by Jose Kevo
April 14, 2003
For more than a century, this area served as the outdoor market hub, just like you'd find in any immigrant community. Great efforts to remodel the current enclosed market in the early 90s turned this into an upscale showcase. Every type of food and items from the island, as well as other daily necessities could be purchased in the authentic cultural environment. Unfortunately, trends have changed; vendors are closing their businesses and the future of this long-standing icon are in question.
Hand Made in Puerto Rico, located just off the northeast corner of 116th St. and 3rd Ave next to the Subway sandwich shop, is an oddity unto itself. The small shop serves as the community welcome and information center. It's somewhat of a museum for historical and cultural artifacts from Puerto Rico -- you'll need ask exactly what's for sale or just display. Spanish and English are spoken. The shop opens daily at noon and is closed Mondays.
You can't go far without noticing storefronts with Botanicas in the name . . . but you won't find plants. These shops sell statues, icons, candles, and all the necessary things for practicing Santeria -- the ancient island-based worship combining Catholicism with African and Indian tribal folklores and spirits. Catholicism is the area's largest professed religion, but Santeria is the most widely practiced. Shop owners don't mind if you browse and are often willing to explain the concepts of worship. While mildly/tamely similar to voodoo, don't volunteer the comparison unless they bring it up!
Especially if you're in the area during warm weather, you won't want to miss the Community Gardens, small patches of unused land developed by the locals. On weekends amid the flowers, vegetable plants, and fruit trees, there are social gatherings with sweet smells of foods being prepared and sounds of salsa. Some gardens are better tended than others, but all look rather scruffy during the winter. Specific gardens are listed in the Suggested Walking Tour.
From journal The ROSE still Grows in Spanish Harlem