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Amaury Corujo

Oral history interview conducted by Morton Marks

August 15, 1988

Call number: 1989.004.02

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MARKS: Maybe we can begin with talking about where you were born and when you arrived here?

CORUJO: Okay. I was born in a small town in the north coast of Puerto Rico. The name of the town is Hatillo. Since 1967 I want to be an actor and I was in the last year of high school and I was allowed to graduate. I asked for a grant from the government, but for one reason or another, it wasn't given to me, so I decided to get married and come to the mainland. I got married three days before I graduated from high school. On May 28, 1967 I arrived in New York. Because of 1:00the way Sunset Park looked then, I felt sad and there wasn't a very beautiful view of what I was expecting.

MARKS: You came directly here?

CORUJO: Yes, I came directly to--

MARKS: Did you have--

CORUJO: My mother has come about a year before and she sent for me. And then I found the way people were living here. I just worked to get an education and go back to my home town, and I came and noticed the difference between my home town and this place. And my mother was living on welfare and in a very miserably way. 2:00So, you know, okay, this is then the government wasn't so fair then. I say, well, let me see if in fact they'll listen to a newcomer and I wrote a letter to them in Spanish because I did not dare to write in English because the English that I learned. You know, you come here with a lot of complex. You feel that you don't speak enough English to open your mouth and it was right, too, at this point in my life, twenty-two years later, I find that I don't speak English either still. So, I wrote a letter in Spanish and he answered it. And that was the first socioeconomic move that I made. They fired the, they fired the welfare investigator and they did a lot of things. They came to visit my mother and they 3:00find out that the welfare wasn't giving her enough. My mother had brought five of her nieces and nephews because her sister had died, so she took care of them. One of them was mentally retarded.

MARKS: They were young children at the time?

CORUJO: They were young, yes. They were from three to fourteen years old. So, she grew them here in the States. I would start work in the factories around the neighborhood and on January 3, January 3, 1968, my father who was an engineer-electrician and used to work for Maimonides Hospital. [unintelligible] brought me over and I started washing dishes in the kitchen in Maimonides Hospital in 1968.

MARKS: Your father had arrived earlier? He was--

CORUJO: Oh, yes. My father had abandoned me. You know, us, he abandoned the 4:00whole family in 1953. And he was doing fine here.

MARKS: But now living in Brooklyn. He was living in the--

CORUJO: He was living in Brooklyn, right on 53rd Street then. So, we--You know, my father was very irresponsible. [unintelligible] irresponsibly. So he came to this country and forgot that he had some children in Puerto Rico. I started working at Maimonides from five in the morning to one in the afternoon; washing dishes, and the opportunity came there to grow. I, I met people. They gave me a transfer to the mailroom, to become a messenger, which was an easier job and my trips to bring blood to there, to the lab, I got interested in working with the, 5:00with the lab. So, I went to school to Manhattan, medical assist. I start going there and I made myself a laboratory technician. Fortunately, when you have the desire to see your family, your people grow, and your people develop, and you start getting involved with the community, problemática, I found at Maimonides Hospital there was a need for, for interpreters, let's say in the emergency room and other places in the hospital. So, I decided to build what is called "Ahora qui se habla espanol" at Maimonides Hospital and I did. The administration didn't like it. They started creating a problem and, then, they wrote, I end up being fired I think in 1973. Then I got involved with the campaign for Carey for 6:00Congress, and I got a job as an education specialist, through that, of this organization. I worked with the community. I found myself that that's where I belonged, so I went back to school and I studied public administration. In 1976, I went back to my country. It was an education, and down there, I couldn't--I already had myself accustomed to a big place like this--so I, I then, I then, I then decided to come back three years later. In 1981 I came and started working with this organization again for a summer, then I worked with Sunset Park Redevelopment Committee for two years. I developed the ability of creating the, 7:00the security for the buildings that were being constructed or developed, and I began to have an understanding of administration of community programs. Then I decided to go in my own business and I opened a car service here in the neighborhood. I work with Sunset Park real estates, part-time, you know, trying to make a living. And, one day, this organization who gave me the start, they needed a program director, and I applied for this, and it was given to me. And today, U.P.R.O.S.E., twenty-two years, and when I took this organization, it was $64,000 void and it was tried to be closed.

MARKS: This was--It was getting money from the state, from some state--


CORUJO: Yes, from the city; Community Development Agency.

MARKS: I see.

CORUJO: And I--So, today we have $165,000 per year and we're doing all right. This program I developed a summer school, an after-school program. I have now a housing element in the program that it didn't have. I have one element that deals with immigration I didn't have, and these two programs, they don't cost me nothing. They are here, I shelter them. And we're giving a service to the community. I then went. I had the pleasure of may--meeting Christ in my life and I went and got my B.A. in theology.

MARKS: When was that? That was--

CORUJO: That was 1986. I got my B.A. and I consider this community my home town 9:00now, after twenty-two years, no intention to leave it. I think that I belong more here than in my home town, and I feel very good to be part of this community. The community has grown progressively, economically in a way, and the only problem that we have is education of our children. Our children are, are on the level, the reading aspect of the education, and that's what is getting me worried about it. I don't know what future we--

MARKS: You mean the local schools, the level of the local--

CORUJO: --are going to have with it. And locally our schools.

MARKS: Are there any bilingual programs or anything like that?

CORUJO: Yes, now mostly bilingual. This community I consider according with my own statistics, the 1980 census, I think that we are ninety to ninety-one percent Hispanic, Sunset Park. I mean, you stand in the window of my office; 10:00that is a reflection that you get. Where I had my high school in Puerto Rico, I studied laboratory techniques at Manhattan Medical Assistance School. I went to Kingsborough Community College and graduated with an A.A. in public and civil administration. I then studied theology, real estate. I took a course for the city--New York Community Center for a year in how to become a trainer; how to, how to teach people to be trainers, and here I am. I've been working for Sunset Park in Sunset Park. I never have worked out of Sunset Park in my life and I 11:00feel that I have to dedicate my time to this situation, to this problem that we have in Sunset Park. It's, it's a lot of Hispanic problems that you have to deal with.

MARKS: Can you talk a little bit about the history of Sunset Park, like how it's changed since you first got here?

CORUJO: Oh, when I came, when I came here in the 1960s, Sunset Park was getting into it-- There was the FHA scandal. They used to give houses to people who cannot pay for them and then, down the road, they end up paying for--even using the income of the house on the check to fix the house. They could not pay their mortgage, or vice versa. And we ended up with a lot of abandoned houses.

MARKS: At that time, was there a Hispanic--? There was a Hispanic community 12:00here, but it wasn't as large as it is now? Was Sunset Park mixed, you know, with some--

CORUJO: It was more--Yes, it was more mixed than now.

MARKS: There were Scandinavian, like Finlandeses or whatever.

CORUJO: Yes, it was a lot of Scandinavians and--

MARKS: But there was always a Puerto Rican community here from way back, right?

CORUJO: Yes, yes. I figure, as far, as far as I know and as far, as far as my investigation, the community, the Hispanic community was established here in the fifties.

MARKS: By Hispanic, you mean Puerto Rican mostly?

CORUJO: Yes, mostly Puerto Rican.

MARKS: Mostly. Okay. And then they probably moved from other--like from the old parts of Brooklyn where there was an older--Like Columbia Street, I think, was like an old--

CORUJO: Yes, then Columbia Street was a number one district for the Hispanics.

MARKS: Right.

CORUJO: Especially in the bad areas of, of our socio-economic history. Columbia made the drug deals and the drug situation then. Sunset Park was not designated 13:00a [unintelligible] area. There was a lot of housing. The block that I came to live in it in 1967--which was 48th between Second and Third Avenue--was a residential area. Now because of the situation, is industrial area. And that's where our house is. Right now, the corridor between 39th Street and 60th Street; it has, I would say, eighty-five percent less houses than when I came.

MARKS: It's all been industrialized, been--

CORUJO: Industrialized.

MARKS: Yes, like small, like light industry, right?

CORUJO: Yes. They have some small industry. Most of them, they move from other places in Brooklyn to here. They bring their own employees and they're not hiring many of the Sunset Park people.

