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J.R. Guzman

Oral history interview conducted by Morton Marks

August 30, 1988

Call number: 1989.004.18

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GUZMAN: --because, like I said before, we had to leave because of Trujillo.

MARKS: What was the name of the town where you were born?

GUZMAN: Monte Christi.

MARKS: That's in the north?

GUZMAN: In the north near the border of Haiti.

MARKS: I'm just curious, I know there were Haitians who came to the Dominican Republic to work. Were there Haitians who came in to work?

GUZMAN: Yes. The people who cooked and did certain things in the house were Haitians. The family, they helped my uncle; they helped him with the trucks and all that. Like I said before, we had sort of like a trucking business. That was my aunt's husband.

MARKS: What kind of business did your family do?


GUZMAN: Well, my father was in the military. He was a barber in the military and that's basically what he did. In the Latin cultures, the woman doesn't do really anything but stay at home. My mother used to do a lot of crafts. My aunts and my great-grandmother and my grandmother, they all did the--had a candy business sort of like. It was in the backyard and they were wrapping this and making all these types of candies they would sell in sort of like a kiosk.

MARKS: In the square?

GUZMAN: Yes, near the square because it was sort of like on the side of the house. That's where they sold most of the stuff. Basically, my great-grandmother.

MARKS: Your family goes way back in Monte Christi, in that area? I mean, there are several generations?


GUZMAN: Yes, they go back from there but there is also part of it that came from Puerto Rico, which is the Spaniard part of the family. One of my grandfathers was from--he left Canarias, the Canary Islands, and my other grandfather was from Puerto Rico. Then they sort of like mingled and went into that. I guess because they were fishermen and all, they did a lot of that traveling. One of them was a Merchant Marine so he did a lot of traveling.

MARKS: I know in Cuba a lot [inaudible] tobacco industry. Was there tobacco up around--

GUZMAN: No, not there. I think the thing that was there was a lot of cacao, cacao and, like I said, fishermen and a lot of fruits, oranges, grapefruits, 3:00that type of thing.

MARKS: So how old were you when you--I mean, what was the story you had mentioned before about--

GUZMAN: One of my cousins got involved in the revolution so he left the country and he was in the United States and he started going with the rebels, which he eventually got killed in one of the invasions. I think there was an invasion in the early '50s, but it wasn't successful.

MARKS: An invasion of?

GUZMAN: Well, there was an invading force like the Bay of Pigs type of thing. They tried to come in through--I think they came in through La Romana and then it was just a matter of time. They got wiped out. I mean, Trujillo was too powerful then.

MARKS: This was organized outside of the--

GUZMAN: It was organized here. Then they, I guess, went over there when they 4:00found out one of your family is dead so you can come, get an X on your family name already. So then my mother was very into this politic stuff all the time. She's always been into politics.

MARKS: Is she here now?

GUZMAN: No, she retired and she's living in Mayaguez now. She's living good over there. She was involved in all that so I guess they gave us 24 hours to leave. So we had to leave. We left a lot of our belongings and eventually some other part of my family sort of like started drifting way away. Part of it stayed in Puerto Rico.

MARKS: What year was this that you left?

GUZMAN: '52? '52.

MARKS: And there were a lot of families who just got out?


GUZMAN: Some of us stayed. Like I said, one of my relatives was also in the military so he stayed there because he was a Trujillista. The other parts; they were rebels, so they had to leave.

MARKS: Did most people think automatically of coming to the States, do you think, did most people think when they left the Dominican Republic, was this the place to come to or--?

GUZMAN: Well, my family wanted to really stay in Puerto Rico. They already had family there that was living there. They tried to stay there and then, I don't know. I guess there was more of an offering over here, like my uncle; the one with the trucks, he had some money. He sold most of his stuff and he came here and established one of those businesses that sells furniture. If you want to go back, 'cause it seems like-- [Interview interrupted.] They had all these Haitians down there, they were-- They actually--


MARKS: They were the domestics.

