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Neighborhoods Change

August 22, 2012

I’m sitting in a 24-hour Dunkin Donuts looking across the street at a 99¢ store. This is unremarkable except for the fact this Dunkin Donuts used to be a bar and the 99¢ store is used to be a movie theater; it’s where I saw Tim Burton’s Batman in the summer of 1989. This is the neighborhood where I grew up, in West Harlem. As I sit on the corner where I used to ride my bike, I think about how much this neighborhood has changed. It used to be predominantly African-American. When I got off the train at 145th street, I was the anomaly among Caucasians and Latinos. Even the Latino population is different; when I was growing up there was an increasing influx of Dominicans, now there appear to be more Central and South Americans. Many if not most of the stores have signs written in Spanish. That was starting to happen back in the 1980s anyway. Old stores are gone. Even stores that used to be new are gone too. No more Washington Heights Florist. No more Lucy’s Furniture.

There’s even a sighting of a yellow cab. That’s amazing, considering a yellow cab driver forcibly removed my mother from the backseat of his car one evening because he didn’t want to take her Harlem. I remember her coming home after work, still in her business suit, sobbing as she told us how the man put his hands on her and pulled her out of the car.

So many new residents. I wonder if they know the stories of those who lived here before them. Not just the story of my family, who had the leave the neighborhood after a suspicious fire rendered our apartment uninhabitable. Stories of people that walked down the street looking over their shoulder in fear of a crack head looking for a fix. Stories of the summer block parties. Stories of the gun shots that rang out.

Of course not. How could they? How would they know? Neighborhoods change. Everywhere. Twenty years from now, today’s residents may be reminiscing over the neighborhood they knew. Perhaps the better question is, how do we tell our story?


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