La Marqueta May End Up Outside of El Barrio
El Barrio residents are upset that La Marqueta, long an emblem of Latino life in New York, might end up outside of Spanish Harlem if the new City Council proposed lines are approved, El Diario La Prensa reported. The article was translated from Spanish.
According to new lines proposed for the re-drawing of City Council districts, La Marqueta would no longer be part of Spanish Harlem, and the possibility has upset many area’s residents.
“I’m against it however you look at it,” said William Espinal in a troubled voice. “This area is a cultural treasure for the Latino community, which should stick together.” Espinal owns a butcher shop that has been located in La Marqueta for nine years.
According to the proposal — released to the public by the NYC Districting Commission in charge of re-drawing the 51 City Council districts — the area stretching from 110th to 116th Streets on Park Avenue, which currently belongs to District 8, would become part of District 9, which is predominantly African-American.
“A Latino would do a better job of representing us because he or she would understand the problems we face,” said Aurelia Vélez, a Puerto Rican woman who has owned one of the last surviving businesses in La Marqueta for more than 40 years.
While a large number of business owners as well as their customers from around Park Ave. and 115th St. expressed their opposition to the new maps, they admitted that they were unfamiliar with the redistricting process or how to participate in public hearings held by the commission.
José Cintrón, a Puerto Rican man who, like Vélez, owned a business in La Marqueta for 46 years, said the possibility of the district changing doesn’t worry him. “At least we would have another City Council member who might do something for us,” he said, referring to the commercial decay in the area over the last few years.
According to the proposed map, District 8 would also lose Randall’s Island and its part of the Upper West Side (running from 96th to 110th Sts. between Broadway and Frederick Douglas Boulevard). The new District 8 would stretch all the way to Mott Haven and Port Morris in the Bronx, with nearly 50% of residents living in the Borough of Salsa.
Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, who currently represents District 8, did not want to comment on the new boundaries. However, she stressed the importance of public participation during the second round of hearings.
Local leaders are urging El Barrio residents to participate more actively, even while they consider the change to be “political kidnapping.” A flyer that announced a community meeting on Sept. 26 used those same words.
Henry Calderón, a community activist and former president of the commission that oversaw the redistricting process in 2002, stressed the positive influence the community’s opinion has at the hearings.
Calderón described the idea of removing La Marqueta from Spanish Harlem as “suspicious.”
“There’s many political and economic interests at play,” he said. “The area of La Marqueta has a high potential for development.”
Carl Hum, executive director of the commission, defended the group’s efforts. He said the current map is “preliminary” and that the commission’s members are above all dedicated to forming districts that reflect the city’s diversity.
“We want to hear from different parts of the city and we want the community to be more active, because this is going to affect them for the next 10 years,” Hum said during an interview with this newspaper.
Gloria Carvajal Wolfe, one of three Latinas that are part of the commission (which has a total of 15 members), insisted, “We need to listen to the residents and learn about the challenges they face. That’s the only way we can find out what they’re thinking.”
Lucía Gómez, director of the organization La Fuente and an expert on the redistricting process, emphasized, “It’s clear that when the commission is drawing the maps, they can’t just use numbers and geography; they should also be more aware of neighborhood populations.”
Gómez gave the Bronx as an example, the borough with the highest population increase over the past decade. In some Bronx neighborhoods, districts were not balanced out according to the projected growth of areas that will keep expanding. “The commission did nothing to make the situation easier,” Gómez asserted.
Gómez clarified, “It’s better to create a list of recommendations and not a list based on hunches,” she said, referring to speculations about the background reasons to leave La Marqueta out of El Barrio, and the reasons why residents should testify at public hearings.
Editors Note: The next hearings on redistricting for District 8 is Oct. 4, at Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, 5:30 to 9 p.m. People interested in testifying have to pre-register or send a written testimony to [email protected]