Similar to the many neighborhoods in New York City, Washington Heights has been the home to immigrants of different backgrounds. These immigrants include the Armenians, Greeks, Irish, Jewish, and the Hispanic/Latino Immigrants, who are the most recent.
The movement to Washington Heights began with the Armenians from the 1890s to the 1920s.
The Hamidian Massacres also known as the Armenian Massacres of 1894 to 1896 were the massacres of the Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. The estimated amount of deaths from this massacre lies between 200,000 to 300,000 with an additional 50,000 displaced Children. This massacre occurred because Sultan Abdul Hamid II desired to reassert Pan-Islamism as a state ideology. Even before today, Armenians have always been a follower of the Christian ideology. In order to escape this political and religious turmoil, Armenians headed west and found their new homes in the United States.
Washington Heights is one of the many enclaves they have founded here in New York City. Some have found their place in east of Manhattan. The first wave of Armenian Immigration ended in the 1920s, when an immigration quota was established to limit the number of Armenians moving to the United States.
Similar to other immigrants, Armenian’s brought along with them their rich culture. Armenian’s are a highly religious ethic group, and thus they established various communities and organizations, such as the Armenian Apostolic Church, and the Holy Cross Church of Armenia in Washington Heights. This is significant because it shows how the Armenians have found religious tolerance in United States, which is what they wanted to achieve back in Armenia, before the Hamidian Massacre.
The Irish community came to the United States in the early 1990s because of the Great Potato Famine. There was a disease that affected 75% of Ireland’s potato crops. Potatoes were the main staple in Ireland, and this famine created the largest migration of Irishmen to the United States.
As they arrived in the United States, they settled in the ports of Manhattan as it is more affordable, so they stayed in neighborhoods such as the lower east side, and five points. As the years passed, they slowly moved out of the Lower East Side, and found that Washington heights is the perfect place for this opportunity. Though the rent had increased, the Irish community had established themselves enough in New York to be able to afford them. Additionally, the newly establish subways station from the Lower East Side to north of Manhattan made it convenient for the Irish to move to Washington Heights.
Irishmen established various establishments to replicate their homeland. There is a fair share of pubs, groceries, and Catholic churches in this Irish neighborhood. This also preserved their gaelic language. This allowed them to have a home away from home. The Catholic Church had a huge impact in the Irish community. This allowed for a tighter knit community for everyone even children, as there had been several events that involved kids and adolescents in Church.
EUROPEAN JEWS(1930s and 1940s)
Around 1930s leading up to the Second World War, the Jewish immigrants slowly arrived to United States in hopes of escaping the Nazi regime, and the anti-semitic forces that were slowly building up in their various homelands. Similar to the Irish, they first found settlement in the Jewish Lower East Side, and slowly moved up north for better living conditions, and for opportunity to attend City College of New York, which used to be referred to as “the poor man’s Harvard.”
Although most Jews were educated and professionals back in their respective nations, they were forced to enter manual labor in the United States, because they did not know how to speak English. Most of the Jews entered the garment industry. Unlike Europe, Jews were accepted in Washington Heights, and they easily were able to start new businesses and establish a religious community. To this day, there are several Jewish Synagogues in Washington Heights, and Jewish schools.
GREEKS(1950s and 1960s)
The wave of Greek Immigrants occurred around the same time as the Armenians have immigrated to Washington Heights, between 1890s and the 1920s.
The fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1922,the economic crisis after the two world wars, and the Grecian Civil war have prompted large waves of immigration from Greece to the United States. These waves of immigration did not stop, and heightened in the 1960s. However, as Greece joined the European Union in the 1980s, immigration drastically fell because Greeks found less reasons to move to the United States.
When the Greeks moved to the United States, they did not immediately establish their enclaves in Washington Heights. They only started moving there in the 1950s and 1970s, and the community was referred to as the “Astoria of Manhattan.”
While Astoria will always be the major Greek enclave in New York City, there will always be Greek culture left behind in Washington Heights, such as few Greek Orthodox institutions.
HISPANIC(1980s and 1990s)
The migration of Dominicans from Dominican Republic began after the death of the dictator, Rafael Trujillo. After the 1960s, there was an influx of Dominicans in Washington Heights. The Dominican Republic flags hanging in apartment windows, the overwhelming presence of Spanish, and the street stalls selling food and drink along Broadway evidently shows the dominance of Hispanic Immigrants in Washington Heights.
Washington Heights is sometimes known as little Dominican Republic because of their huge influence in neighborhood, physically and statistically. The Dominicans brought their rich culture along with them to the Washington Heights. There is a huge emphasis on family and community as can be seen through the dancing in the parks, and the congregations in front of houses, with people dancing to Bachata – a Latin musical genre from Dominican Republic.