New Documentary Investigates Gentrification in Spanish Harlem

Harlem.gif“El Barrio,” the predominantly Latino neighborhood in East Harlem, has long been a cultural center for the New York Latino community. Latinos began emigrating to El Barrio in the 1920s, with a large wave of Puerto Ricans immigrants arriving after World War II. In addition to its cultural heritage, El Barrio has also overcome significant struggles with poverty, and drug and gang activity. Recently, many Barrio residents complain that real estate development in the neighborhood is leading to gentrification, and a loss of Latino cultural heritage in this historic neighborhood.

On October 5th, 2010 the Museum of the City of New York presented a film series titled, “In Danger of Extinction,” which showcased two films dealing with gentrification in New York City. “The Lower East Side: An Endangered Place” by Robert Weber, focuses on the gentrification of the Lower East Side, one of the oldest neighborhoods in New York City that has long been home to a diverse community of working-class immigrants. “Whose Barrio?” investigates gentrification in El Barrio, and was produced by Newsday journalists Ed Morales and Laura Rivera. Laura Rivera is also a graduate of NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. In the film, two Barrio residents—Jose Rivera and James Garcia—reveal starkly opposing views on gentrification.


Jose Rivera was born and raised in El Barrio. He describes the changes he sees in the neighborhood with deep sadness, and explains how newcomers “have deep pockets that I don’t have.” James Garcia, a second-generation Mexican immigrant, is one of these newcomers. He doesn’t fit the common stereotype of a gentrifier, and describes being discriminated against by other Latinos. “I worked and saved and for some reason that’s a crime. They don’t want change around here, they want crime and drugs and dirt.”

In addition to personal profiles, the film also shows the work being done by community organizers to ensure that low-income residents of El Barrio are not being forced out of their homes by economic development. Organizations such as the Movement for Justice in El Barrio and Hope Community strive to ensure social and economic justice for Harlem residents. Julia de Borgos, a Latina Harlem resident, poet and feminist, is also highlighted in the film because of her unexpected and untimely death on a street in East Harlem. The Julia de Borgos Cultural, erected in her honor in El Barrio, is also described as being endangered as a result of growing real estate development and subsequent gentrification. El Barrio does indeed appear to be in danger of extinction.

To learn more about the film, or schedule a showing, visit the Whose Barrio website.

Posted by Von Diaz – MA Candidate at CLACS / Global Journalism at NYU

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