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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18 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
    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.

  13. Brian Kilpatrick Says:

    Lovely racist, dismissive, jingoistic responses from Lisa (who lived there from 82-85 (what more residency to understand a people and time than that?) and Lori above, (a self-proclaimed “life-long New Yorker” -more like Westchester NY), who consider themselves neighborhood and linguistic “experts” to condemn the term LOISAIDA as irrelevant gibberish.

    Here is the history of the word LOISAIDA:

    The name Loisaida is Spanglish, combined from Lower East Side. Coined in an effort to instill feelings of neighborhood pride and ownership in the Puerto Rican community, it was adopted at a community meeting held in the Cardinal Spellman Center on 2nd Street in 1975. My mother attended, in one of her more lucid states, and I sat on the floor, enjoying the optimism of the civil process. There was a sense of joy and purpose in the people there, a conviction they could enact positive change in a desperately poor ghetto. I have found claim online that the term was coined by Chino Garcia and Bimbo Rivas. At the meeting it was offered up by a beautiful, vivacious Puerto Rican woman who chaired the gathering. It was accepted unanimously, and the name radiated into neighborhood use.
    Copyright 2016 Brian Kilpatrick

    You’re welcome.

    • Zoé Says:

      I agree w/ you Brian. I lived on East 1rst St. I moved to the neighbourhood in 1980. (But was a local before that). All my Spanish speaking Puerto Rican New Yorker neighbours on the block & farther called it that.

      And honestly it was also the way the elderly Puerto Rican grandmothers & grandfathers there pronounced it. So it probably wasn’t so much invented for the sake of pride – but rather *written* out *spelled* that way out of pride. That was the true pronounciation.

      As a POC (half Arab & half German & often taken for Indigenous American or Latina) I find a lot of the above comments racist as well. Because obviously these people completely avoided their Spanish speaking neighbours who made up most of the neighbourhood then. And honestly I do not know how you do that.

      Furthermore the name of the neighbourhood is The Lower East Side. And that is what everyone born & bred in the neighbourhood (& even elsewhere in the City) called it/call it & also its official name to the City… on Records etc. The name ‘East Village’ only came about in the 60s for tourist & real estate purposes – as Greenwich Village began to become overpriced. So I question anyone who thinks Loisaida is a made up name & is confused about its derivation from LES.

      Now I’m a bit angry at this obvious racism displayed here from some commenters. Who lives next to elderly people & locals yet doesn’t speak w/ them & get to know them? I find that really sad. And that is the worst thing about *gentrification* & not restaurants & clubs being replaced. See & listen to what Spike Lee has said about this re. neighbourhoods. The lack of respect that is just astonishing in its blindness.

      I hope my honesty is alright here Ephemeral ❤ xx

      • Zoé Says:

        My Spanish speaking friends – musicians & DJs & graffiti artists from uptown in the Bronx called it that also.

  14. Juan Gonzalez Says:

    LES BRED, BORN & RAISED. Born in 1964 on Rivington. ’68 – ’81 Lived on 11th & B, then 10th Street & Ave C finally in Haven Plaza on 12th & Ave C, Strong Family ties at 691 FDR (70-Present). Left for the military in 1987.

    Always has been and always will be Lower East Side.

    I remember when the term LOISAIDA started to be used in the neighborhood by the Puerto Rican residents to instill pride in what was ours and encourage caring for it.

    To all those racist idiots, all I will say is regardless of the dangers and vile crap that got thrown our way we still managed to have a safe, secure, loving childhood and came to become leaders of industry, amazing artists and productive citizens.

    You can try to hold us down but you’ll never keep us down. Give me crap and I’ll still party into the night.

    Because I am LES with my latin LOSIADA flavor!

    • Juan Gonzalez Says:

      PS my Mom still lives on 10th & C and my brother is still at Haven Plaza. LES for life pendjos!

  15. Brian Kilpatrick Says:

    This comment is directed at Ephemeral New York:
    Your labeling of LOISIDA as a “bastardization” is racist and dismissive. Read the comments of people who lived there -not the jingoistic racist white elite who never deigned to associate with the people who REALLY lived there- regarding the purpose, use, and actual original community adoption of the word (a meeting to which I was witness); then CHANGE your jingoistic, negative and accusatory term of BASTARDIZATION to something that positively acknowledges the legitimacy and right of a people to name their own neighborhoods with their own identity. And thank you for not looking down on other immigrant cultures as less than your own (you aren’t by any chance Native American, are you?).

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