What does it mean to be "In the Heights"? I'm home! Truly. I have two viewpoints of Washington Heights: my parents' and my own. My parents moved to Washington Heights from Puerto Rico to join their respective extended family members that had already made "The Heights" their home. When my parents married, they moved into a six-story walk-up, a beautiful building. In their entrance, the building's number was inlaid in the floor tiles. There was a marble staircase with ornate wrought iron railings. The apartment had fourteen-foot ceilings with crown molding and chair railing. The bathroom had classic white subway tile and a cast iron claw foot tub. The apartment was a short two block walk from the subway station and three blocks from their church. The corner bodega was run by my mother's uncle and my father's cousin. It was a true community made up of friends and family (and I had a lot of family). My parents and relatives would often talk about how it was in Puerto Rico. They loved the island but life was hard and poverty was common. For them, coming to New York was seen as an opportunity for a better life.
I returned to the old neighborhood as an adult, much had changed but much was still the same. The apartment building where my parents had lived, still had several units rented by various relatives. It would take me and hour just to say hello to each of them; or risk their wrath for not visiting. I remember going to the corner bodega, then owned by a Dominican family, to buy still warm, fresh, Italian bread and ground cafe. I would run back to the apartment and my aunt would make "cafe con leche". We would dunk the bread into the sweet coffee. To this day, the smell of fresh brewed coffee reminds me of sitting at the kitchen table, listening to my aunts, uncles, and grandparents share their stories of Puerto Rico, their poetry, parables, and life experiences.
Being "In the Heights" feels like coming home.
-Mary Ayala-Bush (Abuela)