by: Ramiro Funez
To an individual walking down the venue-lined streets of St. Nicholas Avenue in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, the presence of change becomes increasingly evident. A social transformation is embellishing the area, but the recent changes in scenery are sparking controversy and debate.
The predominantly Dominican-based neighborhood is proliferated with discount department venues, liquor stores, sneaker vendors and individuals selling calling cards and succulent treats from the island of Hispaniola.
The Caribbean presence is surely noticeable and the neighborhood’s major influx can be traced back to the country itself.
The mass movement of Dominican citizens immigrating to New York ignited during the 1970’s when the Dominican Republic was slowly loosening its grip from the chokehold of puppet presidents serving under the tyrannical political orchestration of President Rafael Trujillo, commonly known as El Jefe.
The ruthless tyrant was historically funded by major corporations favoring trickle-down economic systems – a scheme that primarily addresses the growth of companies while often neglecting the needs its workers.
During this time, the Dominican Republic was unsuccessfully attempting to revamp the economic infrastructure of the country in an effort to remove traces of domestic and international imperialism that led to political turmoil, but the result was not fruitful. As a result of the nation’s poverty and internal conflict, many residents were forced to flee the country and move to areas like Washington Heights that offered inexpensive residences and great opportunity.
In present times, many Dominican residents in Washington Heights are facing quandaries similar to those experienced in their homeland, except this time it’s not a cut-throat dictator that’s causing them to flee the area, its major corporations (like those that supported Trujillo) funding the development of condominiums, trendy restaurants, and banks forcing working-class Dominican residents out while welcoming white-collar individuals gentrifying the neighborhood.
Gentrification, commonly defined as the renovation of stores and houses in deteriorating urban neighborhoods for the development of upper-class businesses and housing, has occurred in several metropolitan ethnic niches-some of them including Harlem, Spanish Harlem, and Greenpoint.
Gentrification has been known to boost tax revenues, reduce local street crime, and increase the value of proprietorship; however, it has also led to rapid de-industrialization and rent hikes that force working-class proletariats out of their neighborhoods with nowhere to go.
Gentrification is common among areas like Washington Heights that have sub-par educational systems (including museums, primary schools and secondary schools) that have often been noted as “failing” or in “disrepair”.
Personally, I believe that the state government should have more of a role in controlling and moderating gentrification.
Instead of allowing big businesses to kick lower-earning workers out of their neighborhoods, the government should pay more attention to these areas and make more of an effort to construct schools to better educate the children, develop career centers to better employ the parents, and community empowerment programs that will cultivate a sense of hard work and prosperity amongst la comunidad.
The more funding the local government invests into educational and career systems, the easier it will be for Washington Heights residents, many of whom are Dominican immigrants, to attain distinguished educational experiences that will further their careers, boost their personal finances, and eventually uplift the community themselves.
My motto is, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. However, the government must provide the community of Washington Heights with the tools necessary to uplift and empower the people in order to avoid being forced out by upper-class businesses.
Although the typical laissez-faire free-market system constitutes a lack of government interference with business development, this is one issue that needs to be more properly addressed by the state and should not be ignored.
While I do believe that the working-class citizens of Washington Heights should work harder towards further educating themselves and advancing their socioeconomic statuses to avoid gentrification, I also believe that the government needs to assist the residents of the neighborhood with better educational resources in order to uplift the community in order to avoid the negative aspects of the social transformation.