PHILADELPHIA – Battling against neighborhood drug dealers and a rough economy, business owners in El Bloque de Oro are keeping a tight grip on their Latino traditions to sustain and revitalize their community with cultural programming.
In the Fairhill district of North Philadelphia, El Bloque de Oro is known as the Golden Block of Latino culture, art, music and food, but this commercial district does not appear as lustrous as it sounds. Taking many hits over the years, including a “badlands” reputation that was popularized by the novel Third and Indiana, community members struggle to maintain their beloved neighborhood.
“El Bloque de Oro is a community that is still embattered by very challenging economic pressures and that brings all of the ills of drug addiction and high levels of crime,” said Carmen Febo-San Miguel, executive director of Taller Puertorriqueno, an organization that promotes Latino art and cultural programs in the area.
Obtaining data from internal police memos, Philadelphia Weekly published a 2007 report listing the nearby intersection of Third Street and Indiana Avenue as number two for the top ten drug corners in Philadelphia.
Many business owners in the area do not agree with the dire portrayal of drugs in their community.
“There’s still some drug users in the surrounding neighborhood, but you don’t see them as rampant as they were in the 80’s,” said Christina Gonzalez, 39, President of Centro Musical.
The economic recession has also hit the community hard.
“We are going through a crisis right now, but little by little we are starting to come back” said Wilfredo Gonzalez, owner of Centro Musical.
Marta Diaz, 63, of Diaz Meat Market has worked hard to clean up this undeserved bad publicity by performing social work with local business owners to promote the area. Diaz has lived in her artfully decorated home above her husband’s meat market for 38 years and says she has seen the rise and fall of the area.
“Someone made up the term badlands to refer to our community because there was a lot of controversy and problems for a while,” Diaz said. “This was because of all the new people coming in and out who had no perception of how to take care of their neighborhood and the traditions that we keep in this community.”
The Hispanic Association of Contractors and Enterprises is working to revitalize the area with a vibrant, Latino-themed design. They predict that repairs of the signature golden sidewalks and street lamps designed as Caribbean palm trees will create a safer and more attractive commercial district. Business owners are positive about the changes and hope this will bring in tourism and boost up the rich cultures that enliven this commercial district.
According to Diaz, there is a unified sense of cultural pride and passion in the neighborhood, and business owners urge people to look deeper and see what truly lies at the heart of their community.
“We think that one day this will change and I feel satisfied with the people who have worked with the community for many years and seen it fall and rise.” Diaz said. “We aren’t giving up and we continue lifting ourselves up and keep working hard.”