MARKS: And they also took away some of the housing from--


CORUJO: And they took most of the housing. And when it became an industrial area, which I think that was a political move for gentrification, because if we're going to go to--you know, five, ten blocks down--between Second and Third, we'll have empty industrial buildings. If you go to the, to the Bush Terminal, you'll find a lot of empty space.

MARKS: Right.

CORUJO: I see no reason why they should be building. We need housing.

MARKS: Right. So that was sort of keeping the gentrification process from moving to those.

CORUJO: Yes, from moving to Brooklyn. Then, with Fredo Lugo and the Sunset Park Redevelopment Committee, started coming in the, say, late seventies, early eighties. And Sixth Avenue was deteriorating fast and the first house that we developed was 558 50th Street.

MARKS: It was sort of getting a--abandoned buildings and burned--fires and the whole--


CORUJO: Yes, and they started developing. They developed, I say, from 800 apartments, plus they got involved with the Community Management Program of the city, what is called the City Housing Project, that were [unintelligible] building, and they started buying them after they managed it for two years, they just took to fix them and so that was the main element that stopped the deterioration of housing in Sunset Park.

MARKS: People would go in themselves and do the renovation. That was the--That was that whole--

CORUJO: No, no, no. Only--I only know one or two buildings that were done like that. The community, they--The Sunset Park Redevelopment Committee; what they 16:00did, they took abandoned buildings and developed them. They developed them until they are in existence because of that. Of course, some private industry came in also, like Bleeman Construction. I worked for them as a, as an after-work site supervisor, security supervisor. I hired people and had them supervise the buildings.

MARKS: So, from that time, how do you--? Sunset Park has become ninety-percent Hispanic. I mean, when did this real change start happening? Did the Hispanics--?

CORUJO: Well, it happened through the period 19--1970, 1980, it always has been a lot of Hispanics. I mean, the mentality of the, that has been put into our head that it's only forty-five percent, according to the 1980 census, and because the census was, was not accurate, I figure, and they don't list today's Hispanic community as [unintelligible] and so they only went for whatever they 17:00can get.

MARKS: How would you describe the composition now of the community? Like, in other words, like the proportion of the people from different Hispanic, you know.

CORUJO: I could say ninety percent Hispanic, ten; three percent blacks, seven percent non-Hispanic.

MARKS: By Hispanic, like what are the groups, because Hispanic covers such a range.

CORUJO: Well, we have a lot of Dominican, there's a lot of Mexicans around here.

MARKS: Yes, when did they--?

CORUJO: They're living illegal aliens, but they are here. They've been exploited in our factories down between Second and Third. And that's another element that, that keeps the rest of the Hispanic community without a job, because there's a lot of company owners that they don't care about, about this kind of thing, and they hire Mexicans and illegal aliens without, without papers; nothing. They work under their roof, so who cares? They work fourteen hours a day for minimum salary, $3.35 without overtime, so that's a lot of income for the companies.


MARKS: Do you think when the Mexicans come they tend to come by themselves, like males, like young guys or something? It's not families is it, or is it--?

CORUJO: They tend to come in families also. You'll see them living in an apartment. I know an apartment here, who are two or three rooms and at least ten illegal aliens living in them. They could be brothers and sisters and they could be friends, from some--especially the, the area Puebla. You know, you find that I could say about seventy-five to eighty percent are Mexicans who come to Sunset Park. They come from Puebla.

MARKS: Do they come here for any kind of services? You have like immigration.

CORUJO: No, they are very skeptical of coming. They don't want to be discovered.

MARKS: Because they're mostly under--illegal.

CORUJO: Yes. When we--When I started working with the Nicaraguan refugees for 19:00the immigration law, they start coming here. But not, not--Just a minimum percent--

MARKS: Most of the Nicaraguenses are political? They're here for political [unintelligible]

CORUJO: Most of the Nicaraguans are here for political reasons.

MARKS: And they're looking for amnesty, so they're trying to create a--


MARKS: Are a lot of them of pro, professional background, do you think, or all kinds of backgrounds?

CORUJO: No, I don't think so. I don't think, I don't think many professionals come from other countries. Especially Hispanics, you don't find them in the labor part. You don't find them in the education part. I don't think that they come because of--

MARKS: When did the Dominicans start coming into Sunset Park? Was that more recent?

CORUJO: From my experience, I think, I could say in the beginning of the seventies.

MARKS: Yes. And, but doesn't Sunset Park have Hispanic professionals who are rebuilding, building?

CORUJO: Oh, yes, plenty, plenty. We have a lot of people who work in "the city" and they go to "the city," you know, we have teachers. A majority of the people 20:00who work in the schools are Hispanics already. The hospitals, the Lutheran Medical Center here, who is one of the--I could say the political powers. They control a lot. They do have the--


CORUJO: They do have the power in the community and they hire, not, not the professional level that they want to. 'Cause you go to the hospital, you find a majority of the professionals or the people works the Hispanic that works there in the lowest position. And the professionals are here, they have to move--they have to go out to work, to Manhattan, to a, another place.

MARKS: I see, and to--But there's a definite choice among professionals to, you know, live in Sunset Park and to sort of help in the renovation process?


CORUJO: It's growing, it's growing, the professionals' interest for the housing stock you see is growing and, as you know, to live in Manhattan get expensive, and they are preferring to buy houses around here. But we are not--Well, we are working in these days for the Sunset Park to stay more Hispanic because we have no place to run. And we've been--You know, the gentrification like since Soho's history of buying empty places to build an apartment is--down in Manhattan is too expensive, so they try to buy houses over here and to move here. And it happened, it happened in Park Slope. Like it happened in Park Slope and the Hispanics were gentrified. Like it happened in Borough Park. The Hispanics were gentrified.

MARKS: So, this is becoming like the rough--

CORUJO: Yes, this is where we are.

MARKS: But this is also gentrifying, but among Hispanics, right? It's like a--

CORUJO: Yes, in a way.


MARKS: Which is sort of unique in some ways.

CORUJO: Because of the raise of the real estate. Today the majority of Hispanic people who they are poor, they work for minimum salary, or they either are on welfare, SSI, or Social Security. And the market of rent today for a three-room apartment is $500, $400, and they cannot afford it. They cannot buy houses. We cannot buy houses here because a house, a house that you have to work--what is called "a handyman's deal"--it will cost $160,000 and you don't--you, you cannot pay that. My house was one of the first that Sunset Park Redevelopment Committee and the Lutheran Medical Center developed. I have the--I was lucky to get one about fifteen years, sixteen years ago.

MARKS: Did Lutheran Medical Center--?

CORUJO: It cost me $22,000 and today I've been offered $225,000.


MARKS: But what kind of shape was it in when you bought it for $22,000? Was it a--?

CORUJO: No, it was rehabbed, under Program 235. I only paid thirty-five percent. I mean, thirty-two point three percent for a dollar, and they spend about $70,000 to rehab the building and I only paid $22,000.

MARKS: Do you think among the professionals who are living here there is some kind of effort to preserve culturally, Hispanic culture in Sunset Park? I mean, are there cultural--?

CORUJO: Not at that point. I'm doing that. I'm trying to build the historical part of it, the cultural part of it. Okay? It's a lot of, a lot of religion around here and they are, when religion deal with religion, culturally, they try to stay out.

MARKS: What kind of religion? Like--

CORUJO: Mostly Pentecostal and Catholic. Protestant, Protestant.

MARKS: Yes, many people are becoming Pentecostals, right?

CORUJO: Yes, they--See, the struggle is so hard that, that they get desperate 24:00and they cry to--they cry "God" for a couple of years and then they go back to the regular aspects of life, they are the ones that are left.

MARKS: But they're leaving the Catholic Church to become Pentecostals?

CORUJO: Yes, most of them, yeah, most of them.

MARKS: The Saint Jacoby is now--I know it has--it sponsors some Hispanic activities, but is that still a Scandinavian church or is that becoming--

CORUJO: No, I don't think that. None of the churches here are more non-Hispanic. Yes, they are non-Hispanic dominated, but the majority are Hispanics.

MARKS: Is that Pentecostal church taking a role in the community, in the development of the community?


MARKS: They're not?


