By, Danny Contreras
Photography by, Danny Contreras
dedicate this book to my grandmother Luz, and my mother Angela.
Through their positive actions and struggle, they unknowingly taught me
to visualize more than what I can physically see.
Te quiero mucho mama!
Te quiero mucho mami!
96 Street and Lexington Ave, a neighborhood
with a mixture tenement buildings, high rises, copy centers, convenient
stores, modern supermarkets and clean parks. You'll see a few
Latinos and blacks in the area who might live there, or come from their
neighborhoods to experience what it's like to play in a clean park, and
play basketball on a decent court with a hoop that has a real backboard
and a net, not like in El Barrio, which has buckets hanging off light
poles tied together with electrical wires. In the 96 street park,
kids can swing on real swings, and climb real monkey bars, not like the
ones in El Barrio with jagged edges that penetrate your skin instantly
on contact. In the 96 street park, the water fountain actually
works, and provides real water, not mud, or nothing at all. Kids
actually get wet while playing with real sprinklers, not like in el
Barrio, where although it is illegal, kids find a monkey wrench to crack
open the nearest fire hydrant to get blown away by its powerful force
when opened all the way.
Hello! How are you? The greetings most
often heard from a friend to a friend around the 96 street areas. Yo!
Wat up? The greetings most often heard from a homeboy to a homeboy in
El Barrio, Spanish Harlem. There is a visually noticeable
difference once you cross the invisible border into El Barrio walking
from 96 street. Hooked up cars drive by playing hip hop tunes with
thumping base sounds generated by expensive amps and boosters which
travel the sounds to speakers easily kicking over 200 watts. Arms hang
out from the driver's side window displaying thick and expensive gold
jewelry holding wrists hostage. Need to put a spell on someone? Go
to El Barrio, the botanists will help you to keep that certain someone
away, or how to attract the one you love who might not be loving you
back. He'll also help you with your sicknesses by putting together
concoctions made from different plants and other natural elements, which
are imported, because our soil and even the climax will not allow them
to grow. Need good luck? He'll whip something up for that also.
Just make sure you show up before the job interview, and not after. You
won't find authentic condiments for your exotic Spanish recipe on 96
street, but go to El Barrio, where Dominicans, Mexicans, and Puerto
Ricans have stored on shelves and in small plastic bags, the real thing!
No preservatives. These folks barely have room for science and its
alteration of what might still be considered natural. Want to drink a
real Papaya drink, or a morir sonando? You know where to go.
Reads like an urban fairy tale doesn't it?
Not when the neighborhood police is constantly up your ass because they
don't like how you look, or how you're dressed, or the fact that you
might be a decent young man simply living in a place they consider
indecent, and full of parasites who contribute nothing to the positive
advancement of the human species. It is true, that there are
parasites in the neighborhood. How can I deny that? How can I
think that El Barrio is full of positive people who just want to help
and mean no harm? How can I for one second believe that we are so
good, and are just treated bad just because? How can I for one
second not realize that there are so many negative elements roaming the
neighborhood? How can I entertain this ignorant thought?
I don't. Because just as the negative elements exist in our
neighborhood, El Barrio, they also exist everywhere else, including 96
Street. Just so happens that we are a bit more exposed, and what happens
when things are exposed? People can see them better.
I can see the drug addict going through the
desperation of figuring out how the next high will come about. I
can see the drug dealer waiting for the addict to bring along the right
amount of cash for that next high. I can see the cautionary
measure the dealers take to make sure they don't get caught handing over
a bag or a rock. I can see it all. As a matter of fact I
know them all. They're my friends. Behind these so called
parasites, there is still a soul, a heart, and plenty of room filled
with goodness. As much as I can see the negative elements, I can
also see the positive, and they come from the same place. This
book is a semi-autobiographical account of growing up in El Barrio,
Spanish Harlem, and how all the elements you find in what you would
consider a negative environment, are not all negative. How sometimes,
someone like myself who grew up in this environment, can sit in a
meeting for any major company and offer advice and solutions without
ever completing a 101 course on anything. How someone in this
environment can pay more attention to the real things in life, and at
the same time, see right through an executive of any major company,
while he gives a speech full of flaws and promises that sometimes are
not kept. How someone from this so-called negative environment, always
had the opportunity to sit with these great minds. How someone
like myself can come up with ideas worth millions, and never get any
real credit, or recognition. How just because you're different,
they laugh in your face at suggested solutions, which are ahead of their
mentality, but because your title is not a certain rank, they mean
nothing. Welcome to my hood, welcome to my mind, welcome to my soul,
welcome to El Barrio.