For some reason when the weather warms up, I become nostalgic about home. Maybe it is because I am a summer baby and the hot summer months were always celebratory growing up. Or maybe it is because New York is so much fun in the summer. I remember family cookouts in the Fort Tryon Park; birthdays spent running through open fire hydrants; trying to stay cool during a black out; standing on the FDR Drive underneath the best 4th of July Fireworks; enjoying the best free concerts in the park with friends. Oh, and dancing at the chicest rooftop bar.
What I love most about New York City is Washington Heights. One of the Northern-most neighborhoods on the island of Manhattan, Washington Heights is a special place. All my life people have asked me where I was from. It went something like, “Are you Jamaican… Dominican… Nigerian… Ghanaian… Haitian? ? ?” I’m African-American. In response, I would hear, “There are Black people in Washington Heights?” Yes! A whole bunch of us. I was Born and raised in Washington Heights. My parents are from North Carolina and moved to New York after they graduated from high school in the 60’s, which was a common migration in their day.
Washington Heights is known for its diversity bubbling with rich and flavorful streets. You will find Jewish communities, Russian enclaves, Black pockets, and the dominating Dominican districts giving it the well-known title of ‘Little Dominican Republic’. The food is deliciously comforting. Step into any restaurant or Bodega for that matter and you are sure to leave with a smile on your face. Bodega’s in the Heights sell patelitos and carne frita.
The subway stations in Washington Heights are a unique part of the New York City transit system in that they still use elevators to transport riders from the subway platform level to street level. There is no option to walk. They are quite far down beneath sea level. My favorite station, hands down, is 191st street on the 1 line. Well, naturally because that is my home station. But the other reason is that of the tunnel. It is the deepest NYC subway tunnel at 180 feet below sea level. As a child, I would run through this tunnel singing loudly to hear my voice echo. Most people would think twice before going through this long, dark path. And their final decision would likely be “no thanks”. Sometimes this was the only way for me to get to school. As scary as this crazy neighborhood can be, I was never afraid there. I am glad they painted the tunnel in the 2015 Beautification Project. It is covered in graffiti now, but for a very short moment, the murals showcased the essence of Washington Heights. Bold, bright, loud, fun, and proud! Just like me.