MARKS: That's totally separate from the--

CORUJO: They are. They are not politically involved and they are, you know, now they are growing with a new generation of the, of the--what do you call the, the evangelio de liberación, the liberation gospel, and our young people have 25:00become aware of really more--less religious and dogmatic, and they become more aware of the professionalism and the need of the community and they are getting involved with that, but that's the young generation. The old, they just waiting to die and be saved. So, you know, Penta--the way the Pentecostalism I see--I'm a minister myself.

MARKS: You have a church? You have a center here?

CORUJO: No, I don't belong to a church. I am, I am nonreligious, kind of. I considered it. I was graduated from [unintelligible] Bible College and school with a B.A. in theology, which is a--what do you call, a sacred leadership. To study the sacred leadership and, you know, the story of the churches. I can define them as--but I think they are going through a stage. Religions, every certain amount of time, religions go through a stage.


MARKS: What kinds of activities I notice that you--there's a group, so-called jíbaro music. Can you talk--?

CORUJO: Yes, I developed that. Baca came over here, you know Cathy Condon?

MARKS: Yes, from Baca, yes.

CORUJO: She came looking for help and I told her well, let me see what I can do. And I developed a typical--what is called a folklórico music group and it's called--The name of the group is called "Ser jíbaro es un honor."


CORUJO: That's the name of the group. When I looked at the community for natural, natural artists, so these people dedicated themselves to talk--to play their folklórico music and I gathered them together and we made an organization and I'm in a group. I also play popular music.

MARKS: Like salsa?

CORUJO: Salsa, yes. I play xylophone.

MARKS: Oh, you do?

CORUJO: Vibes. Right now, on Sundays I go to Coney Island to the boardwalk with 27:00the band and we play there free.

MARKS: Oh, yes?

CORUJO: Yes, you know, I am--I think the--

MARKS: How big is the band? Is it like a--?

CORUJO: About nine musicians.

MARKS: With horn sections and the whole--

CORUJO: No, you have vibes, a trombone, percussion is accompaniment of it, the timbales, the conga, bongó, then the piano and a bass.

MARKS: He plays like the salsa repertoire like the--

CORUJO: Yes, salsa, the, the popular music.

MARKS: Like New York style, like Willie Colon, like the same?

CORUJO: Yes, yes, Willie Rosario, Sonora Ponceña.

MARKS: Right. When does the jíbaro group play? What kind--besides, like they play around those--around Brooklyn?

CORUJO: No, we only play for this activity.

MARKS: I see--

CORUJO: We only--It was built for this activity, but we decided on whatever, whatever day we were called, we'd go. So, you know, it's like a standby kind of conjunto.


MARKS: I know in Manhattan, like in the Bronx, around Christmas time, people listen to jíbaro music even if they don't all year round. Does that happen here in Sunset Park?

CORUJO: Yes. We do, we make plays in the community. We try to bring our culture. We give parrandas like in my home town. Majority of people who live here are from my home town.

MARKS: Oh, yes?

CORUJO: The majority of the Puerto Ricans. And it's funny, the mayor of my home town, when I went over there last year--she introduced me on the radio and she--he says, "I want to introduce to you the maximum leader of the biggest barrio of Hatillo, the Third Avenue in Sunset Park in Brooklyn. So, we have our own social club, it's called Hatillo Social Club.

MARKS: Do you sponsor dances? You have a dance?


CORUJO: Yes, we do. We dance. We rent a place. We gather there Friday nights, play dominoes.

MARKS: It's in Brooklyn?

CORUJO: --play dominoes. Yes. Play dominoes and pool.

MARKS: Are there a lot of social clubs like that like in Sunset Park?

CORUJO: Well, not like that one. This is a big place and it's there for social activities. We also have a good--We have two softball leagues here. Hispanics play every Sunday on Shore Road in Coney Island. I mean, Shore Road in Red Hook.

MARKS: I'm curious, normally, of course, you would have dance music. But, I mean, at Christmas time, do you have traditional music, you know, in your social club?

CORUJO: No, I think popular music has become the substitute.

MARKS: It's always popular music. So--

CORUJO: Yes, just the spirit, the cultural spirit of Christmas.

MARKS: Right. Right.

CORUJO: We use--You know, we get there, we get together, we plan parrandas, asalto navideno, which is coming to your house at three o'clock in the morning 30:00and you would curse us. I just came from an asalto, you know. I'm sorry we're here, you have to open the door and get yourself ready, and get your wife out and start cooking.

MARKS: Is that like the aguinaldo, you go from door to door?

CORUJO: No, we, for asalto navideno we come and interrupt your sleep. You wake up. You come out and you receive everybody. We make a lot of music. We play. We've got instruments. You know, you offer us a typical food, liquor. You will get up, mad as it is, and have to cook for a group of interrupters. But it becomes part--That's the funny way of looking at it. It becomes part of our--It is part of our culture and we do it gladly. And if you go at Christmas to any particular home, you know I could say, people like us who work and make good money, not everybody can afford it.


MARKS: So Christmas is really the time of the year when the traditional--

CORUJO: --get together. It's a--So what we do, we buy, we buy the liquor and we leave it at home. We have to. I'm not talking about all of that.

MARKS: Where do the traditional, you know, platos that are made? Like, where are they--

CORUJO: Well, here, as always, arroz con gandules, it's a typical plate. Then los pasteles, banana pie, the pan dulce, we do that. Coquito is one of our [unintelligible] or drinks. All sorts of things. Sometimes, you know, you'd be surprised, depending on where you--on the home town that you're coming from in Puerto Rico, you sometimes invite somebody and this lady, and come on, this, this kind of food and you've never seen it.

MARKS: Like a local specialty.

CORUJO: Yes. Well, you've got to. You never even hear about this. You know Puerto Rico has even, even different kind of names for things. For being such a 32:00small country, you have a lot of different kind of things and they take place at Christmas.

MARKS: How many people make up an asalto, like when they go out in the street, there's like a--

CORUJO: I could count. They could go from four to forty. And you go to Puerto Rico, at three o'clock in the morning, you see a caravan of cars, ten, twelve, fifteen, twenty, you know.

MARKS: Doing the--

CORUJO: And when they get there--They go very slowly because they don't want to make the noise to wake up the person before they get there. But we do that.

MARKS: But here, you know, like all the houses you're going to visit--Like you have the special--

CORUJO: No, we do--For example, when I do it, I don't go to any house. I have to go to a house that is owned by the person that we don't want to bother, especially the person has to be well.

MARKS: I was going to ask you something. The music that they play, they play aguinaldo navideno and that sort of--

CORUJO: Aguinaldo navideno and popular music.

MARKS: But they play it on the traditional--like the cuatro and the--


CORUJO: --guitarra. Yes, most of the--You see, the guitarra is easy to carry.

MARKS: Right.

CORUJO: Like I cannot carry my vibes, you know. I have a big set of Dickinson and they weighed about 200 pounds and I cannot mount them. [unintelligible] But, you know, I take the guiro, and maracas, congas, guitarra, and a couple of singers, and the rest of the people make chorus.

MARKS: Do they serenade? Do they do a serenade when they go to somebody's house?

CORUJO: Yes, we're just--very quietly you get into the door, okay? And you start singing and making a hell of a lot of noise. You come out in the hall and in front of the house and everybody wake up. Two congas specially, they make a lot of noise. But everyday people are accustomed to it and everybody will love to receive a parranda at home. You see, that's the thing. Everybody's waiting, you know. I want my friends to give me what is called "asalto."

MARKS: Willie Colon has a record called "Asalto Navideno." I never understood 34:00what he meant by that, but it's like all the--

CORUJO: And then the last--No, no, not last year, but the Christmas before he make--As a matter of fact, I got the names [unintelligible] from an album which was José Nogeras, that is more typical, using today's salsa things. It became more typical.

MARKS: It's like aguinaldo in salsa form?

CORUJO: Aguinaldo and salsa, aguinaldo con salsa, which is a new kind of way to see it.

MARKS: Interesting. Does anything happen on "EI Dia de Reyes?" I mean is there anything, like any local celebration?

