To live in Spanish Harlem, New York's oldest barrio, is to confront some of the city's most endemic problems: crime, drugs, AIDS, and chronic unemployment. Yet the mecca where Puerto Ricans first established themselves in the 1940s is now the capital of Hispanic America - home to 120,000 people, half of whom are Latino.
Shot in the mid-to-late '80s, Joseph Rodriguez's superb photographs bring us into the heart of Spanish Harlem, capturing a spirit and a time that survives despite the ravages of poverty. In a now-distant landscape littered with abandoned buildings, ominous alleyways, and plagues of addiction, the residents of Spanish Harlem persevered with flamboyant style and gritty self-reliance. From idyllic scenes of children playing under the sprinklers on the playground, or performing the Bomba Piena on Old Timer's Day, to shocking images of men shooting up speedballs and children dying of AIDS, Rodriguez showcases a day in the life of the barrio.