What’s In a Name IIBy Jose B. Rivera
It seems that the controversy surrounding a name for East Harlem refuses to go away. In community meeting after community meeting, people continue to be corrected and offended by the term “Spanish Harlem”. One can clearly see the offense taken by those in attendance as soon the words leave a speakers’ lips. If this issue is new to you read on. Proponents of the term - “Spanish Harlem” insist that it is a valid description of the East Harlem community. After all the majority of East Harlemites are Puerto Rican, with a growing Mexican population increasing every day. They also say that the term helps East Harlem differentiate itself from (African-American) Harlem. After all, isn’t the name Harlem synomous with Black culure? In the same way, Spanish Harlem is synomous with Hispanic Culture. “It’s our pie and we name is what we want. No one can tell us what to call it”, said one proponent of the Spanish Harlem name. Lastly, proponents claim that the opponents of the term are masking a very thinly veiled anti-Latino atitude or down right prejudice. Not to mention a goal of political domination of the East Harlem community.
East Harlem Democratic District Leader Felix Rosado is a very strong proponent of the use of the term Spanish Harlem. At a January 5, (2000) East Harlem leaders breakfast sponsored by and at the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, Mr. Rosado brought up the issue. He mentioned the name Spanish Harlem and then went on to say that he was ashamed of Hispanic/Latino elected officials who tried to disuade him from using the name. And indeed, Mr. Rosado has been presurred to discontine using the term (as the only name for East Harlem) because of the political fallout resulting from its use, from the East Harlem political leadership. Mr. Rosado gets upset when he hears this from the African American elected officials, but he really gets riled when the Hispanic elected officials tow the same line. He has asked all officials not to refrain from calling East Harlem Spanish Harlem because it offends people. He contends that all three names can be used - East Harlem, Spanish Harlem, El Barrio. His biggest fear is that the name Spanish Harlem will become too culturally and politcally sensitive to use. An that those who are offended by it are mistaken in their perception of its meaning.
Mr. Rosado is puzzled by the recent antagonism towards the name by African Americans. Which he sees as starting this whole controvery. “No one much cared about the name Spanish Harlem 5 years ago. Now you are made to feel as if you must whisper it if any African American is in the room”, is Mr. Rosado’s sentiment.
Opponents argue that “Spanish Harlem” is offensive, is not an “inclusive” term. The name Spanish Harlem negates the 33-38% of African Americans who make East Harlem their home. And sometimes, if you listen closely enough you will hear the the term…
The name “Greater Harlem” has been baddied about as a monicker for all the Harlems combined - West Harlem, Central Harlem and East Harlem. Proponents of the name “Greater Harlem” are driven by vision of hordes of tourist being attracted by a very upscale and “new” Harlem. Of course the “Greater Harlem” idea doesn’t sit well with “Spanish Harlem” proponents. It smacks too much of a cultural and political domination of East Harlem by Harlem. Some Hispanic East Harlemites are already upset by the fact that their “Hispanic” district is being represented in the city council by an African Amercian (Councilman Phil Reed). “We don’t go into Harlem and try to represent them”, said one Spanish Harlem proponent.
The Bottom Line
East Harlem has been called many things during the last 100 years. Polish Harlem, Italian Harlem, and of course Spanish Harlem. Spanish Harlem has been used since the 1920s. Songs have been written about it and others have mentioned it. - “There is a Rose in Spanish Harlem”, Santana’s “Smooth”, Elton John’s “Mad Hatter”, among some. So it can be loudly said that the name has been a cultural part of the community for a long time. Those who advocate its termination as a name for East Harlem are being culturally offensive to the 70 year contribution which Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics have made to this part of Manhattan. As long as a Hispanic population is the majority in Spanish Harlem, it shall remain so named.
Editor’s Note: Anyone can call this community anything they like. But as for this web site, it shall be called by all three names, East Harlem, Spanish Harlem and El Barrio. Not one of these names will ever be removed. Though we are open to the possibility of having West and Central Harlem become part of Greater Spanish Harlem - Only kidding
Other Articles of Interest:
East Harlem, El Barrio, Spanish Harlem - What’s In A Name?