By James Maher
Name: Heidi (who declined to have her photo taken)
Occupation: Retired Teacher
Location: Tompkins Square Park
Time: 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 11
I grew up in Puerto Rico, but I came here when I was 22, and I’ve been here 50 years in this area. I worked as a teacher in Queens. I retired about three years ago.
The best thing is when I was dancing on 14th Street. They had a Spanish, Latin club with the music from Puerto Rico. I had a good time and danced — I used to go club by club. Oh my God, there were a lot of Latin clubs here. You would get dressed and walk around and you could dance. Special people and more community.
And I liked the time with the hippies. The hippies was a beautiful time, I loved it. But there were drugs. But you know what? They weren’t dangerous. The drug people, the addicts, they only robbed. But now, this is a scary time now. Scary. They have changed the buildings, the population, the Latin flavor is not here no more. Alphabet City used to have Latin flavor — now they have a different kind of people. It’s because of the rent.
I love St. Mark's. And 8th Street was beautiful. When 6 p.m. came, everybody would go to St. Mark's, the stores. They stopped that. They’re different. You can’t go there no more — it’s very sad. Manhattan is changing a lot. The people were gentle, more considerate about where they were walking. Now you have to be alert when you walk.
I’m the third generation here, the senior, and I said to my nephews, my son — prepare and have an education, because when my generation disappears, things are going to be different. You know what they’re doing now with the projects? Before, if you’re my son, you can keep the apartment. Not now. They give you a hard time now for the family. You have to be sick, older. You have to say you’re taking care of someone. If you don’t, you lose your apartment. When my generation disappears, they’re going to fix the building and they’re going to sell the apartments.
They aren’t building for people. They’re making restaurants, restaurants, restaurants. There’s no place to live. I live by myself and I go to shop for my food, and I say how can people afford this? I don’t know how. It’s expensive.
Now everybody’s leaving, and I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. It’s tough. My nephews, they move. They have condos in the Bronx because of the rent. I don’t regret coming here. I worked, I enjoyed, I had my time, and I had a beautiful time but you know, everybody’s leaving now. I don’t know what’s going to happen. A lot of people are moving back to Puerto Rico. How are they going to live here? It’s crazy.
We’ll see what happens in the future. I’m living day by day. I’m going to Puerto Rico now for the winter because I’m retired, and I said to people, don’t come here, why for what? I remember Frank Sinatra, "New York, New York — if I can make it there." That song is no more, that song is not for now. It’s true. I remember the beautiful time when Frank Sinatra sang that song — it was true.
And now, nobody can dance to Spanish music here – they close everything. There is no more flavor. The Alphabet City flavor, the Latin flavor went, left, bye.
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.