East Harlem

East Harlem, USA

Born in Mother Cabrini hospital New York, NY. First 2 years of life lived on West 103rd Street. At the age of 2 my family moved into the Thomas Jefferson Houses in East Harlem, part of the NYC Housing Authority and soon thereafter referred to as "the projects."

This was a mixed  community where we, Puerto Ricans were the minority. I attended public schools beginning with grade school, PS 102, then on to Thomas Jefferson Junior High School 117, and finally Benjamin Franklin High. At the time, Franklin was the worst school in the city. In fact the year prior to my entering, the principal was murdered and hung from the flag pole in front of the school.

The community was in turmoil. As more Puerto Ricans moved into the community, more of the white residents began moving out. This is why the term "white flight" was coined. The community was inundated with heroin, and I saw a generation of people I grew up with and attended school with become addicted. Then it happened, both East Harlem and the South Bronx became blighted. Landlords began paying thugs to set their properties on fire. After a while both of these communities looked like war torn Beirut.

This blight spread to all the urban areas in New York City. This was the 1960's and into the 1970's. The country was undergoing a social revolution. Men started wearing long hair, the "Afro" was in style. Blaxploitation films were in vogue. Superfly, Shaft, Dolemite, Foxy Brown, Cotton Comes to Harlem and many others.

East HarlemThe white college kids began a movement that was dubbed the flower power movement. This movement birthed a subset called the Hippies. White kids were rioting on college campuses and many were shot and killed by the police and/or National Guard. Five white kids killed at Kent State. These white kids were protesting the war in Viet Nam.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles a group of African American college kids, tired of the deplorable conditions minorities were forced to live in and of being harassed by the police formed a militant group called the Black Panther Party. This was a political organization but because they wore black berets and were outspoken at a time when blacks were second class citizens, the media made them out to be anti american. This was so far from the truth. The black panthers set up day care centers and provided free lunch and vaccinations to the community. J. Edgar Hoover was still the head of the FBI and had black agents infiltrate the panthers.Black Panther Party J Edgar Hoover

On the East Coast a group of Puerto Rican college kids formed their own political party called the Young Lord Party. Again because this was a group of minorities wearing red berets, they to were branded radical, anti american. The lords, following the format laid out by the Black Panther's began clothing drives, feeding the community, setting up day care centers and providing vaccinations.

Young Lords Party

The political structure in New York City consisted of a Board of Estimates. This was a very exclusive club made up of a very small group, the President of each Borough. Corruption was rampant. After much struggle and several of the Borough Presidents getting arrested the system was changed. With this change came the ability for minorities to finally play a role in City Government. The first Black Borough President was a native Harlemite named Percy Sutton.

The first Puerto Rican Deputy Mayor was Hernan Badillo; in Harlem Charles Rangel was elected to the congressional seat vacated by Adam Clayton Powell; and in East Harlem a vociferous Puerto Rican woman named Olga Mendez was the first Puerto Rican woman elected to the New York State Senate, while Angelo Del Toro was the Assemblyman.

 

Their were riots on college campuses but the State of New York was shaken when a riot erupted in the State Prison named Attica.

Son of Sam
"Sam Made Me Do It" David Berkowicz, Son of Sam

The 1960's and 1970's was a time of massive change and disruption in America. It was the time of Drugs, Sex and Rock n Roll. Also during this Period of time Charles Mason and his "family" murdered 5 innocent people in California, one of which was a pregnant Bianca Folger. This was the era of Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, the Young Lords and Son of Sam the insane man that when caught said that a dog named Sam told him to go on his murderous spree.

My life in East Harlem, now referred to as "El Barrio" was not all bad though. I went to many house party's, had my share of girl friends, and enjoyed good friends. I remember how exciting it was when the Planet of the Apes movie was released. My life long friend, Ruben M. and I saw every one of the Planet of the Apes movies. I also remember seeing my first Woodie Allen movie "Bananas". Of course, who could forget Psycho, Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist and the Omen. While I was to young to see any of them, but this is the ear of the X rated movie. Linda Lovelace was the first super star PornStar. Another x rated movie I was to young to see was The Devil in Miss Jones.

In music, it was Diana Ross and the Supremes, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the Temptations, and Smokey Robinson. We Puerto Ricans had our own music to. There was what came to be known as Latin Soul with singers like Jimmy Sabater, and Joe Bataan. It was also the time of the Latin Music Explosion. This music was so hot that it was dubbed "Salsa" a name that continues to denote this hot, funky Afro- Carribean music. Then there was another music explosion, it was called Disco. Clubs like studio 54 put this era on the map. Disco music was so popular that movies were made about it. The most famous being "Saturday Night Fever" staring John Travolta with music by the Bee Gees "Stay'n alive"and the Trammps singing "Disco Inferno."

Saturday Night Fever

The very first discotheque I ever went to was called "The Steps" it was on 14th Street between First and Second Avenues. I was 14 years old. Back then they were still not called disco's. They were called juice bars because they did not have a liquor license and all they served was fruit juice and soda. Shortly thereafter discos began popping up all over the place, the rest, as they say, is all history.

That's a snapshot of my life in East Harlem.