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The Tenants of East Harlem

The Tenants of East Harlem

Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 258
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  • Book Info
    The Tenants of East Harlem
    Book Description:

    Rich with the textures and rhythms of street life,The Tenants of East Harlemis an absorbing and unconventional biography of a neighborhood told through the life stories of seven residents whose experiences there span nearly a century. Modeled on the ethnic distinctions that divide the community, the book portrays the old guard of East Harlem: Pete, one of the last Italian holdouts; José, a Puerto Rican; and Lucille, an African American. Side by side with these representatives of a century of ethnic succession are the newcomers: Maria, an undocumented Mexican; Mohamed, a West African entrepreneur; Si Zhi, a Chinese immigrant and landlord; and, finally, the author himself, a reluctant beneficiary of urban renewal. Russell Leigh Sharman deftly weaves these oral histories together with fine-grained ethnographic observations and urban history to examine the ways that immigration, housing, ethnic change, gentrification, race, class, and gender have affected the neighborhood over time. Providing unique access to the nuances of inner-city life,The Tenants of East Harlemshows how roots sink so quickly in a community that has always hosted the transient, how new immigrants are challenging the claims of the old, and how that cycle is threatened as never before by the specter of gentrification.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93954-7
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. ONE East Harlem
    (pp. 1-20)

    East Harlem sustains two ongoing and often competing narratives of urbanism: one inscribed in concrete and the other in flesh. People conform to the built environment just as the built environment conforms to people over the course of generations and centuries. The story of East Harlem is written in the sidewalks and storefronts, the abandoned buildings and corner bodegas, the public school yards and project courtyards as much as it is written in the lives of Puerto Ricans and African Americans, Italians and Mexicans, new immigrants and old. To understand East Harlem, one must understand how these two narratives fit...

  6. TWO Pleasant Avenue: THE ITALIANS
    (pp. 21-48)

    Pete is in his office. On a folding lawn chair just a few feet from the curb, theDaily Newstucked into a low-hanging branch above his head, he watches children hurry home after school to change into their costumes. It’s Halloween, and though it is still early in the day, the October sun has descended behind the towering housing projects on First Avenue. Pleasant Avenue and 114th Street turn cold in the shadow of the pale brick structures.

    A few feet away, a crowd of young men, primarily Puerto Rican and African American, gather in front of Danny’s, a...

  7. THREE 106th Street: THE PUERTO RICANS
    (pp. 49-78)

    Hands jammed in the pockets of his green and white New York Jets jacket, José rounds the corner at Third Avenue and 106th Street. A new year has turned, and the fall colors have faded into a monochrome winter gray that seems to sink into the pavement, buildings, and sky, hardening them into a frozen tableau. The streets are mostly empty, and José’s short, stocky frame bends against the chill. Ignoring the outposts of downtown commercialism—Blockbuster Video, KFC, and Duane Reade pharmacy—he heads west down 106th Street, the boulevard of his barrio, the “cultural corridor” of Puerto Rican...

    (pp. 79-104)

    Bare fluorescent bulbs cast a green pall over the lobby of UPACA Gardens, a low-rise public housing building tucked among tenements and vacant lots near 125th Street. The lobby, submerged in the algae light, feels like the bottom of a public pool with stark white tiles running from front door to back and up the few steps to the elevators and stairwells. The walls are covered in a thick fondant of paint, layer after layer of the same industrial yellow caking the thick columns and running over conduit, light switches, and electrical outlets.

    Lucille and Ms. McQueen sit in the...

  9. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  10. FIVE 116th Street: THE MEXICANS
    (pp. 105-134)

    Maria squats at the bottom of a graffiti-covered metal gate and slips a key into a padlock as big as her fist. It’s 7:30 in the morning on a side street just off Third Avenue and not far from 116th Street. A few schoolchildren and their parents dot the sidewalks, but for the most part it is quiet in the early morning sunlight. The streets are quiet as well, disrupted at regular intervals by the cars headed north on the avenue, neatly grouped by the timing of the traffic lights.

    With some effort, Maria heaves the heavy gate up from...

  11. SIX Third Avenue: THE WEST AFRICANS
    (pp. 135-160)

    Spring Clip Mop Handle, 65 cents.

    AA Batteries, 16-pack, 65 cents.

    Sponge Dish Brush, 65 cents.

    Mohamed circles items on the glossy pages of a wholesale catalog with a red pen. It’s Friday, and he’s standing behind the counter of his 99-cent store on Third Avenue.

    11 Piece Kitchen Set, 65 cents.

    8″ Wide Lens Flashlight, 65 cents.

    Water Guns, two-pack, 65 cents.

    “Where’s the paper towels?” a middle-aged Puerto Rican woman asks.

    Mohamed looks up from his catalog, his eyes white against his dark skin, and motions to the back of the store. “In the back, ma’am,” he answers,...

  12. SEVEN Second Avenue: THE CHINESE
    (pp. 161-190)

    The setting sun on 112th Street casts long shadows from St. John the Divine Cathedral two miles to the west. In East Harlem it reflects off the shear face of a wall of public housing—Taft, Johnson, and Jefferson Houses. Set back from the wide one-way street, the geographic center of East Harlem, is a short row of newly built townhouses, pale brick and green trim, built to evoke the tenements they replaced without all the history. Each sectioned off by a green-gated paddock, garage door, and concrete staircase to the second-floor entrance, the houses give pause to a few...

  13. EIGHT Urban “Renewal” and the Final Migration
    (pp. 191-208)

    June 12, 2004. It’s my birthday.

    It’s also the day of the 116th Street Festival, a neighborhood-wide block party on the Saturday before the Puerto Rican Day parade. Outside, a half block from my front door, Third Avenue is throbbing. Live music from two outdoor venues almost drowns out competing portable stereos and the mildly offensive taunts emanating from a carnival dunking booth. Steam from roasting pork, grilled corn, and boiling stew filters through the crowd, blending with the sickly sweet smell of spilled soda, cotton candy, and contraband liquor. There is no escape from East Harlem’s biggest party, stretching...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 209-228)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 229-236)
  16. Index
    (pp. 237-243)