When Avenue C was renamed Loisaida

Back in the 1970s, the Spanglish bastardization of “Lower East Side” entered the local lexicon.

The new neighborhood name came from a poem by a community activist named Bimbo Rivas. He also pioneered the Nuyorican movement—a collection of artists of Puerto Rican descent centered on the East Village.

As the neighborhood’s Hispanic population grew, Loisaida was increasingly tossed around in mainstream publications, on storefronts, and in maps. An official street sign even went up in 1987 on Avenue C between 14th and Houston Streets.

But you hear it much less these days—a casualty of gentrification. The 2010 census found that for the first time since the 1980s, Hispanics make up less than half of the population East of Avenue B.

I wonder how many of the new residents know what Loisaida means?

[Loisaida Drugs & Surgicals (Avenue C and East Third Street) photo: from the Bridge and Tunnel Club]

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12 Responses to “When Avenue C was renamed Loisaida”

  1. Maryann Says:

    Just once before I die
    I want to climb up on a
    tenement sky
    to dream my lungs out till
    I cry
    then scatter my ashes thru
    the Lower East Side.

    So let me sing my song tonight
    let me feel out of sight
    and let all eyes be dry
    when they scatter my ashes thru
    the Lower East Side.

    From Houston to 14th Street
    from Second Avenue to the mighty D
    here the hustlers & suckers meet
    the faggots & freaks will all get
    high
    on the ashes that have been scattered
    thru the Lower East Side.

    There’s no other place for me to be
    there’s no other place that I can see
    there’s no other town around that
    brings you up or keeps you down
    no food little heat sweeps by
    fancy cars & pimps’ bars & juke saloons
    & greasy spoons make my spirits fly
    with my ashes scattered thru the
    Lower East Side . . .

    A thief, a junkie I’ve been
    committed every known sin
    Jews and Gentiles . . . Bums & Men
    of style . . . run away child
    police shooting wild . . .
    mother’s futile wails . . . pushers
    making sales . . . dope wheelers
    & cocaine dealers . . . smoking pot
    streets are hot & feed off those who bleed to death . . .

    all that’s true
    all that’s true
    all that is true
    but this ain’t no lie
    when I ask that my ashes be scattered thru
    the Lower East Side.

    So here I am, look at me
    I stand proud as you can see
    pleased to be from the Lower East
    a street fighting man
    a problem of this land
    I am the Philosopher of the Criminal Mind
    a dweller of prison time
    a cancer of Rockefeller’s ghettocide
    this concrete tomb is my home
    to belong to survive you gotta be strong
    you can’t be shy less without request
    someone will scatter your ashes thru
    the Lower East Side.

    I don’t wanna be buried in Puerto Rico
    I don’t wanna rest in Long Island Cemetery
    I wanna be near the stabbing shooting
    gambling fighting & unnatural dying
    & new birth crying
    so please when I die . . .
    don’t take me far away
    keep me near by
    take my ashes and scatter them thru out
    the Lower East Side . . .

  2. Joe Ski Says:

    How many “newcomers” know what “Alphabet City” means/signifies?

  3. Jimmie Durado Says:

    I grew up on Avenue ‘D’ in the 50′s and 60′s. Embellish the LES all you want but that area was the fucken pits. Dangerous with people dying, Junkies nodding and guns going off. Good riddance to that era and those memories. It should never been call Loisaida.
    The neighborhood was originally a Jewish/Polish neighborhood. The
    Puerto Ricans came and destroyed it.

  4. Lisa Says:

    What makes you think the “old” residents knew what “Loisaida” meant? I lived on Norfolk 1982-1985, and I NEVER knew– to me it was just some gibberish hipster-slang I wasn’t cool enough to understand. Asking somebody was out of the question, because the answer would have been the same as the answer to the old joke, “How many hipsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?” (Answer: “You don’t KNOW?!!”)

    Oddly enough, I only FINALLY learned the “secret” in the past month, after seeing a street sign on a rare foray to Avenue C.

