By the Skin of Their Teeth – Nuyoricans of Loisaida

By Tabatha Castro

When thinking of Puerto Rican neighborhoods in New York City, Spanish Harlem or El Barrio often come to mind. However, there is another neighborhood with just as rich a culture. Puerto Ricans were able to travel freely between the island and the mainland after being declared citizens of the United States in 1917 as part of the Jones Act. Puerto Ricans arrived seeking better opportunities and pay, with immigration reached an all-time high during the 1950s mostly due to Operation Bootstrap, which industrialized the island.

This mass migration changed the dynamic of Nuyoricans who were already residing in New York. It also led to the movements not just in El Barrio but in another neighborhood, the Lower East Side. Affectionately called Loisaida (a play on the way Lower East Side sounds in Spanglish) Nuyoricans spawned the cultural Nuyorican movement which gave a voice to Pedro Pietri, Miguel Algarin, Jesus Papoleto Melendez, Miguel Pinero and more recent greats such as Caridad de la Luz, also known as La Bruja.

Gentrification has not been kind to the growing area, however. Like northern Manhattan, it is fighting tooth and nail to hold onto the culture and be there for the people who have called it home for decades.

Nuyorican places to visit in the neighborhood:

Casa Adela, which has been serving Puerto Rican cuisine since its opening in 1973, is now owned by her son and still is open every day for a quick meal or an intimate one (highly recommend, cash only).

In the Loisaida Center, the presence of Puerto Rico is felt from the pictures of nationalist Pedro Albizu Campos. The center holds events for the Nuyorican of the community to celebrate its culture, whether it is a simple celebration of pride or a more cultural events such as the celebration of Three Kings Day.

The Nuyorican Poets Cafe hosts writing workshops, readings and events scheduled days of the week. Its poetry slams have helped great artists make their names such as Elizabeth Acevedo (author of Poet X) and Elisabet Velasquez (author of When We Make It). Check out Latino USA episode entitled “A Spoken History of The Nuyorican Poets Café” to hear about greats of the past such as Miguel Algarin and the present like La Bruja.

Whether it’s the random flag propped on a light pole or the heavily seasoned building that houses the words and spirit of old and new talent alike at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, there is one thing that cannot be denied, The Nuyoricans of the Lower East Side are not going away that easy. Resident Nuyorican Jenny, who has lived in the area for over 30 years said that this is her home and always will be. “It’s sad that people I grew up with, that I remember owning business and lived here are gone,” she said. “Who knows, rents are going up and I might be priced out too but, this is where my heart is.” With love and heart, Nuyoricans continue to held on to their space by the skin of their teeth.



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