Welcome to Spanish Harlem

Welcome to Spanish Harlem!


By Johna Till Johnson

They say old New York is dead.

The city’s hot lifeblood has gone thick and sluggish. Starbucks and suburbanization have driven a stake through its  heart.

They’re wrong.

The beating heart of New York never dies. You just need to know where to find it.  The pulse is particularly alive in Spanish Harlem, which shimmers with dynamic energy. It’s bright with color, even on a dark snowy day.

Spanish Harlem street corner

Like much of old New York, Spanish Harlem (also known as East Harlem or El Barrio) is known for many things: Poverty. Addiction. Gang violence (the area is home to the most dangerous block in the city, according to police statistics).

But Spanish Harlem is not defined by those things, or not defined only by them.

It’s diverse: Puerto Ricans, African Americans, Asians, and a remnant of the original Italians who settled there in the early 1900s mingle with displaced WASP Upper East Siders and the influx of international staffers working at Mt. Sinai, the steadily-growing medical complex that dominates the southern part of the neighborhood.

There’s also a spirit of pride, and neighborliness. You’re more likely to be greeted with a nod and a smile here than anywhere else in the city.  “We’re all in this together,” is the unspoken sentiment.

Helping each other

More than that, Spanish Harlem is characterized by hope. It boasts one of the best high schools in all of New York state,  Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics, which regularly sends local students to top-ranked universities.

There are a number of community gardens, decorated with whimsy and offering bright spots in the urban landscape.

And a surprising number of artists, poets, and musicians hail from Spanish Harlem. A notable one is Marc Anthony,  the top-selling salsa artist (and Jennifer Lopez’ ex-husband).

Above all, Spanish Harlem is the land of dreams.

Hall of Fame

I am not certain, but I suspect that the graffiti in this mural refers to the song Hall of Fame, which celebrates setting high goals and working to achieve them.

Yeah, you could be the greatest
You can be the best…
You can be a master
Don’t wait for luck
Dedicate yourself and you can find yourself…

Standing in the hall of fame
And the world’s gonna know your name
‘Cause you burn with the brightest flame
And the world’s gonna know your name
And you’ll be on the walls of the hall of fame…

Do it for your people
Do it for your pride
How you ever gonna know if you never even try?

Harlem: Do it for your people

10 responses to “Welcome to Spanish Harlem

  1. Johna, this is absolutely FABULOUS.
    Thank you so much for your wonderful photography, and for capturing in them and your words the very essence and spirit of Spanish Harlem. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Woo! I’m blushing! Thanks for the comment. I couldn’t believe how gorgeous the murals were when I went out on a recent snowy day. And I do love that part of New York…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. So colorful! Wonderful tour and details :)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post, and thank you for showing another side of Harlem. It still gets bad reviews but like New Orleans and Chicago, I know it to be a place of aspiration, hope, and lovely people.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well done, Johna! Especially, “The beating heart…” – love it!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Urban Garden Center NYC | Wind Against Current

  6. Great post full of color and inspiration! I particularly enjoy your posts about NY neighborhoods as I have never been there, and the lifestyle is so different from my own.

    Like

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