GUZMAN: --worked just for food. Yes, the domestics. They would come and they would ask you actually because they were starving in Haiti. In fact, nowadays it's still doing it. Supposedly nowadays they have heavily guarded the border because they've gone by flocks to come-- And that's all they do. They'll ask just for food and shelter.

MARKS: They're starving.

GUZMAN: Yes, they're starving. That's too bad. It's weird. On one side it's so lush and then the other side is devastated.

MARKS: Yes, you fly over it and it's like Haiti is naked and then it's green.

GUZMAN: The same island, it's unbelievable.

MARKS: I remember hearing the Los Hermanos Reynoso from the north, and singers; some sisters, Las Hermanas Cruz, but they were singing in Creole. I was surprised in the Dominican Republic to hear Creole.

GUZMAN: They sing patois, patois, oh yeah. Their song is "palo, palo, palo 7:00[unintelligible]" That's part of it. They sing that in half-patois and all that, yeah.

MARKS: Something pa' conay. I forget. Something, something. I remember I recorded this in those archives, but I was really amazed. That must be from the north, right?

GUZMAN: Right around where I come from, that area they had, they dance--They don't dance just merengue. They dance, they have different names. I don't know if this is the right name, but Ripiao or something.

MARKS: Ripiao is a form of merengue, yes.

GUZMAN: Ripiao. It's a dance, and the reason, according to some of my family, is that they dance in a certain way because the ground was usually dirt. They didn't have any wood floors or anything, so they dance in a way so they didn't disturb the dirt. That's the way they danced. That's the name, Ripiao whatever. I forget the first part of it. My brothers would know better than that.


MARKS: Not perico ripiao?

GUZMAN: Perico ripiao.

MARKS: That's a style of merengue that I remember hearing. That's what they call a certain style of the south.

GUZMAN: Right, it's a certain style and that's because of the dirt grounds.

MARKS: I don't know if this is true, but I heard the Trujillo merengue comes from El Cibao, but that Trujillo wanted to promote it. Before I went to the Dominican Republic all I knew about was the merengue. Of course, there is so much more. But I've heard a story that he wanted to promote it because it was from the north and it wasn't Black. I don't know if that's true, but that he promoted merengue for political reasons which is why it's now the form everybody knows.

GUZMAN: It probably is. They--Like I said, he started freaking out, sort of like. He started changing the whole thing. Although, he couldn't escape the fact that the Dominican Republic is heavily Black. I mean, I forgot what percentage it is, but it must be in the 70s or the 60s and then all the mixtures that come around. It's quite a large mixture--


MARKS: Is the Cibao more Hispanic? Is that all mixed?

GUZMAN: --there. Around the coast it's less--it was more you had the Spaniards influence and then once you go into the interior it gets a little darker. You have a lot of Indian influence in there. It's a lot of--A lot of the artisans come from that area.

MARKS: How is the Cibao culturally different from the rest of the country, if it is? Is there something distinctive? I notice, for example, here on 5th Avenue a lot of the people seem to be Cibaeños, and I was wondering if there was a distinct culture to the Cibao that would be different from the rest of the country.

GUZMAN: In fact, they goof on the people of Cibao because of the way they speak. The people, oh--If you meet one of my brothers you start--you'll laugh because of the way he eats his, let me see-- They eat the Rs sort of like. That type of 10:00form comes from that area. Not everybody comes from the capital. That's the latest thing. "Oh, I'm from the capital." "Of course you're from the capital," but if you hear him speak Spanish then you say, "That doesn't sound like the Spanish they speak in the capital." They try to be more culturized there and trying to be more White. But mostly going that way their Spanish is kind of hard. My wife used to say that to me when my brother first came here. My brother came here in '79 or something. He was raised up in the country. My mother and my father got divorced because he was in the military. When my mother came over 11:00here we lost contact. So my Spanish is totally different than theirs. I mean, I went to the University of Puerto Rico so that changed my whole Spanish altogether from the Spanish I learned in the United States. It's totally different down there.

MARKS: So in '52 you left the Dominican Republic and then you went to--?

