by Jose Kevo
April 14, 2003
When walking the streets, don't be initimidated by vast numbers of individuals milling about at any given hour of the day or by often questionable appearances and behaviors. Styles in dress often find their way into mainstream society, and while you might overhear conversations in Spanish, English or the mangled version of "Spanglish", you'll undoubtedly come across the dialect of 'Hoodish (an Ebonics-based means of communication with "hip" phrases and expressions that go out of style quicker than the fashions)
Street Culture has also heavily influenced the arts and entertainment of America as a means of voice from a people otherwise never heard. On any given corner, perhaps you'll find an elderly Latino banging on a bongo, singing about former life on the island while in direct competition with Mace, P-Diddy, or any other famous uptown Rap/Hip-Hop artist whose music is blasted from boomboxes or stereos in apartment windows. Movement to the music is inevitable whether a gentle sway/groove or all-out break dance.
One element you won't or shouldn't miss is art in the form of graffiti . . . beyond the scribblings of taggers. As you look/walk down side streets, you'll discover entire walls filled with murals depicting life in the ghetto or memorials to people who've died. Take some time to note the intricate details that have been created using airbrush or freehand straight from the can. The greatest showcase of talent is in the Graffiti Hall of Fame, located in the sunken schoolyard at 106th/Park Ave. If you're in the area on Memorial Day weekend, you can watch the artists work as they annually refresh this concrete canvas.
Another inner-city aspect you can't help but notice are The Projects (high-rise apartment buildings that warehouse America's poor). East Harlem has the highest concentration of projects for anywhere in the city and you can't even look down side streets without spotting another complex. The largest grouping runs between 112th/115th St. and 1st Ave. to 6th/Lenox Ave., with a questionable population of 37,000+! You'll be surprised how well-tended lawns and exteriors appear -- inside, the buildings' common areas look just the opposite with a deteriorated war zone motif. You'll have no problem traversing sidewalks that border complexes, but I don't recommend walking through courtyards.
From journal The ROSE still Grows in Spanish Harlem