CORUJO: No, I don't think--I think that we're losing our, that custom here. Me, myself, I became a Santa Claus. Yes, because the thing is the children--The three kings, the three kings come on January 6 and the kids want to play with their toys, you know, so most of the kids they receive from Santa Claus. Of course, I get them a little thing, you know. Not a big deal. Not a big present, 35:00but something for them to remember.

MARKS: To commemorate--

CORUJO: To remember the three kings. They are part of our culture.

MARKS: Is there anything on the Fiestas Patronales? I mean, when I lived in Manhattan, there was a little celebration.

CORUJO: Oh, no. We go to our home town.

MARKS: I see.

CORUJO: To my home town, forget it. Or, I send my children, my wife. I couldn't go this--You know, I haven't gone to my fiesta patronal for a long time.

MARKS: When is that? What month is that?


MARKS: It's in July.

CORUJO: And they say--It's funny. It's my birthday on those days, but I have a problem with this program. I have summer school begin at this time, more or less at that time, I'm in the organization of--and I can't leave.

MARKS: In your home town, what do they do in the Fiesta Patronal? What goes on?

CORUJO: Well, they take ten days and they dedicate it to a patron. Now, our patron is La Virgen de Carmen, that's what the Catholic Church call her, you know, they bring games and a "Coney Island" on the plaza.


MARKS: Like a feria, like a--

CORUJO: And there's a feria for ten days. And we have a good mayor in my home town. They've got the best of the musicians. I mean the, not the home--They bring professionals.

MARKS: Not traditional or new, you know, popular--

CORUJO: No, popular music.

MARKS: It's always like--

CORUJO: The best that is on the market; The Gran Combo, Celia Cruz, Bobby Valentin, Sonora Poncena.


CORUJO: Our mayor always brings this type of popular music. Actresses like--or singers like Sophie, like Yolandita Monge.

MARKS: Yes, all the big stars.

CORUJO: Yes, big stars, big stars. They come to my home town. And it's one of the--If it's not the biggest, fiesta patronal in Puerto Rico, it's one of them.

MARKS: Yes, and it attracts people from other--

CORUJO: Forget it. Like in every home town, if you took a ride, the first Sunday 37:00would be dedicated to "the absent."

MARKS: Yes, los ausentes.

CORUJO: The people who live outside, and we go back.

MARKS: Yes, about how many people go back from here, from the community? Many people? Everybody?

CORUJO: Yes, a lot. Now, I'm talking about hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people.

MARKS: And they all go back?

CORUJO: From here, from Sunset Park, go back. In my family, I have a house and I live there--about fourteen people, members of my family. About nine went. That's the way and every family is the same. And when the time comes in June, I bring, I always bring a softball team from Puerto Rico to play here. And la semana puertorrigueña, I always bring a team from my home town.

MARKS: Sí. So, if there's going to be one time of the year when you go back, that's it. Like that's even more than Christmas or any--

CORUJO: Around Christmas--I go in November. I bring a team from here to Puerto Rico in November for the Thanksgiving weekend. We're in communication. I go four 38:00or five times every year to Puerto Rico.

MARKS: And most people here are the same thing. It's like--

CORUJO: Yes, you find them there. If I open a door, going to Kennedy is like opening a door to my home town. "How long have you been here?" "I've been here five days already." "When are you leaving?" "I'm leaving tomorrow." "Okay, take this to my wife and tell her that I'll be leaving in five more days."

MARKS: So, this is like a suburb of your home town, in a way. It's like it--

CORUJO: I have business there. I do. I sell cars, used cars, I send them back. My wife is there now selling cars.

MARKS: So, you really divide your time between here and there.

CORUJO: Yes, and I am considered a leader down there. And when I get down into my home town, it's a good feeling. It's a lot of people who appreciate what I'm doing and they are very, very proud of me. I love my people and it is very difficult to me to have to say that I, that I belong here, because part of them 39:00are here. You know, I love to be a Puerto Rican, and I love the music.

MARKS: So, some of the things that U.P.R.O.S.E. does is to help people who are corning in, like new arrivals and--

CORUJO: And people who are here, old people, like that lady that you spoke to.

MARKS: The Dominicana?

CORUJO: Yes, she comes here almost every day. And, you know, they need it. They need a place where they can go and they feel that they are welcome.

MARKS: Yes. You help them get social services and connect them up with a--

CORUJO: Yes. U.P.R.O.S.E. started--When I got it, it was an educational program. Now, it's a multi-service center. We serve anything, though. We get involved in any program and any aspect of the community.

MARKS: When this first started, was this mainly to help Puerto Ricans and then it sort of expanded or it was always a --

CORUJO: No, it was--Well, it was mainly Puerto Rican in 1966, mainly Puerto Rican, from my home town and from Moca.


MARKS: Yes, we were talking about Moca before.


MARKS: Moca is the other place where a lot of people have come from.


MARKS: That's near Mayaguez?

CORUJO: Yes, near Mayaguez. So, Gonzalo Plasencia and a group of leaders, they decided to build an organization and that's what they did.

MARKS: Now, is he from Moca or from your home town? Is he from--

CORUJO: Gonzalo Plasencia is from my home town. These were people from Moca, in those times.

MARKS: So, originally, it was almost like a home town organization, you might say.


MARKS: And then it grew into like a service--

CORUJO: It was a social club first and then became a community organization.

MARKS: But there are a lot of social clubs that have just stayed social clubs, like a--

CORUJO: If we come to an exploitation of the drinker, there are a lot of social clubs with no--illegally around here. But they only--they open a storefront, what they do is a bar.

MARKS: I passed one called "La Zumbadora." I think it had a--but it had a Puerto Rican and a Dominican flag, so it was like for both groups? Is there a lot of--Is it a--?

CORUJO: No. There's a separation between both.


MARKS: Oh, there's a separation. I also--Actually, one of the things I wanted to ask you about was what kind of relations are going on between the different Hispanic--

CORUJO: Well, they come--they use the services, and they are controlling the bodegas.

MARKS: These are the Dominicans?

CORUJO: Yes. They don't deal with us. We don't deal with them. It's a cultural shock. The only thing that unite us is their music, the merengue. It's not that we are enemy or nothing, but they have their own cultural aspect, and some of them are illegal here, so they don't want to deal with exposure.

MARKS: So, each group forms its own social clubs, but yet--

CORUJO: Yes, and some of them they know each other from their home town.

MARKS: But, yet, it's like the one thing that really unites you was something like you, where you perform services across all the different Hispanic groups, regardless of--

CORUJO: Well, you see I have developed myself to that stage--

MARKS: Yes, but that's more advanced in a way than what other people are doing. That's more--

CORUJO: When I came here, I was Puerto Rican only and then I start this 42:00[inaudible] with the other people and I learn to deal with the other situations and to learn to help the other people.

MARKS: Besides Dominicans and Nicaraguenses, what other groups come in here, like that you can think of off-hand?

CORUJO: Well, to the immigration program?


CORUJO: You know, all of them come. All different kind of--mostly Hispanics and Arabs. There's a big infiltration of Arabs. Chinese.

MARKS: You do immigration for everybody. You help them everybody.

CORUJO: Yes, we help anybody that comes here, even, you know, there's a lot of Arabs ladies that come here. Yes, we don't--We are not--God forbid, God forbid.

MARKS: So, most of the Hispanics here, a lot of them are illegal? I mean, a lot of them are--

CORUJO: No, not really. Not really. Dominicans here are they are easy--It's easy 43:00for them to get the papers. The South Americans and Central American people, they are, they are very--They come from a different type of government and they do feel that they could be sent back and they still--you know, they're scared of the political aspect of their lives. And most of them, they are hiding in here.

MARKS: Is there a Cuban presence in Sunset Park?


MARKS: There's no Cubans or a few Cubans?

CORUJO: There's a few Cubans. They have some stores around.

MARKS: But they don't live. They don't really--They're not really part of the--


MARKS: They keep a low profile?

CORUJO: Cubans are staying in Miami, in New Jersey.

MARKS: What about Ecuadorians?

CORUJO: Ecuadorians are a group here.

MARKS: Are they family groups or is it men who come?

