History of New York City: Artur Balder's documentary shows Manhattanʼs “Little Spain”

American filmmaker Arthur Balder unveils a chapter of the untold history of Manhattan, the first triumph of the Hispanic immigration to the United States between 19th until late 20th century.
NEW YORK - Nov. 30, 2014 - PRLog -- Several hundreds of never displayed before photographs show a neighborhood called Little Spain in Manhattan in the years of its glory, placed at the west end 14th Street, in the times as it was densely populated by Spaniards and Hispanic immigrants. The film, consequently titled “Little Spain”, is a unique homage to the Hispanic immigration in the United States, displaying a part of the history of New York City thanks to an archive of old pictures that show for first time the streets of the cityʼs initial and most compact and dynamic Hispanic community. The film is to date the most successful attempt to put together the pieces of the puzzle of the Hispanic community in south Manhattan. “Little Spain is a symbol of the first attempt of a successful Hispanic immigration process to the United States” said the director, Arthur Balder. The little-known history of Hispanic migrants who settled in Lower Manhattan in the 19th century and by the mid-20th century had formed one of New Yorkʼs most deeply rooted communities is the subject of the documentary titled “Little Spain”.

Many have heard the history of Spanish Harlem, but a few know what happened earlier Downtown Manhattan, when a neighborhood called Little Spain, densely populated by Spaniards, Puertoricans and other Hispanic immigrants, did exist south Chelsea and West Village, around the west end of 14th Street. as a matter of fact, the Spaniards tended to live in close proximity to one another, and, in many cases, in close proximity to Spanish-speakers from countries other than Spain: eg, Puerto Ricans in New York.

In the film, Spanish American director and journalist Arthur Balder traces the journey of those who left their origins in Spain and South America in search of a better life in the United States and its most important entrance port, New York City, forming the community of Little Spain. The focal point of the documentary is 14th Street in Manhattan, the former heart of one the city’s first Hispanic communities.

“Almost no one knows that there was a “Little Spain’ in Manhattan, just like there’s a ‘Little Italy.’ That’s what’s fascinating,” Balder, who is also a writer, said. The filmmaker acknowledged that he stumbled upon this story one day “by chance” after hearing about “La Nacional,” a hispanic social club that still exists on W. 14th St., between 7th and 8th Avenues, since 1868.

“I learned a lot (by sifting through) some 14th Street’s fascinating archives and I realized that what I had in front of me was the bone of an enormous dinosaur,” said Balder, who subsequently “scraped around” to gather more details.

The fruit of that effort is a 60 minutes feature length documentary that looks back at the founding of La Nacional in 1868 and the uptick in migration from the Iberian nation following Spain’s loss of Cuba in 1898, through to the Hispanic “golden age” in New York after Spain’s 1936-1939 Civil War and finally the community’s sharp decline in the 1970s and ‘80s. “For instance, the first wave of Spaniards were merchant marines who arrived at the Chelsea docks, controlled by Irish and Italians,” the director said, adding that the Hispanic immigrants integrated well into their new environment and were given work.

Well into the 1960s, Spanish was spoken on 14th St.: “There was one Hispanic establishment after another, and not only very famous restaurants like ‘El Coruña,’ ‘La Bilbaina’ and ‘Cafe Madrid,’ but also Spanish bookstores and shops selling Spanishstyle textiles, like the famous ‘Iberia’ and the no less well-known ‘Casa Moneo’.” Some cinemas of Chelsea show in the old pictures the announcement “all Spanish program”, displaying films with South American actors of that times.

One of the film’s highlights is footage of what for years was the most popular celebration in the community, the Santiago Apostol (St. James Day) festival but which “died out” in the early 1990s due to the steady exodus of the then remnants of the Hispanic community from that part of the city.

The director of the film has worked closely with the Museum of Modern Art. He is currently working in two new projects, “The Reality of the Imaginary”, with Nobel price winner mario Vargas Llosa, Cervantes literature price José Manuel Caballero Bonald and artist Joan Castejón, a film that will be premiere at the MoMA in 2015, and a new project with Armenian American painter Tigran Tsitoghdzyan and renowned art critic Donald Kuspit.

Also, Spain contributed significantly to the vast wave of emigration of Europeans to the Americas which, in the late XIXth and early XXth century, radically transformed the three continents. But compared to some of the other national or ethnic groups of immigrants that came to the United States (eg, Italian, Irish, Polish) the Spaniards constituted a drop in the bucket of US immigration.
Tags:Artur Balder, Spanish Benevolent Society, La Nacional, Little Spain, Documentary
Industry:Entertainment, Society
Location:New York City - New York - United States
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Page Updated Last on: Dec 01, 2014

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