Puerto Rican Ethnic Enclave in East HarlemGabby Ruvinsky
East Harlem, commonly known as Spanish Harlem or El Barrio, is a Puerto Rican ethnic enclave in New York City. Its location is in Upper Manhattan, north of the Upper East Side. East Harlem was not always dominantly Puerto Rican or Latino; up until the early 1920s, East Harlem was known as Italian Harlem. After World War I, Latino Americans and Puerto Ricans began to move into the area around 110th St and Lexington (the original ethnic enclave).
Following World War II, Italians began to move out of East Harlem at a rapid pace while Puerto Ricans and Latin Americans moved in. By 1950, there were 63,000 Puerto Ricans in East Harlem, making it the dominant culture in that area.
Push Factors: In the late 1940s, Operation Bootstrap was put into place in Puerto Rico. This was a transformation of the Puerto Rican economy that promoted exports of goods; this program caused a shift of employment from agriculture to manufacturing. However, these manufacturing jobs were limited, and unemployment rates rose, all while the population was also rapidly growing.
Pull Factors - World War II and the Great Migration: In the '40s-'50s, cheap labor was in need in America. Because a large part of the male population was away at war, there was a need of people to fill their jobs. New York mayor, Robert F. Wagner Jr., began a campaign that recruited Puerto Ricans to work in New York's factories. The arrival of air travel also made it easier and cheaper to go to New York.
Puerto Rican Culture in Spanish Harlem: Slowly but surely, East Harlem turned into a little Puerto Rico. Bodegas began to open up. Bodegas are small grocery stores in Spanish speaking areas. Piragueros pushcarts were also opened up on corners of the street. Piragua is a Puerto Rican shaved ice dessert,shaped into a cone, that is covered with fruit flavored syrups. Flavors include fresh (strawberry), piña (pineapple), parch (passionfruit), meal (syrup from the sugar cane). Botanicas are also a big part of Puerto Rican culture. A botanical is a store that sells Caribbean, particularly Latino, folk medicine, herbs, religious candles, incense, etc.
El Museo Del Barrio: Another symbol of Puerto Rican culture in Spanish Harlem is El Museo del Barrio. In the 50s and the 60s, East Harlem began to decline. Gang violence, drug usage, and crime was on the rise. In 1970, Montañez Ortiz founded El Museo del Barrio because he felt Latin art was not represented enough in popular museums in New York. The museum signifies the resilience of the people while serving as a place of heritage for Puerto Rican residents in Spanish Harlem. The museum represents all type of art, from contemporary to graphics. They also show traditional art such as masks and folk art. They also show art from the Taino people, the pre-Columbus population native to Puerto Rico.
I think it is helpful for immigrants to live in ethnic enclaves because it helps provide a transition into American culture, a culture that is very different from most countries. In a place like East Harlem, Puerto Rican immigrants can feel welcome into a place that was similar to theirs. Bodegas, for example, usually hold traditional Puerto Rican foods, which can make an immigrant feel almost like they are home. Piragueras also provide a comfort for immigrants, as they are a traditional dessert. Ethnic enclaves are a home away from home for immigrants. They can live with people similar to them while also feeling welcome in a new environment.