Washington Heights

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Today, the area between 155th St and Inwood is considered Washington heights. However, Dominican Washington Heights, the area with the highest Dominican American concentration, stretches about 35 blocks along northwestern Manhattan, running from 160th – 189th St. between Broadway, St. Nicholas Blvd, and Fort Washington. Its Dominican population is so dense, that sometimes it’s referred to as “Quisqueya Heights”, (Quisqueya being an affectionate term for the Dominican Republic).

While here, if you close your eyes, it is easy to imagine oneself in the Dominican Republic. The sweet sounds of salsa, Merengue, and Bachata trail through the air, along with the newer Reggaeton. Neighbours speak to one another in ‘Spanish,’ generally the Dominican vernacular version of Spanish, and the savoury scent of ‘patelitos’ waft along the breeze. (In order to understand their language, think to yourself of any West Indians you know, perhaps Jamaicans. How do they speak English? That is the way Dominicans speak the classical Castilian Spanish, only with an even more pronounced difference.) Storefronts advertise their wares in both Spanish and English, and one can buy any number of Dominican goods from the numerous Bodegas (small independent grocery stores). The Dominican flag flies alongside its star-spangled counterpart, and church services are conducted in keeping with Dominican tradition. Restaurants cater to ethnic tastes, and coffee carts converted to patelito stands stroll along the pavement. The Dominican culture is so dominant, that some residents have never bothered to learn English, because they can conduct all their important affairs in Spanish, just as at home. However, the area is gradually changing as more families – second-generation Dominicans – move away to different neighbourhoods. Today, the focus is on getting an education, a good job, and moving to a better area. While the Dominican prescence is still overwhelmingly strong, immigration has definitely slowed. Chain stores are beginning to replace “mama y papa” bodegas, and white non-hispanic faces are becoming more prevalent. As rents rise, some pay as little as $600 per month, while others pay $1800. This has helped fuel a tiny exodus as store owners and tenants search for cheaper rents. Despite these changes, most residents are confident that their “Quisqueya Heights” won’t change anytime soon. It will be interesting to see what the future holds.