CORUJO: Ah, you know, they are--You know, they are, again, in the same state of the others. Unfortunately, since we have more freedom than them, we are more 44:00known and they, they don't want to be associated because we are the minority. So that means that the negative aspect of our culture and our system is also in a big, in a big profile, so they generalize. And, also, they don't want to be contaminated. They are very low-profile.

MARKS: They also have their own groups and their own social groups and everything?

CORUJO: No, I don't see here Ecuadorians, South Americans. Well, what you say it is mostly Dominicans and Puerto Ricans.

MARKS: That's the main presence?

CORUJO: No, we are the majority, you know.


CORUJO: I could say that non-Puerto Ricans in this community is about fifteen percent.

MARKS: Yes, and that's Dominican mostly.

CORUJO: And of that fifteen percent, ten percent is Dominican and there is a different kind of Mexican, Ecuadorian, Costa Rican, Nicaraguenses, you know.


MARKS: Do you think that Sunset Park is going to continue becoming more and more Hispanic, and it's going to--?

CORUJO: Yes. I think so and right now the female district leader that we have in this community have no-- nobody's running against her. So, she hasn't gone into elections yet, and she's already the leader because Finney is leaving. So, she's going to be elected the district leader.

MARKS: What about the school boards? Is there an attempt to incorporate Hispanic culture in the teaching of the--

CORUJO: Yes, we have a member; one non-Hispanic member, Felix Vazquez, very good. He's a good leader. It's not that he's a good leader, okay? He's a professional and he has opened this part of Sunset Park in regard to politics, 46:00you know, as a group of people who are professionals, mostly teachers--

MARKS: Right.

CORUJO: --who are controlling part of their political aspects. Unfortunately, Puerto Ricans and Hispanics have a tendency of being divided, and they are weak in that area. And we are divided politically. That's why we never encounter--We never have--get nothing done.

MARKS: Yes. I notice from the earliest days, even from the pioneers then, people were becoming active in local politics. This seems to be something that goes back almost until the teens.

CORUJO: Oh, yes. Gonzalo Plasencia and Mateo Hernandez, they were both directors of this organization. Gonzalo was the first, Mateo then came, when I came, Mateo was the director. He died already. He was one of our leaders. He was from Moca. He was from Moca. A very good person. I used to have pictures of him around, with kids, he loved children.

MARKS: I meant to ask you that I've heard--I don't know if it's still going 47:00on--but I heard there was a parade of Brooklyn pioneers? Is that--

CORUJO: Yes, that's, that's Lydia Rivero's baby, and it doesn't happen in Sunset Park. It's happening more or less in Eastern Parkway, and that area; South Brooklyn.

MARKS: Is it still going on?

CORUJO: I think so, yes. What we have here is the La Parada de la Hispanidad, which means Hispanism Parade.

MARKS: Here in Sunset Park?

CORUJO: Sunset Park, and it's celebrated every year, it was. And then also we also have the La Parada Descubrimiento de Puerto Rico, who was born in this organization, and it was, it was created by Mr. Mateo Hernandez; those two parades.

MARKS: When are they? What time of the year were they?

CORUJO: You see, Columbus--Columbus discovered Puerto Rico on the nineteenth of November, so that has to be contingent with that week. La Parada de Hispanidad 48:00you have to do with the Hispanic or the Hispanism and it happens in June. Say, a week before the La Parada Puertorriqueña in Manhattan.

MARKS: It's here in Sunset Park?

CORUJO: Yes, in Sunset Park. Both of them are on Fifth Avenue.

MARKS: Do you have more groups than Puerto Rican day? Do you mean other Hispanic groups or is it mostly Puerto Rican? Is it--?

CORUJO: No, in La Parada, in both parades, it's anyone who wants to participate will.

MARKS: Do folk groups come out, folkloric groups from each community?

CORUJO: Yes, like schools are represented, community organizations, the churches, sports. It's a good--One is good, one is not that good, the thing is dependent on who organized it.

MARKS: Do you also send contingents into Manhattan when you have Puerto Rican Day Parade?

CORUJO: Yes--No, I don't. But the community does, they bring people in. The Hatillo Social Club, we bring our mayor from our home town and we go with him.


MARKS: I don't know if you can answer this, but how do you think the Puerto Rican community here is different from, let's say, Manhattan or the Bronx?

CORUJO: I don't think that--Well, we are more calm. Manhattan is more violent anyway you see it. Sunset Park has one of the lowest rates of criminalism in the city. The statistics show, according to the precinct. We have a--Even Bay Ridge is growing in regard to the criminal thing.

MARKS: Is there local policing? Do you organize any kind of--are there local crime watches?

CORUJO: No, they don't get--they don't get to organize much. You know, I'm sorry to say that there's too many rookies in the police force and they are too brutal. They don't know how to deal with people. They come and they--They've got a superiority complex, I figure, because they have a gun and a piece of stick, and they abuse people. Well, proof of that, was that violent thing in Manhattan.


MARKS: The riot, the [unintelligible].

CORUJO: The riot. As you go from individual to individual, you find the same reaction from a policeman. "You show your muscle, I'll bust your head." No matter if you're right or not. Okay? And they come to you and say, "Hey, what are you going to do? Move." They violate your rights on every corner. That's what they--I tried to deal with them on my own and I find myself persecuted. And every corner they're stopping and they try to make joke on me and that's the way that they treat people. I really believe that they have to be--you know, they have to learn to control their kind of--

MARKS: Does the community use Sunset Park itself, the park? Are there activities that go on there?


MARKS: There are activities--

CORUJO: We have summer games for the handicapped. We have music that is bringing here; BACA and also other organizations.

MARKS: So the music is not just Hispanic. It's for all the members of the community?

CORUJO: Right. FAMA. We're going to play on Fifth Avenue, they're going to close 51:00Fifth Avenue. That's an organization that is growing, FAMA and it is doing a lot of good for the community.

MARKS: Are they mostly Hispanic?

CORUJO: Mostly are Hispanics, but they have White control. Okay? FAMA, on Fifth Avenue they are doing a lot of good things.

MARKS: And more Hispanics are opening up businesses on Fifth Avenue, would you say?

CORUJO: Yes, yes I can see that. Small business, but most of the businesses around here are Spanish.

MARKS: I noticed Los Latinos, that's a clothing store?

CORUJO: Yes, it's a Cuban store.

MARKS: Oh, it is?

CORUJO: It's a Cuban store.

MARKS: So a lot of the Cubans who own the stores don't live in the community?


MARKS: They just--They just come in and they own.


MARKS: Are there botanicas in the community?


MARKS: Are they--

CORUJO: Do you want to see one?


CORUJO: Maybe we can go down the block. Very good people.

MARKS: I'm interested in including--Can we [Interview interrupted.]


CORUJO: But the industrial area we have now, from 39th to 53rd Street, it's been designated an industrial area. It used to be a lot of people lived down there. And, as I told you before, the FHA scandal was responsible for the dilapidation of this community housing-wise, because the buildings are--most of them--are over one hundred years old, the landlords want to exploit the buildings and they did not give good services. Then down the road, they abandon the buildings; it's happening all over Nueva York.

MARKS: It looks like they were originally built for workers or they were working class to start with, right? It looks like they were originally built for workers.

CORUJO: Built for working class and were built in another era. Today, construction and development of buildings is a very expensive thing to do. Banks are having a rate climbing to the sky, and the majority of the people who live 53:00now in these buildings, are poorer than the others, the buildings are oldest, and so the constitution of the building itself is very low. So, the reason for that, to a lot of them burn out, the boiler did not work, landlord end up abandon the building because of the quality of the structure and they exploited the building for twenty years or fifteen years until they cannot get nothing more. And then down the road, they abandon it. There was no heat, no hot water, tenants start stopping paying, and that's it. The buildings start breaking down.

MARKS: This is what was happening, you mentioned, in other parts of Sunset Park even beyond Third Avenue.

CORUJO: Yes, in the sixties. The sixties, the Sunset Park Redevelopment Committee, I mean, the committee was designated as a neighborhood strategy area, 54:00so that means that the community program could ask for money.

MARKS: Had the Scandinavian community started moving out by that time? You know, people were leaving--

CORUJO: Very fast.

MARKS: Very fast.

