Studio 323 New York lies in the heart of East Harlem in Manhattan, an area with a vibrant and rich cultural history.
The neighborhood of East Harlem, also known as Spanish Harlem or El Barrio, is demarcated by the East River, 5th Avenue, 96th Street and the Harlem River.
East Harlem began to urbanize in the 1880s with the construction of an elevated transit system, which inevitably led to the construction of residential buildings. The majority of Harlem’s first residents were German, Irish, Italian, and Eastern European Jewish immigrants. However, eventually the population of Italian immigrants rose dramatically, specifically from Southern Italy and Sicily, which led to the denomination of the area as “Italian Harlem”.
These demographics largely persisted until after WWI, when Puerto Rican immigrants began to settle in East Harlem.
Since then, the number of Puerto Ricans, as well as Dominicans, Mexicans, and other Latin Americans, has profoundly increased. In fact, in 2000 the area was 52% Spanish *, with one of the highest concentration of Puerto Rican individuals in New York City.
Despite these drastic demographic changes, vestiges of Italian Harlem still persist. The first Italian feast in New York City, in honor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, continues to be celebrated annually in East Harlem. In addition there are a number of notably Italian establishments still operating today, including the iconic Rao’s established in 1896 on Pleasant Avenue.
Unfortunately, East Harlem has also historically struggled with crime, poverty, and other social issues. However, although still high in relation to other areas of New York City, rates for the majority of these issues have decreased dramatically over the past few decades.
And, in the wake of struggle, East Harlem has emerged with a vibrant culture all its own.
In addition to the huge contributions that the area has made to Salsa, including musicians and singers such as Tito Puente and Marc Anthony, East Harlem was home to a number of artists in other disciplines as well, notably including actor Al Pacino and poet Julia de Burgos. Today, cultural, social, and arts organizations in East Harlem abound. Home to major museums such as, El Museo del Barrio, the City Museum of New York, and the upcoming Museum for African Art, as well as many smaller arts establishments and organizations, East Harlem fosters an outstanding atmosphere of creativity and cultural pride.
* Instead of using terms like Latin or Hispanic I prefer to use “Spanish”, in the general sense of the word that is often used in NYC to encompass pretty much any Spanish-speaking culture, even if as an individual you don’t actually speak Spanish.