Manhattan island is roughly divided into sections:
Place names keep changing because of development, marketing and technology. These are our definitions from living and working in New York City for twenty years.
Below Central Park, you can get a sense of where you are by looking up and orienting yourself to either the Empire State Building in Midtown, or the World Trade Center downtown. When we lost the World Trade Center, we felt disoriented like a cat whose whiskers are cut off.
“Downtown, Manhattan” is below 14th St.
It’s where Greenwich Village, SoHo and the Lower East Side are. Bohemians like to joke that “I get a nosebleed when I go above 14th St.”
Midtown and Midtown Manhattan
“Midtown, Manhattan” is 14th St to 59th St, just below Central Park.
The “Midtown” neighborhood is the business district of skyscrapers from 42nd to 59th St (between Eighth Avenue & Fifth Avenue). It includes the Times Square Theater District.
Uptown and Upper Manhattan
“Uptown, Manhattan” is above 59th St. It includes the Upper West Side, Central Park and the Upper East Side.
“Upper Manhattan” is generally above Central Park at 110th St and above, but East Harlem (El Barrio) extends down the east side to 96th St.
East and West
Fifth Avenue is Manhattan’s spinal column. It divides cross streets into East & West. Pay close attention to “E” and “W” on addresses or you’ll end up lost on the wrong side of town like we did on our first day of work in New York City many years ago.
Broadway is the Indian trail from the old trading post at the southern tip of Manhattan up the Hudson River to what is now Albany and beyond. That is why it cuts diagonally across the Manhattan street grid.
Manhattan is Latin from its beginnings
Latin in the Americas is Indigenous + European + African.
Manahatta is Indigenous Lenape land
What is now New York City was the land of the Indigenous Lenape people. We called the island Manahatta, the “land of many hills.” The hills were mostly flattened out by development, but there are still some in Upper Manhattan.
The old Lenape village was in Inwood at Manhattan’s northern tip. Naturally it is the most beautiful and quiet spot in Manhattan. There are “Indian Caves” nearby.
The Lenape trading post was at Manhattan’s southern tip. Broadway was the trail between them. It became the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Customs House. It is now the National Museum of the American Indian which is part of the Smithsonian.
We are still around in parts of Delaware, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Canada.
Manhattan’s first immigrant was Dominican
Juan Rodriguez (Jan Rodrigues in Dutch or João Rodrigues in Portuguese) was Manahatta’s first immigrant. He was Portuguese-African from Santo Domingo in what is now the Dominican Republic. He left a ship because he didn’t want to go to England and settled at the Lenape trading post.
Today we (Dominicans) are one of New York City’s largest Latin communities.
New Amsterdam was founded when the Dutch broke away from the Spanish Netherlands
The original Dutch settlement below Wall Street was founded in 1624. It was part of a burst of Dutch energy that came after breaking away from the Spanish Netherlands.
New Amsterdam wasn’t Latin, but the energy that created it was in direct opposition to the Latin patriarchy of Catholic popes and Spanish kings.
Authoritarianism consumes everything and destroys individual initiative. In contrast, the Dutch did business with everyone and founded the idea of the corporation. That was the idea that people can work together on a common goal and share the fruits of their labors. Corporations can get out of hand, but working together for a common benefit is the founding idea of New York City and democracy in the United States.
We are still here in New York City’s commercial energy.
NYC first Jewish community was Sephardic (Spanish & Portuguese)
New York City’s first Jewish community was a group of twenty-three Sephardics (Spanish & Portuguese Jews). Fleeing the Spanish Inquisition in Brazil, we arrived in what was Dutch New Amsterdam in 1654. Director General Peter Stuyvesant tried to deport us, but we appealed to the leaders of the Dutch West India Company. Because of us, New York is an open city.
We are still here as Congregation Shearith Israel in the Upper West Side.
Wall Street was built by enslaved humans brought from Cuba
Wall Street was built by enslaved humans to keep out the Indigenous Lenape. You could buy and sell humans at The Wall.
There was once a slave market at the corner of Wall Street and Pearl Street. It was the second biggest slave market in our country, after Charleston, South Carolina. Most of New York City’s enslaved peoples were brought from Cuba to Pier 17 which is now the South Street Seaport.
We are still here. Yale University historian Robert Farris Thompson has said, “New York is the secret African city.”
The Capital of the Latin World
Today New York City is the capital of the world, and the Latin world. Every people from every where is here. It’s not perfect, but we get along pretty well. By living, working and loving together, we have lost our fear of “the other” and found in its place our common humanity.
When you’re here, you’re a New Yorker. Ya.