CORUJO: The old people, they died. The youngest generation of Scandinavian and White got educated and moved to other, other places, so the old folks stayed here until they died or they retired, and then go, go to wherever they please. They started selling their houses and the Hispanics start buying.

MARKS: People who lived here already, or who rented or something like that--


MARKS: --were starting to buy.

CORUJO: Started buying.

MARKS: And that's really the beginning of what's happened now. I mean, it's--

CORUJO: Yes, and fortunately to us, we have now a complete stock of houses. 55:00There's no more abandoned buildings in Sunset Park and the ones that are on the edge of being abandoned, they already have been bought through, through HPD or maybe through other deals and they are being fixed because the real estate value grow over a thousand percent.

MARKS: So Hispanics are also becoming the entrepreneurs, in a way.


MARKS: And like they're the real--Would you say they're in like the forefront of the development?

CORUJO: Right, right.

MARKS: You mentioned that your grandfather was here in the forties?

CORUJO: Oh, he came in the forties and he, he started making--working here. He makes his money. He bought houses. He died already, about six years ago. And he used to be on 47th Street, on Third Avenue, lived there most of his life.

MARKS: What was there about Brooklyn that started making people from your hometown come here, was that a coincidence or does this go way back?


CORUJO: No, it's a matter of who's there, see. It's a friend there that you can go to and then you have a couple of friends after you, and then on the road from 1940, 1936, these people started coming. In the fifties, after the Second World War, then a lot of people started, you know, coming. I figured that in Sunset Park in the fifties was where the seed of every family started coming here.

MARKS: Do you think in the rest of New York City, you know, this was the same pattern? People from one town would go to one borough. Let's say, people from San German, it seems like people from the same town would end up in the same part of the city, you--

CORUJO: I don't know. I think so. I think, like, I know, for example, in Liberty, upstate New York, is a big colony of people from my hometown, too. They 57:00start with people related to me. In Connecticut, I know places; a place in Hartford that a lot of people from Camuy, Puerto Rico are. And in the Bronx, I don't know, if there are colonies of, you know, different groups, I, I don't see that pattern. But I, I haven't studied it. Again, I've been here all my life in Sunset Park. I never worked out of Sunset Park in my life, you know, so twenty-one years dedicated to this community, haven't given me too--not too much chance to study the component of the population of the Hispanic population of the other boroughs.

MARKS: Sure.

CORUJO: Neither have I gotten--have involved to try to meet inter-borough.

MARKS: Right.

CORUJO: You know, it's too much work here for me to--but you know, it's enough for me to stay.

MARKS: But, from what you know, this is pretty self-contained. I mean, what goes on in Sunset Park--

CORUJO: Yes, yes.

MARKS: It's self-contained.


CORUJO: Yes, self-containing. We're going to stay here. We dominate already, and the schools is--We have three Hispanic principals in four of our schools and we have politicians that are growing. I've been asked to run. I don't want to run because I don't believe in that. But I have people who are close to me who are running, very good friends of mine.

MARKS: Who was that woman you mentioned earlier, I forget. You mentioned her.

CORUJO: Cynthia Gonzalez. Happens to be my sister.

MARKS: Oh, yes?

CORUJO: And very--She was born here in Brooklyn. She's--See, when my father came over here, unfortunately, he changed his name because he don't want to support us. He was very irresponsible.

MARKS: To Gonzalez?

CORUJO: Yes, using his mother's name. So that's why my sister's name is Gonzalez. I'm Corujo. And Cindy is the daughter of my father's second marriage. 59:00She's a social worker, a very, very beautiful human being. She works with mentally development and disabled and she's a community leader. She dedicates most of her time to work with the community. And she decided to run for--to female leader. Fortunately to her, she does not have nobody who run against her.

MARKS: So she's in.

CORUJO: So she's in. And I'm sure she's going to be--not because she's my sister--but she's a very smart woman, young. She has a lot of opportunities.

MARKS: What kinds of things do you think she'll be trying to get for Sunset--for the community? What kinds of improvements or--?

CORUJO: I don't know. You see, I, I didn't want to get involved in her situation. I'm older than her and I'm a leader before her and I don't want the 60:00community to think that, but it's already have been said that I have put her there in the position, you know. And my sister is a leader by herself. As a matter of fact, we have a lot of things that we don't agree with. I will give her all the support and, when the time comes that she needs help, she comes to me, I give her the help that I've got. But, yet, she's on her own. I don't know what her platform is, because, again, I didn't want to get involved. And I--Especially, if she called me up and said "Do you think if I run I'm going to jeopardize your job?" I said, "No, you will not because I don't think that I have nothing to do with it." And she has her own platform, her own machinery which I am not involved with.

MARKS: Besides immigration, what kinds of problems do people come here with? You now, what can you help them with?

CORUJO: Well, for example, I have--I open the doors to two; these two organizations. Bensonhurst Tenants Coalition has a subsidiary that is called 61:00Sunset Park Tenant Council. Right, Maria? That's the name?

MARIA: The Bensonhurst Tenants Council is my parent organization. I'm a satellite of Bensonhurst Tenants Council, but the funding comes--my particular funding--comes from CDA.


MARIA: But the Bensonhurst Tenants Council's funding comes from their municipal resources.

CORUJO: All right. So, Maria, her budget is so small that, you know, in her budget it doesn't include rents. So, she's been working from the inside of our organization and when that organization disappeared, I was told, well, what is going to happen to Maria? I said, "Well, I have a desk for her." So we spoke. Maria is a very special individual. She is dedicated one hundred percent of her time to helping the community Hispanics. She is not Hispanic. She is an American. She carries a name, a Hispanic name, which is beautiful, and we are 62:00very proud of having her here. She helps with every plan of housing. For some people, she's a lawyer. She goes to court. She fights landlords.

MARKS: Like legal aid, like in a--

CORUJO: To housing courts. She defies landlords. Landlords have a lot of respect for her. She knows her business. She knows how to deal with the housing problem in Sunset Park.

MARKS: Are there a lot of landlords who don't live--? They don't live there, absentee landlords?

CORUJO: Oh, yes. The majority of the landlords, they don't live in the buildings where they are. I mean, buildings today is a business and a business you have to exploit as much as you can.

MARKS: And what percentage, do you think, of the building owners are Hispanics now?

CORUJO: I couldn't answer that. Maria, what percentage of the landlords in the community are Hispanic?

MARIA: Very little. In fact, very few. There's not that many. A lot of it is 63:00coming from Indian landlords, Korean landlords. Many others. There are some Hispanics, but I would say they're in the minority, especially from the apartment buildings that I service.

MARKS: They're not--

MARIA: Yes. I don't know about the individual houses, but the apartment buildings that I service, is mostly others and not Hispanic. I'd say maybe--I'd say not even a third of the people that I service have got a Hispanic landlord. But it doesn't. You know, in terms of the way people are treated, they are just as bad as the rest, when it comes to the housing. The almighty dollar comes first. They don't care if they throw out little old ladies or women with children. They don't care.

MARKS: Then there's no particular difference?

MARIA: You can't say. A lot of the people are Jewish landlords, but that's not so. It's money--dollar signs. When they see the dollar signs, everybody turns crazy.


CORUJO: So that's the housing aspect, actual. In regard to landlords, basically a lot of small homeowners like myself we have no problem with those, and the majority are Hispanics. For the landlords--See, people have a mis--They don't have the right--how you call--perception of the word "landlord." Landlord is the one who has a building of five or more units. A homeowner is the one who has from four down. And there's different laws that are required in regard of tenancy. The homeowner can throw you out anytime he wants. He can raise your 65:00rent because he has a small building. A landlord is a business making, you know, it's a business.

MARKS: In terms of I think I might have asked you this before, but maybe we could go over this, in terms of culture do you see--I mean, obviously it's a Hispanic community. Do you see Hispanic culture growing? Do you see, you know, kind of like--One thing I've been curious about, is there kind of like pan-Hispanic culture developing, that's going to incorporate all the different groups? And, if there is, what do you think it's going to be based on? Do you know what I mean?

