Mambo Montage: The Latinization of New York

By Agustín Laó-Montes; Arlene Dávila | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TEN
Making Loisaida
Placing Puertorriqueñidad in
Lower Manhattan
Liz Ševcěnko

He had been born in Loisaida: his mother had told him that in Puerto Rico there was a village of blacks in which the slave prison of a sugar cane refinery had been, that the village was named Loíza and the Rio Grande flowed nearby, its crystal waters becoming like mulch each time Ochún bathed in the waters of his love. His mother had told him what at first seemed to be an African fairy tale, that the first Puerto Rican emigrant who arrived in Loisaida had been born in Loíza Aldea and that he, only he, had baptized this impoverished neighborhood with the sacred name of Loisaida. … He knew that his mother's insanity had made it possible for him to feel at home in this world and to know his real name.

Manuel Ramos Otero, “The Point-Blank Page.”1

In 1976, real estate developers described the area just north of Houston Street as a “vast wasteland.” One out of every five lots was either empty or contained the remains of crumbling, abandoned buildings. 2 From this rubble a handful of Puerto Rican community organizers built Loisaida: a territory, a movement, and an identity constructed to claim resources for the working-class residents of the area. The making of Loisaida—officially the area between Houston and 14th streets and between Avenue A and the East River—stamped a new Puerto Rican territory on the map of Manhattan and marked a significant step in the latinization of New York City. But from its birth in the mind of a poet in 1974 to its officialization in a street sign in 1987, Loisaida was about more than claiming space as Puerto Rican. The Loisaida movement, as it came to be called, constructed a neighborhoodspecific discourse of puertorriqueñidad born from its political relationship to urban space. The movement organizers' goals were to mobilize the neighborhood's majority Spanish-speaking but multi-ethnic residents to claim their rights to city land and resources. They therefore needed to develop a discourse of puertorriqueñidad that could build a multicultural coalition— among Puerto Ricans, Argentineans, Cubans, Eastern European Jews, and others—and establish a historical claim to land. The Loisaida movement

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