Don’t be fooled we will always take our pride and joy wherever we go / Because that will never be left behind, nuestra alegria / Sin importar lo bueno o lo malo, ay que disfrutar de la vida como sea
I’m in the Dominican Republic
Except there are no roosters waking me up at 7 a.m.
There are no loud rusty trucks trying to sell me vegetables over their loudspeaker
No sounds of the motorcycle engines as they pass by every minute of the day,
There are no palm trees, only dull skinny trees
And there are no conchos to get you around, the subway and buses exist
I can find a pasola but no one really drives those except the typical Uber Eats delivery guy
And I can walk around without the fear of getting robbed by a motociclista
I’m in Washington Heights, Little Dominican Republic
Home, far away from home.
The place that is home to thousands
Not just Dominicans, but our brothers and sisters
Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Ecuadorians, Colombians, etc.
Because us Latinos and Hispanics always stick together.
Everybody speaks Spanish, and if you don’t I wouldn’t know what to tell you
Just by your accent we can tell what country someone is from
Even though we all speak the same language.
I’m in Washington Heights
Where the majority probably live in a small two-bedroom apartment,
The kids have no room to run and play
They can’t run around on the street like they did back on the island.
Your grandma probably visits once a year and the smell of her cooking fills up the entire house
Sazon Goya, cebollas, ajo, and aji to season her meat,
She makes moro de guandules, and platano maduro, but don’t forget her aguacate.
Your aunts, uncles, and cousins probably live nearby,
Your family that came in search for a better life will always be there for you
Because family sticks together, for the most part
I’m in Washington Heights
Where gentrification is slowly taking over
They’re building skyscrapers and increasing our rent,
But all the old brick buildings have never been renovated
The same building that someone’s Abuela has probably lived in for over 50 years
And they want to pay her $100,000 to move out.
Candy is no longer $1 at the bodega
The coco mango cherry guy no longer chants “one dollar, one dollar, un peso, un peso”
He doesn’t sell ice cream for a dollar anymore.
I’m in Washington Heights
The gringos that walk among us are slowly doubling
Sooner or later our neighborhood will be unrecognizable,
The blocks no will no longer be filled with the life and laughter
Of my people sharing stories, jugando dominó, beviendo, y gozando.
The cookouts on the middle of the sidewalk
And the street vendors that sell anything you could think of on a plastic foldable table on 181 St.
One day will all be gone
Our stores, our people, our culture
And all that will remain is a memory of what this place used to be for us.
The place that we claim to be ours, Nuestra Tierra
Although stolen land, will be stolen again and no longer be ours to claim
The time that is coming sooner than expected because we have no power to refuse
Porque nos quieren sacar and we will be forced to move elsewhere.
Don’t be fooled we will always take our pride and joy wherever we go
Because that will never be left behind, nuestra alegria
Sin importar lo bueno o lo malo, ay que disfrutar de la vida como sea
And that is the biggest lesson my people have ever taught me.
About “Washington Heights”
Inspired by the The Nuyorican Cafe’s “Open Room,” my poem addresses my experience in New York City. Nuyorican Cafe gave Latino immigrant artists a platform to express their creativity through experiences they have faced through their “Open Room” concept. Artists were able to come in and share their poems while receiving feedback and criticism. Allowing them to grow as artists and develop their skills speaking in front of an audience, the open room was a safe space for these artists to bond over collective experiences. For people who have had to assimilate, learn a new culture, and adjust to new ways of living while still preserving their culture, their work is very inspiring. These artists’ poems reflect great pride in their Latinx culture and how they navigate their lives through the lens of being Latinx in a white society. These poems inspired me to write about my own experience living in New York and to describe the ways that I remain connected to my culture regardless of being in another place. Puerto Ricans and Dominicans share very similar cultures and experiences, so many of these poems were ones I could relate to and understand. Drawing from aspects of “By the Hair” and “My Graduation Speech,” poems from anonymous writers, address specific experiences that I found relatable. In the graduation speech poem, the author said, “tengo las venas aculturadas,” which inspired me to reflect on my experience living in Washington Heights that has had to acculturate and how that is shown within the neighborhood. Instead of addressing a personal experience I want to explain a collective experience and ongoing issues that we as a community have dealt with, including the things that make this place unique compared to other neighborhoods in the city. In my poem, I address the difference in how minority communities navigate their way through life culturally compared to rich white communities. To mix Spanglish into my poem was inspired by “My Graduation Speech.”