GUZMAN: We went to Mayaguez for not even two years, I don't think. Not even two years because my family was so in transition. Everything was going so crazy. I mean, they'd give you a couple hours to leave and all that type of thing. So you leave and you're expecting certain things to be delivered and more cousins coming here and more going straight to New York. Then from there we left and we went to 135th Street in Manhattan.

MARKS: I used to teach at City College. I used to stand on that corner and wait 12:00for my bus.

GUZMAN: Yes. I was raised there. 135th Street in between Amsterdam and Broadway.

MARKS: I know that street very well.

GUZMAN: You go up, let me see, Music and Art used to be there on that corner. I still go once and a while there and meet my friends.

MARKS: What year was this? This was--

GUZMAN: That's going all the way--I go--I start thinking of school grades, you know. Probably that was around 4th grade and then from there I went to Catholic School.

MARKS: Did you go to that grammar school that was right there?

GUZMAN: P.S. 192.

MARKS: This is in the '50s, right?


MARKS: Was it already Dominican?

GUZMAN: No. We were probably about the second or maybe third Dominican family there.

MARKS: Because now it's like really Dominican.

GUZMAN: Now it's all Dominican. They even have a name for it. They even call it Barahona now. Barahona is one of the sections in the Dominican Republic.

MARKS: When I came back from the Dominican Republic I felt--I used to live on 13:00upper Broadway. I could go around the corner and buy the paper from Santo Domingo the next day, and I never realized the continuity as a piece of the Dominican Republic. That whole section right before you get to Columbia.

GUZMAN: That area went through a really heavy transition, as I recall, because being raised there--And I remember when Fidel Castro, when the whole thing with Fidel Castro-- and it became heavily Cuban. When the Cubans came there they already had money. In fact, if you notice a lot of the restaurants and all, they're still Cuban Chinese and that type of thing over there.

MARKS: That whole upper Broadway.

GUZMAN: [unintelligible] del Broadway and all that, yes. After that and since they had money they didn't like the area. I mean, all the Blacks and the Puerto Ricans, this and that, so they moved to Jersey, so-- They're all in Jersey now, Union City.

MARKS: Union City and Elizabeth. Half of Bayamo, a lot of Bayamo. People don't know what Bayamo is, but a lot of Bayamo is in Elizabeth. What was it like being 14:00Dominican? Were your friends so-called Hispanic? When you were growing up what were the rest of the kids like?

GUZMAN: I started first--The first kid I met was a Puerto Rican because he spoke Spanish. I didn't know any English. I used to cry. I mean, I didn't know any English whatsoever.

MARKS: This was in school when there was no bilingual--

GUZMAN: No, no bilingual whatever. You had to learn. It took--I think I must have learned in a couple of months because it was so rough. I befriended a Puerto Rican kid and then through the years I met some more of the Dominican families that were around.

MARKS: There were more Dominicans coming in?

GUZMAN: Yes, but it was slowly, very slowly. Trujillo had a very tight immigration policy. He didn't let too many of the Dominicans out, especially professionals and that type of thing. It took a lot of years. I met, I was 15:00raised with mixed Dominican, Puerto Ricans and surprisingly there was a few White families that stayed there in that area, and they're still there.

MARKS: I remember seeing some White kids. Who?

GUZMAN: There was a kid they called "White Danny." He grew up with us and he speaks Spanish and all that. He's Irish, pure blooded Irish. Now it's totally all Dominican now.

MARKS: But when you were there it was--

GUZMAN: No. It was a few families only.

MARKS: And then you went into public school?

GUZMAN: And from public school, they wanted me to go to Catholic School and I went to Catholic school. I lasted there only a few years. We couldn't really afford it.

MARKS: Did you have brothers and sisters who were with you?


GUZMAN: No, they were all in the Dominican Republic. I was the only one that came here with my mother. All the rest stayed over there.

MARKS: They weren't threatened in any way?

