Monday, November 1, 2010

Dominican Harlem

Visiting the Washington Heights Section of New York City, known among its residents as Quisqueya Heights.

In my continuing efforts to improve my Spanish and explore various Latino cultures, I took advantage of my long, overdue vacation home to New York City by visiting an area directly north of Harlem that I call “Dominican Harlem. The real name is Washington Heights, known to Dominicans as Quisqueya Heights. Quisqueya is the original name of the Dominican Republic before the Spanish invasion. After I left New York years ago, Washington Heights attracted a growing number of immigrants from the Dominican Republic

Dominican Harlem, like Spanish Harlem, is not the best place to practice your Spanish; there are too many bilinguals. The moment they get the slightest hint that you are not a native Spanish-speaker, they will respond in English. Fortunately, I had such great experiences with great service, in Spanish only, in two Dominican restaurants; El Malecón and Albert's Mofongo House, that I left a larger than normal tip. I always tip better when Spanish-speaking servers speak to me in Spanish----I need the practice because I had little formal training in the language.

After I left New York years ago, the Washington Heights area attracted a growing number of immigrants from the Dominican Republic.

Sadly, like other ethnic groups in the history of Washington Heights, and like other ethnic communities of color around the country, gentrification is slowly breaking up Dominican Harlem. Due to rising rents and other costs, families and friends who lived in this area for years are being scattered fueling an uptown real estate boom, and widening the gap between rich and poor. Dominican political power in the city is also being realigned.

This explains the closing down of the well-known bookstore for Spanish speakers, Librería Caliope. As I was walking down the street looking for the bookstore to shop, I passed a man at a large table on the curb selling books.

Sadly, gentrification is slowly breaking up Dominican Harlem.

Further down the street, I was told by residents that the owner now sells his books at the very table that I just passed. I asked the bookstore owner what happened. He told me that he had to close his store because of high rents. Gladly, I found and purchased an all-Spanish dictionary and a book of wisdom written in Spanish, and headed towards Albert's House of Mofongo for a Dominican seafood dinner.

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