    “Loy-say-duh!! That fucking ANNOYING ’80′s hipster word! Ugh! What DOES it mean?!” I furiously punched the word into my phone. I then I tried to imagine “Lower East Side” spoken in Spanglish. I then realized I don’t understand the explanation.

    A really POOR phonetic spelling of Lower East Side with a Spanish lilt?!!This, I waited 25 years for?!

  5. Lori Says:

    I’m with Lisa here. I’m a lifelong NYer and I’ll agree that “Loisaida” is nothing but gibberish. I’ve never heard anyone use that term, not even my “Nuyorican” friends.

  6. wildnewyork Says:

    I’ve never heard anyone use it either. But it showed up in print in the Village Voice and other local pubs a lot in the late 1980s and 1990s . . . enough to get the DOT to agree to the street sign.

  7. Lisa Says:

    Funny that no one seems to understand or use the word, let alone refer to Avenue C by the honorific name. Like “Avenue of the Americas”, it would seem that the new name pleases only those politicos who signed off it.

    The irony here is that one would be led to believe that “Loisaida” was a beloved unofficial name, and the city was only acquiescing to popular demand. In truth, the word is all but unknown except to a certain NY elite.

    In keeping with the exquisite sensitivity that brought us “Loisiada Ave”; I propose that the Chinatown intersection of Elizabeth & Canal be dubbed “Erizabeff & Canar”, and that the former Christopher St be known as “Chrisssssstopher Strrreet”.

  8. Keith Goldstein Says:

    How many people remember when the “Lower East Side”, was just the Lower East Side, LES, Not the “East Village”?

  9. mr. B Says:

    I grew up on Ave D in the 50s and 60s. I went to PS 15 and JHS 71. The neighborhood was v dangerous. Never was it called the “East Village’. Abt.” Loisaida”, you can romance it any way you want. If you grew up there, you know/knew what was going on. The Lower East Side went from Chinatown to 14th st. and 3rd Avenue.” East Village” was named by the real estate people. The LES will always be a neighborhood of immigrants.

  10. Lisa Says:

    The unsentimental responses from those who actually grew up on the Lower East Side remind me of dialogue from the Preston Sturges movie “Sullivan’s Travels”. When the privileged, educated Hollywood director John Sullivan wants to masquerade as a bum to discover more about “real” American life first-hand, his butler tries to dissuade him:

    Butler: The poor know all about poverty and only the morbid rich would find the topic glamorous.

    Sullivan: But I’m doing it for the poor. Don’t you understand?

    Butler: I doubt if they would appreciate it, sir. They rather resent the invasion of their privacy. You see, sir, rich people and theorists –who are usually rich people– think of poverty in the negative, as the lack of riches, as disease might be called the lack of health. But it isn’t, sir. Poverty is not the lack of anything, but a positive plague, virulent in itself, contagious as cholera, with filth, criminality, vice and despair as only a few of its symptoms. It is to be stayed away from, even for purposes of study. It is to be shunned.

    Sullivan: Well, you seem to have made quite a study of it.

    Butler: Quite unwillingly, sir. Will that be all, sir?

  11. Manny Says:

    Funny… I heard that poem that Maryann wrote on a local radio broadcast on the Lower East Side in the early 80′s. Ain’t that a kick in the head.. :)

  12. vlinchong Says:

    That poem is by Miguel Piñero, who was one of the founders of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe on 3rd between A and B. I was born in the LES and heard Loisaida my whole life, even learned Bimbo Rivas’ song, “Loisaida, nuestra puebla, our town.” I think the term was created by Puerto Rican activists in the hood who wanted to instill a sense of pride. So maybe if you weren’t part of the activist scene, or you weren’t part of the Latino activist scene, you wouldn’t have heard it. I still never use the phrase Alphabet City (ugh) but I’ve given in to using East Village since it confuses people when I refer to Ave C and 11th Street as the Lower East Side.

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