GUZMAN: No, because of my father. I guess it was all in my mother's side. All my mother's side was the bad part. The Guzman was alright. It was in the McDougals and the Mitchells side; Mitchells and McDougals, Dominican Republic.

MARKS: .That's from Samana? That's not the English speaking people from the north?

GUZMAN: No, my family didn't even speak English. That was their last name.

MARKS: Really?

GUZMAN: Yes. You should see one of my cousins has like blond hair, blue eyes.

MARKS: Where did they come from?

GUZMAN: That part of the family I really don't know. I know that the Mitchells came from--Those were the ones who came from Puerto Rico. The McDougals were already there. That was part of the family that was joined with the--And the 17:00Guzmans was my father's side. But my mother's side had more Spaniards and people from Puerto Rico. Guzman was just my father's side. My father's side was from there all the way from you go down, down the line. They've been there in Villa Tenares for many years. Before it was called Tenares, used to call Villa Tenares. It's been there for a long time.

MARKS: It's a really old town that goes way back to--

GUZMAN: And it's up in the hill. Way up. It's still a small town. Probably it still has dirt roads. I don't know. I haven't seen it, but most likely it probably still has dirt roads.

MARKS: You mean like that old Spanish architecture?

GUZMAN: No, Indian more.

MARKS: You mean like bohíos?

GUZMAN: Yes, it goes up to the mountains. Mostly the Spaniards stayed like in Monte Christi towards the shore. La Capitán was all shore type of thing.


MARKS: Isn't that where Columbus made some of his first settlements? Didn't he start in Cibao and move down?

GUZMAN: Yes, Natividad, which is the first supposedly, according-- If I remember my history, it was the first establishment in this hemisphere and then when he came back the second time they were all disappeared. The Indians, they massacred them or whatever. That was about the first establishment there. Then they also moved down the coast until they found the coast that was the best, so whatever. Like in Puerto Rico it's really the port there that was rich in ores and all that. They moved down there. So I guess that's where the Spanish were coming from. All--It's funny because most of the towns are all established on the 19:00coasts, on all the islands, except you find a few towns in the middle, but I guess that took years, all the heavy Indian influence up there.

MARKS: But the north still has some those old towns that go back to the 16th century.

GUZMAN: Oh, yes. You still see the Spanish, heavy Spanish influence with the terra cotta roofs and nice white walls and the curvatures and the entrance ways and all that.

MARKS: Do you eat cassava in the north?

GUZMAN: Yes, there was a lot of cassava.

MARKS: Because I know in Oriente, Cuba people eat cassava a lot. That's sort of a sign of being from Oriente. You prepare it like you press it and all that. Is it done by hand?

GUZMAN: My favorite casabe is one that has peanut butter in it. It has a little spicyness to it. It's really sharp.


MARKS: That's like in Haiti they make--I forget what it's called, but it's like spicy peanut butter. Mambá.

GUZMAN: Mambá. The casabe has mambá in it. This one, they take like two pieces of the torta and put it together and the middle is all mambá. That comes from Cibao because it has a Haitian influence to it.

MARKS: I never knew that that there was that much Haiti in the Cibao.

GUZMAN: Yes, this was right there. You could hear the drums at night. As a kid, I used to be terrified during the Carnival. They used to come out with these orange lines around the eyes and they had these weird masks. Oh my God. They used to have all these songs. [unintelligible] type of thing. I was terrified. I used to hear that coming down the street-- stay under the bed. You had to grab me and pull me out of there.


MARKS: Did they play the vaccines, those bamboo horns? They have gaga I know in the south. Do you remember did they have gaga?

GUZMAN: Yeah, they had, they had that. What I recall a lot was the drums. What I recall a lot was the drums. In fact, I eventually became a drummer.

MARKS: Really? When you were a kid?

GUZMAN: Well, one of my, one of my uncles is a musician.

MARKS: Here in New York?

GUZMAN: No, he's still there. He couldn't stand New York. Too much happening for him so he just lasted a few months and he just had to get out of here. He did a gig. He came here with one of the big bands. I don't know if it was Rodriguez or--what's the other band? Cesar Concepción. So when he came here, he told the 22:00band, "You've got to give me money. I got to get out of here. I can't take it." He left and never came back. He's never been back to New York.

