El Barrio: A Street History
From Puerto Rican Jibaro to Hispanic Crack Dealer
“One particular economic sector has benefited greatly from Puerto Rico’s repeated economic [changes]” (52) – it being U.S. multinational corporations who manipulated the economy in Puerto Rica to serve as a testing ground for themselves. They used Puerto Rica as a test to look into capitalist economic development – by cutting taxes on the big businesses - the result being a country with the highest corporate profit rate in the western hemisphere . Yet at the same time, the country endured many social changes, as up until 1949 Puerto Rican schools were forced to teach in only English by the U.S. colonial administration. Those who emigrated from the country to the U.S., suffered from even “profound cultural shock” (52) as they were now prominently subjected to racism and humiliation, whereas back in Puerto Rico they were raised on principles of respect. These socioeconomic changes so profound and numerous, accounts for why Puerto Ricans suffer from “high rates of unemployment, substance abuse, broken families, and deteriorated health in New York’s inner city” (53). Additionally, they have been proven to have “the fastest growing HIV infection rates, the highest rates of bedridden disability, the most deaths caused by cirrhosis of the liver, and the highest rates of suicide attempts,” (53).
East Harlem’s Immigrant Maelstroms
“The streets of East Harlem have always produced violent, substance-abusing felons no matter what immigrant ethnic group happened to be living there at the time” (53). The first non-native settlers in East Harlem were the Dutch who then forced the natives out. East Harlem then became a site of bloodshed as the feud between the Dutch and the natives waged on through the 17th century. The Dutch finally claiming the land used it to cultivate Tobacco. A century later, and the estate became a vacation site or country side retreat for wealthy New Yorkers. “Even Franklin D. Roosevelt’s great-grandfather owned property in [East Harlem]” (55). However, this rural phase didn.t last for long with New York’s implantation of inexpensive public transportation and basic municipal structure in East Harlem in the late 19th century – examples include The Harlem River Railroad, The Third Avenue horse Railroad, The First Avenue Trolley, etc. This induced the arrival of immigrant labourers, first of which being German and Irish, but later paving way for Jews, Scandinavians and African Americans. East Harlem was at the time the perfect place for labours with it cheap tenants and transport. However, it also lived up to be one of the poorest neighbourhoods in U.S. history. At the same time, it also proved to be the most culturally diverse as “it was variously dubbed a ‘League of Nations’ and ‘kaleidoscopic sequence of racial additions’; [there] [were] 27 different nationalities [there],” (56).
The Italian Invasion of East Harlem
The first Italians to come to East Harlem were the ones that immigrated in the 1880s to perform labour jobs when the Irish track layers went on strike. There was a lot of competition for jobs and housing because of this over the next 30 years and ethnic segregation. An example is how the Italians could not freely mingle with other parishioners in church until 1919 when masses started on December 4, 1884. In 1910 a local neighborhood study done by the church also showed that 80% of the community's residents were "nonassimilable." (58). During the tense times between those already living in East Harlem and these new Italian immigrants, there were many warring gangs and the Italians who came (mostly from Sicily)were treated terribly compared to the Northern Italians already living around New York. It was evident in things like the New York Times when they were condemned and described as lawless and impulsive. They were forced into the location, now called Pleasant Avenue where Ray's network is and was