Reading about East Harlem, or “El Barrio”, is extremely exciting. Marketing materials, including websites, boast about a live neighborhood filled with tastes of Latin American cultures. Many influential musicians came from or mention this neighborhood in their music, including Bob Dylan. However, with the exception of the El Barrio Museum, on 1230 5th Ave between 104th and 105th streets, the reality is very different. Of all the neighborhoods I have visited, El Barrio has been my least favorite despite being the one I found the most information about online. I do recommend peeking into the museum as it had some interesting pieces and it’s free for NYU students. Also the staff were very friendly and will randomly start giving you their explanations and interpretations of the pieces.
An “attraction” mentioned several times during my research was La Marquetta, a market specializing in Latin American and Caribbean ingredients. Also, because we are close to Christmas, there was supposed to be a Christmas market. In fact, descriptions of this place depict it as a mecca of Latin American and Caribbean cultures with ingredients, handicrafts and souvenirs from these areas of the world. But the experience, as the friend I got to explore with me said was “decrepit”. We were there at 2:00 pm on a Thursday and only three stores were open. The entire place looked abandoned. The main fruit stand was open and dozens of flies circulated the boxes of yucca, a root vegetable found in many Latin American and African countries that resembles a potato. After walking around the place and seeing a closed preserved fish stand with a dusty taxidermy mount of a grizzly bear, we decided to leave. Some women were talking and listening to African music in one of the three open shops decorated with a Ghanaian flag. We said good-bye to them.
We left there disappointed but hopeful that the rest of our exploration would pick up. As we walked deeper into the center of El Barrio, my exploration partner Miss F informed me that she was very excited to try some Latin American culinary delights. There are lots of restaurants in El Barrio and many have pictures of the food posted in the windows. Twenty minutes later we reached the center of the neighborhood but nothing really called our attention. We decided to leave. Overall, I was quite disappointed with El Barrio. However, I did not have a chance to explore the bar scene. According to the research, there are some really good Latin American bars with live music but I will leave that for someone else to explore.