MARKS: I know people who feel the same way.

GUZMAN: He just can't take it. [laughter] He cut out. Being a musician you would think it would be something totally different; they're into all this. No, he just couldn't take the people and everything. So he stayed down there and he's been playing in his bands. Not anymore because he's in his 60s I guess.

MARKS: When you were growing up was so-called folklore music around you like merengue from the Cibao? Do you remember this when you were a kid?


MARKS: Like the more country or rural merengue?

GUZMAN: One of my, one of my mother's boyfriends, he played with Dioris Valladares. Dioris Valladares was one of the heavy bands during the '50s here. He was an accordion player. It was really nice. I was raised in music. As a kid 23:00my mother would take me to these places. I would fall asleep, of course in certain areas, but I was always into music.

MARKS: She would take you to dances and things like that?

GUZMAN: Dances and all at. I remember dances where they would be cutting all these palms. The fronds to cover the area where they were going to dance.

MARKS: Like the tonelles in Haiti they would make those.

GUZMAN: Yeah. Right, those little enclosures. It was very nice.

MARKS: Did you hear Haitian merengue over there?

GUZMAN: Yes. I heard a lot of Haitian merengue. It comes from--

MARKS: There's that controversy about merengue, you know, about who brought it. Actually, when I was in the Dominican Republic I never knew about the Haitian occupation and how much exchange. I know it's a touchy subject in the Dominican Republic about all the connection between the two countries.


GUZMAN: Yes. I guess the whole thing probably changed when, what, Touissant L'Ouverture came and he took over that part. That was when the separation came. But through--all during the other times it was just Hispaniola. It was all a big mixture.

MARKS: To be in--I've been in both places. It's like it couldn't be more different. It's hard to believe they share the same island.

GUZMAN: And to think that Touissant was what? In 1860, something like that. It was not even a hundred some odd years ago and it had such a drastic change. It's incredible--

MARKS: It's incredible.

GUZMAN: The change in less than 200 years, total change of what it was. [unintelligible]

MARKS: I remember hearing the Reynoso, I think they use the marimba if I'm not mistaken, but it's almost in six-eight. It sounds more rhythmically complex than some of the stuff I hear here. It has a much more Haitian feeling and much more Afro.


GUZMAN: Marimba, the marimba I think is heavy Afro. That's really Afro. I was telling you about my family has musicians, I remember sitting on a marimba. This was different, like a little box. It's not the other. You get all these little sounds out of it. It was really nice. I used to love to sit on it just to be playing with the sound that came out of it.

MARKS: It give~ it a whole different feeling. It gives it that bottom of a

GUZMAN: Bass. It's like the bass.

MARKS: I think that's where the salsa bass comes from that.

GUZMAN: Yes, right. I think--I don't remember--I think there was only four keys, that's all. Four little pieces of metal that stuck out of the marimba box. That was it.

MARKS: I've heard some other music from the Cibao which is very, very like old Spain. I don't know what they call it. Tonadas, but things that women sing when they work. It sounds like really old Spanish music. Maybe there's some--I'm not sure what the names of the places are, but it still seems like one of the isolated places where there is also the real old Spanish influence. It's like 26:00something from old Spain.

GUZMAN: Influence, yes, I remember the danzas and all of that, and my family forcing me to learn how to dance that type of thing. Very aristocratic. It's almost like a waltz.

MARKS: Where would you dance that?

GUZMAN: For Trujillo, the women had to wear these long gowns and these little fans and all that type of thing.

MARKS: He promoted that kind of thing?

GUZMAN: Yes, he promoted that. I guess he wanted to sophisticate the Dominican Republic.

MARKS: Didn't he suppress Black music?

GUZMAN: Yes. See, that's one of the things that changed. I think after a while he just, like I said before, sort of like berserk. After trying to promote the island and the culture and that he was trying to suppress part of the culture. I think that was part of his downfall.

