The Romance Reviews

The Romance Reviews

Sunday, August 7, 2011

"You probably from Spanish Harlem if...."

All I want to do is sleep.  I've had only a few snatches of sleep since Thursday night.  I spent a restless night stressing over my daughter, worrying about her pending surgery scheduled for Friday morning.  Needless to say, everything went well.  She's in a lot of pain but she's still herself enough to crack jokes. 

I've been holed up at her place since Friday except for two hours yesterday when I went home to feed Bosco then left to return to  make a Spanish stew for her -- SANCOCHO!!  Sancocho is a traditional Puerto Rican stew made with green bananas, plantains and other vegetables, chunks of corn on the cob and either beef or pork chunks.  It is sometimes served with avocado and white rice. I only made the stew; didn't make the rice and forgot to pick up an avocado.  Still in all, it was DELICIOSO!!

Between naps, I picked up my blackberry to catch up intermittently on the latest on Twitter and Facebook.  It was during one of those catch up sessions that I came across a page on Facebook called "You probably from Spanish Harlem if...." (  I read some of the postings, looked at the pictures posted by some of the over 3,100 members taken over the years.  I was thrown back to my childhood.  People, (the famous Popcorn), places (La Marqueta) and things (Skellies, jelly shoes, click-clacks) that make up large portions of the story of my life. 

With my daughter wincing in pain across from me, I read some of the postings to her and she began to relate some of her memories of being born (Mt. Sinai) and raised in Spanish Harlem herself.  I requested membership and within a couple of hours I was accepted into this group that held the colorful threads of the fabric of my life. 

Reading all those posts made me think about people long gone but not forgotten, events that were markers in my life and what the future holds for a neighborhood that I have a love/hate relationship with. The area where I grew up is now so gentrified it is unrecogniziable to me.  Now, there are high rise buildings; expensive co-ops and all their trappings standing side by side with government run housing projects.  I grew up in those housing projects and the tenement buildings before them.  I wonder if hardworking people who came out of those very same housing projects would be readily accepted as tenants into any of those new high rise buildings?  I doubt it.  They/we are/were pre-judged as stupid drunkards who fought and had no aspirations.  New inhabitants of my old neighborhood now pat themselves on their backs and talk about how cool it is that they live in Spanish Harlem.  I would venture to say that they can now enjoy the history of that rich neighborhood because of what we and the people who came before me went through. 

Indeed, as I mentioned, I left that neighborhood when my daughter was 13 years old.  It was the early 90's and the crack cocaine phenomena had risen in my home town like a monster out of the cracks in the concrete that make up the sidewalk.  The very same cracks that I jumped over playfully as a little girl chanting:  "Step on the crack; you break your mother's back."  Who wants to break their mother's back?  Not I!  But I digress...

When I left my old neighborhood, my daughter had just turned 13. I was a single mother working at the Waldorf=Astoria's Executive Office (I was the first person of color to work in the famed hotel's Executive Office) and I was living paycheck to paycheck.  I didn't want her to get involved with the bullshit on the streets.  Rather than go on vacations, which we didn't do, I would take her with me to work at the hotel, and introduce her to worldly clients; people who had money; people who had travelled the world, in the hopes that she could see that there was so much out there to experience.  I believe this is why she is who she is today.  Why she can crack jokes; why, even while in bad pain she can see that it's really not that serious.  With the proceeds of part of a settlement with my ex-husband and my small savings, I bought a co-op in the West Bronx.  I wanted to live someplace where there was a mix of people, but I didn't want to leave behind that gritty-ness you feel when you live in a place like Spanish (East) Harlem.

I am Puerto Rican -- yes, but more than that, I am a proud NuYorican from East Harlem -- SPANISH Harlem -- with all the juicy-ness that brings.  If you want to know what it was like, how we made something out of nothing to accomplish our dreams, visit this page and see where my nostalagia is coming from.

I will never stop dreaming dreams and accomplishing them.



  1. Minnie! I loved it. Reminds me of my days in the City - I taught high school at Brandeis (Upper West Side of Manhattan), and at Humanities (Chelsea section of Manhattan) for a total of 8 1/2 years before moving to Long Island with my wife, who taught at a P.S. elementary school in the South Bronx (near Yankee Stadium) for several years. My wife speaks Spanish, and I grew up in Southern California, with a first generation Mexican-American step-mother! So, our interactions with Puerto Ricans and Dominicans in NYC were very interesting. I even learned some Spanglish! I coached a lot of baseball, too, which was a blast. Anyway, I totally understand at least some of what you're talking about. P.S. Your book cover is spectacular! If you do mentions to me I will definitely RT what you want to put out. Best of luck! Monty

  2. Monty! Thank you so much for your comments! As you can see, they did post! I'm going back to El Barrio on Saturday with my daughter to spend the day doing girl things, it's Mother/Daughter day, followed by dinner at Ricardo's on 111th Street. I can't wait!

    Brandeis and Humanities huh? Cool! In my day, there was a very high rate of drop-outs and I remember when Humanities got a lot of press and some then-friends did go to Chelsea. Needless to say, I don't know about any of them -- you know what happens in High School, plus by that time I was pulling away from the neighborhood. I went to Washington Irving which was all-girls at the time. But that's a topic for another blog....

    My cover is my own design, thank you for your comment about that! And, yes I will be RT-ing you. I do that quite a bit since due to work, I can't really tweet much during the day :)

    Anyhow, thanks again and have a great day!!