CORUJO: Well, you're going to be based on need. You have to come from CVO's, community-based organization and you can put them together. It has to be from the leaders--us--and, unfortunately, we are divided. Everybody want, I don't know, because of pride or whatever, everyone wants to, to be their leader, the leader of leaders. And it's at a disadvantage the things that are happening. I 66:00don't deal with leaders here. I don't. You know, I am considered a leader. I don't consider myself a leader. I consider a worker for other people who have had the grace of work for eighteen years knowing the necessity of my community, and who I'm here to try to help them on. If I am knowledgeable, I have to give my knowledge to my people, or to the people that live in my surroundings. And, see, over here there's a lot of leaders who want to control you. They want to give, but they give after you give yourself. That causes a lot of problem with me. I don't sell my problem. I don't let nobody work on my problems. My files 67:00are confidential. Nobody has the right to the inside. And politicians come to you and they even ask you for your mailing list of all your clients so they can use that for their advantage. And that causes me a lot of problems. I have closed my office to the politicians.

MARKS: You were getting people from the borough president's office or something like that, or the--

CORUJO: Yes, as a matter of fact, Luis Osorio. He used this office as a center in Sunset Park, but he never became a politician with us.

MARKS: He's the Hispanic Affairs person.

CORUJO: Yes, he's a worker. He works for the borough president and whatever I need, I ask him for from his position. If he tried to tell me to go and to try to change, I would stop him automatically. And we have that agreement. I don't let him, I don't let nobody try to use my office.


MARKS: I think I've read somewhere that Hispanics are the fastest growing group, or one of the fastest, in Brooklyn. Do you think there's going to be more--like they'll have more political power? How do you--?

CORUJO: I see a lot of, I see a lot of people who aren't getting involved--who are getting involved who are professionals and that's nice, because when you are a professional, you become more analytical. You can see the problems first. But, if you depart yourself from where you're coming from, that will make you a businessman, you see. That's another problem here that once they become professionals, they stay professionals. They lose the community identification.

MARKS: Right. But not everybody is, right? I mean, it's--

CORUJO: No, no, not everybody is. Not everybody is.

MARKS: Right, especially those who were moving back here and buying houses?

CORUJO: They're here to stay.

MARKS: Right, so some people just move into the general mainstream. But I guess if people move back here, you can sort of assume they have some identification 69:00with the community, right? I mean, that's--it seems obvious.

CORUJO: Yes, and you know there's a lot of people who come here and they're here fifteen years with the idea that they're going to go someplace else. But there are some of us that came here to stay. I am very--I am appreciative to the neighborhood of Sunset Park. This is where I grow.

MARKS: I'm wondering I don't know if you know, but I mean, how many of those people are interested in things like cultural preservation, if any? I mean, do you think they're mostly just interested in, you know, more of a political clout, or do you think some of them have some interest in promoting Hispanic culture or preserving it?

CORUJO: Not many people here. Not many people here.

MARKS: That's sort of a luxury that--

CORUJO: I think that the only one who is trying to preserve--at least the music--is me. The culture and music. I tried, I built that group and I don't see any Hispanic reaction to it.

MARKS: It's mostly--

CORUJO: I see more--White people like the music, the Puerto Rican folk-rock 70:00music than the Hispanics. And this thing of salsa, and new Nuyoricanism has put that aside.

MARKS: Umm hmm, it's kind of taken over.

CORUJO: You see, they cannot reach that kind of culture, because "the Nuyoricans" is a mentality with no name. They are not--They don't feel like Puerto Ricans and they are not accepted, not accepted as White.

MARKS: Right.

CORUJO: So that's a, that's a type of concern with our, with our culture. They don't want to identify, they don't want to learn the language. They don't care. They want to teach their children to read English only, and that will create--those children--a lot of problems because, in the future, if I see--as I see New York growing--if you don't know Spanish, you're going to be in a lot of problems.

MARKS: Do you think most children are growing up bilingual here in Sunset Park?

CORUJO: And they're going to have to move out. And they're going to be discriminated or whatever is going to happen, and only discriminated in the 71:00negative sense of it, but, yet, if my daughter's bilingual she'll have a lot of chance--more chances. Today, the next mayor of the City of New York cannot do it without Hispanics around him.

MARKS: When they have bilingual programs in the schools, what does that really mean? Do they teach some classes in Spanish and some in English?

CORUJO: They do. That depends. The bilingual program was supposed to be this way: You take a child who has difficulty with the barrier language, and you take that child and try to introduce the basics of the, of his learning experience in his own native language. As he progresses, you're supposed to be introducing him to the mainland language and culture. By the sixth grade, the child must be bilingual. When he goes into the high school, junior high school, he can be 72:00receiving some kind of bilingualism, but yet it doesn't have to be forced into him.

MARKS: So, the main program is really focused on the elementary schools here.

CORUJO: Yes. So he can learn to read. Because, if he comes from China, and he comes and sits down in a, in a classroom and we study Keats, and, you know, somebody starts to say [unintelligible], he will say, "What the hell is going on?" Everybody will ask the same thing. So, what will happen to the Chinese child? By the time he learns what that person is talking, he'll lose the meanings. Mathematics, social studies are nothing if he doesn't know how to read or anything, you know. That was the issue of Aspira, and its crap. As an education specialist that I consider myself, I think that we have failed, because our children are not reading in Spanish, neither in English. And it's not because of the failure of bilingualism. It's the failure of the personnel 73:00that is dealing with the bilingualism. The bilingual program is in the wrong hands.

MARKS: What do you think about the controversy over making English the official language?

CORUJO: I think that that's wrong to do in fact. That I have right, the constitutional right to my language and my culture and the government has not done nothing to, to, you know, to, to, for the Hispanism. We have done it. And I believe that the Chinese have the same right, and the Greeks, and the Russians. And whoever comes over here should develop their own bilingual program and work with it. They should not let them, you know, assimilate after all. This country was born out of thirteen colonies and one of them was Spanish, and in two of them they knew Spanish and they dealt with Spanish. Like France, because they were, they are, there are barriers, you know. And I think that we have the right 74:00to have, to have it our own.

MARKS: So you think this will be maintained as a bilingual community? I mean, for the foreseeable future?

CORUJO: I think so. And it will be more bilingual every day as more leaders come out; because when I come back from Puerto Rico, I'm going to be--Nowhere will you prepare old enough to make leaders, and that's going to be my goal. I'm trying to create that out of the young people. I have a program that's called "Leaders of Tomorrow." Trying to put into the young guys the leader, the leadership and try to teach them the right to become leaders of their own culture.

MARKS: Do you think in that generation a lot of them are going to pass into sort of the American mainstream? Or do you think they're going to stay, you know, with at least some foot in the Hispanic community? You know, do you think they're going to lose their culture completely and pass into some American kind of--

CORUJO: Yes, that happened to the Italian people and that's happening to some Hispanics.


MARKS: That they're just passing into the mainstream--

CORUJO: They just go there, become Nuyoricans, they force themselves into the Americanism and they lose their culture and their identity. Our people--Okay, Lutheran Medical Center has one Hispanic administrator. He doesn't know, he doesn't speak Spanish. So he's not Hispanic. I believe that Hispanism, Anglo-Saxonism, Chinese-ism, anything that you want to do is inside your heart. It's not where you, where you're coming from, because you can come from Cuba and become a thief, and that doesn't represent that you're Cuban. You see, that's--how communism believes in denigration of cultures by sending people who denigrate a culture. Exactly what Fidel Castro did to the Americans; "You want them? Take them. If not, I kill them in jail."

MARKS: The Mariel people.

CORUJO: Yes, the Marielitos. That's, that's one side of gentrification, too.


MARKS: I'm wondering if we could talk a little bit about culture and politics, specifically about, you know, musical styles and the kinds of things people listen to.

CORUJO: I like, I like that kind of music. For example, Los Seis del Solar con Ruben Blades, is very political oriented. I also have people like, singers like Cheo Feliciano who identify "Estampas," "Motivo," "De Mi Tierra," with Nogueras and Ismael Miranda, he's a new-born kind of generation, because I can see Ismael Miranda as a Nuyorican who went back to my country instead of staying here. And he's Puerto Rican, puertorriqueño, and he came out and he's identifying himself as such. And they are introducing the people's message into our music, the 77:00salsa. The salsa identifies the Cuban-Afro-American and Puerto Rican and Dominicans who, they, we came into--We were born after the forties and we have born with our own identity. And, yes, that's politics. It's a matter--It's a way of sending a message to the people that is "'tá bueno ya," let's identify ourself, let's create our own generation, because we are educated, our folks are not and we've been abused. So I believe in that. I identify as a musician myself also, and I believe with that. I believe the "Estampas" identify every part of my town.

