by Jose Kevo
April 14, 2003
Expanding transportation systems in the mid 1800's made the area accessible and home to German and Irish immigrant laborers. Jews from the overcrowded Lower East Side began relocating Uptown for cheap tenament apartments, and the city's largest concentration of Sandinavians to date was found. An eventual labor strike started a downward spiral setting trends still manifested today.
Italian immigrants readily took jobs their new neighbors were striking against and ethnic feuding began. St. Cecelia's Church, on 106th between Park/Lexington Aves., was built in the 1870's from imported Italian materials for these people denied entry to established churches. Southern Italians were considered lowest of European classes, and a mass exodus by previous races left space for a wave of immigrants which by 1937 formed the largest Italian community of the Western world. Further succumbing to sterotypes turned this corner of Manhattan into the city's most impoverished area.
When Puerto Ricans began trickling in during the 30's/40's, their rural island tendencies immediately caste them below Italians; schools, hospitals, other civil factions scorned them with contempt. Intense rivalries between ethnic-based gangs brought crime to their poverty, and by the 1950's when more than one-third of the island's population came to the States - namely El Barrio, Italians had been outnumbered and repeated the exodus they'd spurred only a generation before. By the 60's, the city was rapidly razing blocks of ghetto tenaments in lieu of The Projects which integrated African Americans.
Today, "underground economy" is the greatest source of local income through illegal operations including working off the books while drawing public assistance. Abandoned buildings have been refurbished as low-income housing or cleared for Townhouses. There are more Caucasians and Asians. Blacks from America, West Africa and islands are second to Hispanics which come from all 20 Spanish speaking countries. Despite progress, history is again repeating itself in schools, churches, and streets with contempt for a new influx of immigrants gaining momentum daily. Spanish Harlem...El Barrio...East Harlem, but newer signs now say, Welcome to Little Mexico!
From journal The ROSE still Grows in Spanish Harlem