markers of the Left recorded by Vega and other city environments, this presents a fruitful line of future inquiry. Second, it must also be evident that Vega relates the urban development of East Harlem -as it regards the Puerto Rican community- as partially determined by these activity nodules of the larger New York City and North American Left.

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Harlem World Magazine rated it really liked it Dec 23, Miriam Lambert rated it it was amazing Dec 26, Yasmin marked it as to-read Jan 18, Stefanie added it Mar 27, Dana Baranes marked it as to-read Dec 05, Catherine marked it as to-read Apr 26, Lucie Miniutti marked it as to-read Feb 27, Jenna Watts marked it as to-read Mar 11, They recount the early days, the post-World War II rise of public housing, the departure of Eastern European inhabitants, the growth of Latino and African American populations, the dominance of gangs in the s, the urban blight of the s, and the more recent resurgence and gentrification.

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East Harlem Remembered: Oral Histories of Community and Diversity East Harlem Remembered: Oral Histories of Community and Diversity
East Harlem Remembered: Oral Histories of Community and Diversity East Harlem Remembered: Oral Histories of Community and Diversity
East Harlem Remembered: Oral Histories of Community and Diversity East Harlem Remembered: Oral Histories of Community and Diversity
East Harlem Remembered: Oral Histories of Community and Diversity East Harlem Remembered: Oral Histories of Community and Diversity
East Harlem Remembered: Oral Histories of Community and Diversity East Harlem Remembered: Oral Histories of Community and Diversity
East Harlem Remembered: Oral Histories of Community and Diversity East Harlem Remembered: Oral Histories of Community and Diversity

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