MARKS: "Estampas" is--?

CORUJO: Pablo--Pablo Pedro Navaja, Pablo Pueblo, "Estoy Buscando America." "El Carpintero," "Nel Albanil," those songs from Cheo Feliciano identify everyone. "Cipriano Armenteros" was an identification of a, of a Cuban revolutionary. I 78:00think that does a lot to our generation.

MARKS: So when did I mean, I remember back in the sixties Eddie Palmieri, there was a political--

CORUJO: Yes, that's how he came out.

MARKS: But this is like a new, like, wave.

CORUJO: That substituted the jíbaro in the Nuyoricanism atmosphere. The jíbaro is the Puerto Rican folklore representation made in music. The salsa is the Nuyorican and the New Hispanic generation identification of part of our own or of our own struggle.

MARKS: When you use the word "estampa," what is that?

CORUJO: "Estampas" is a record that Cheo Feliciano did that identify different kind of personalities of the Puerto Rican culture in Puerto Rico in these days. Okay? The carpenter who make the big buildings, and yet, he's still living in a 79:00little rancho in the country. And when his son wants to go to the Caribe Hilton where his father worked as a brick layer, okay?

MARKS: An Albanil.

CORUJO: Yes, as a brick layer, he's not let in. Okay? And the "Carpentero, el Albanil" identifies, that's part of me. I left my blood there and now my son cannot go in because he's poor and he don't have an I.D.

MARKS: But this is being created in Puerto Rico, but it's coming back here, too, now, right?

CORUJO: Of course, of course.

MARKS: It's come back into New York.

CORUJO: Of course, Pedro Navaja is identified as a person who became a drug addict. He, you know, identified--a very, very, very cool guy. One day he tried to abuse his woman and she happened to be a prostitute and she killed him.

MARKS: Mack the Knife. This is Mack the Knife.

CORUJO: Yes, yes, a macho image of the drug addict. But then we have "Estoy Buscando America," it's on the record, and they say "Where is America? Where is 80:00my love for my country? Where it is?" There is none. They say "disco-novela," that Ruben Blades made where he talks about El Solar de Los Aburridos in Panama, and he identified the world of the poor people.

MARKS: Los solares, right?

CORUJO: Yes, los solares, in order to identify. Those are kind of identities in our mind that happens in the streets of New York with a Hispanic. And that's another kind of identity. The jíbaro already is dead. The real jíbaro is only in our minds.

MARKS: It's like a--Like a folkloric--

CORUJO: Right. When I make "Ser boricua es un honor," these people have the idea of a jíbaro, and we want to make a jump and tell these people, this is our main--This is where all our music came, I think that we have to work ahead of a 81:00lot, you know, for the, for the Hispanics to understand that. Of course, there's the educated Puerto Rican who can see that and appreciate it and that's the one who I want to touch first because--

MARKS: Because the educated are really in the vanguard now.

CORUJO: Yes, so the educated know more how to multiply and give it back to the other people. But this part of that is going to be loose.

MARKS: Remember the singer, what's--Andres Jiminez, "el jíbaro?"

CORUJO: Andres Jiminez, sí. Yes, I do.

MARKS: You do? Does he still have any force in the--?

CORUJO: No, these people are old. Andres Jiminez must be about seventy-five years old and at that stage the jíbaro today, to be today seventy-eight years old would have to be dying. The struggle has, has killed him. The jíbaro, he will kill himself working and suffering and being abused, being humble. That's 82:00what killed the hero. A jíbaro was not a revolutionary. In order to [unintelligible] Under Betances, under Albizú Campos, they have to go out and educate himself. They could not, you know--they came and educate themselves and came back to tell the jíbaro,"You've been killing yourself. Let's tell these people that that's not so." So, the jíbaro will never get out of Puerto Rico. See, it happened with like the Indians. The Taínos were killed in the town because they never know anything else. So, in the fifties when the Hispanics start coming out and go out to California to pick off tomatoes and Florida to pick off asparagus.

MARKS: And even Hawaii, they were--

CORUJO: Right. They went there and they still, they start finding other work so they can enjoy. Some of them stay, some of them went back. And that's how we started thinking about, "Hey, on the other side of this ocean, there's a place 83:00where we can go." I think that in New York part of the three million Hispanics that are here, two millions are Puerto Rican, and we have identified ourselves with our own identification. We cannot go back and live in my home town. I cannot go to my home town. I've changed. People don't want me no more.

MARKS: You're an ausente or your--

CORUJO: I don't know how things are there. That's what the people say. Now, forty-one percent unemployment in your own town, you come and [unintelligible] my [unintelligible] when I have to sell pastelillos and alcapurrias in the street in my home town, that mean that I don't want to starve. I will go and take somebody else's place and there is not enough place for everybody.

MARKS: So this is a new culture that is here to stay?

CORUJO: Yes. We have to create our own identity. We already have. And while we are doing it, unfortunately it's coming back to our mainstream Puerto Rico and 84:00we are -- and the country has suffered because of that. I'm kind of an idealístico, you know. I'm a fighter. I don't give up. That's what I feel.


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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Amaury Corujo

Born circa 1949, Amaury Corujo came to the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn from his hometown of Hatillo, Puerto Rico in 1967. He went to work in a hospital, and went from dishwasher to messenger to X-ray technician to interpreter, when he then became interested in public administration. He was made program director of U.P.R.O.S.E. (United Puerto Rican Organization of Sunset Park), founded in 1966 by neighborhood ''pioneers" that included Efrain Rosa and Gonzalo Plasencia. Under Corujo's directorship, this organization grew into an umbrella service organization assisting neighborhood residents in a variety of areas, including tenant rights, housing and immigration services.

Amaury Corujo begins the interview with his impressions of the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, and his dismay at the living conditions he found there among the area's Puerto Ricans. From his involvement with the rehabilitation of the neighborhood's housing stock, and as an area homeowner himself, Corujo's interview consists of detailed discussion on such issues as the industrialization of the neighborhood and the consequent dislocation of many of its Latino/a residents, as well as the gentrification process. He elaborates on the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) scandal and its effects on efforts to rebuild the neighborhood. A good part of the interview is given over to the ways that Christmas is observed by the neighborhood's Puerto Rican community, including house to house visits, food, and music. He talks about the Fiesta Patronal in his Puerto Rico hometown of Hatillo, and the close links between there and Sunset Park. He speaks of the future of the Latino community in Brooklyn and his program, called the ''Leaders of Tomorrow." Corujo concludes by considering Nuyorican identity and the death of the "Jíbaro'' image, and how this change is reflected in music. Interview conducted by Morton Marks.

Brooklyn Historical Society initiated the Hispanic Communities Documentation Project in 1988. Over fifty interviews were conducted to document the experiences of Brooklyn residents who arrived from Puerto Rico, Panama, Ecuador, and several other Central and South American nations in the latter half of the twentieth century. This collection includes recordings and transcripts of interviews conducted between 1988 and 1989. The oral histories often contain descriptions of immigration, living arrangements, neighborhood demographics, discrimination, employment, community development, and political leadership. Also included are photographs and printed ephemera.


Corujo, Amaury, Oral history interview conducted by Morton Marks, August 15, 1988, Hispanic Communities Documentation Project records and oral histories, 1989.004.02; Brooklyn Historical Society.


  • Corujo, Amaury
  • Sunset Park Restoration Committee
  • United Puerto Rican Organization of Sunset Park


  • Community development
  • Cultural assimilation
  • Dominican Americans| Ethnic identity
  • Hispanic Americans
  • Language and languages
  • Music
  • Musicians
  • Puerto Ricans


  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Puerto Rico
  • Sunset Park (New York, N.Y.)


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Hispanic Communities Documentation Project records and oral histories