MARKS: To suppress the Black element.


GUZMAN: Especially when the Black element was so prevalent. It's all over. You can't help it. He wasn't that White anyway, to be calling. His hair wasn't that nice and straight to be saying this and that about Black people.

MARKS: How would he suppress it? Just by--

GUZMAN: By not playing it. Simply.

MARKS: So the merengue became--

GUZMAN: The merengue became prevalent. Like the what's-his-name, San Cristobal, that band, forget about it. Anytime you put on the radio you would hear San Cristobal.

MARKS: And he would use it in political campaigns, like merengue.

GUZMAN: He's very--I would say almost like Count Basie-ish with five saxophones, five trumpets, five this.

MARKS: Like a big swing band.

GUZMAN: Yeah, it's too bad but my mother has a collection of 78s and old records from the Dominican Republic that have San Cristobal, the band itself. You can 28:00hear what a richness in that band. It was very Basie-ish, like I said. It was really, wow, it had conductors and this and that.

MARKS: Do you remember Eduardo Brito? A son singer?

GUZMAN: Yes, I think I remember him.

MARKS: I think I taped some of that, also. He's more like a sonero.

GUZMAN: My mother had also Alberto Beltrán. Like I said before, Elenita Santos, and Chapusora Mirón. They were big for a long time.

MARKS: Were you hearing mostly [inaudible]? Was there a Cuban influence, because I think everybody I've spoken to from everywhere, Cuban music seems to have gone over the entire--like into Panama.

GUZMAN: Oh, yes. In fact, I do still have one of my mother's albums; that was a 29:00Cuban album. It's a la danza from Cuba. I can't remember the name of it. "Así Bailaba, Cuba."

MARKS: Like the old danzones.


MARKS: Is that similar to la danza music in the Dominican Republic?

GUZMAN: Yes. They pushed that a lot, too. That was because of the aristo (I can't pronounce that anyway.) That aristocratic feeling that they wanted to influence on the people. That was coming from Spain. The waltz, all that type of dances, the zarzuelas and all that. That all came from Spain. They tried to keep it there and then at the same time try to make merengue and all that type of music into, a Spanish, Spaniard flavor.

MARKS: When you came to New York was there any--what was the popular music that you were into? Was it Latin music? When you were a kid was there much Dominican 30:00music being played or that came later?

GUZMAN: In my house, yes. In my house there was. I remember meeting some Ecuadorian guitar player and he used to play in my house a lot. He would come and they would sit down and somebody would grab a guitar and start singing. That type of thing. It was very Dominican, the music. My mother used to love salves, salves all the time. I think they had some saying. They used to say some stories and all that. I guess that's one of the things that she liked. That a lot of the merengues were just making fun of things. A lot of the merengues made a lot of fun of things. I guess they kept in that.

MARKS: These are more percussive sounds; salves with drums or panderetas?


GUZMAN: No. Well, like the Elenita Santos were more, I guess, sophisticated to the point that they were, like I was saying, trying to make it more sophisticated. Her music was a little different. The other salves and all that were more down to earth. I guess that's one of the things that the Cibao stayed, the merengue stayed, really, the old way. Just an accordion and a little guiro and the tambora and that's it. That's a band, three guys. Just like El Cieguito de Nagua. That's all he is. He's like three guys. It sounds like a whole band and it's three guys with his accordion and his thing going crazy. That's it.


MARKS: Did you hear Los Reynoso up here? Were they popular?

GUZMAN: Yes. Los Trio Reynoso, yeah. One of the things that happened when my mother was here and my aunts and all that; they stayed in the revolution, so we used to go to all these dances, all that stuff, before the revolution, and then getting money here. I remember walking many times in the United Nations as a kid against Trujillo and going to all these meetings. They always played the merengues in all these places.

MARKS: In the '60s what do you remember about the invasion? Wasn't it in '65 when the U.S. and the invasion?

GUZMAN: I think that made a lot of people communists.

MARKS: In the Dominican Republic?

GUZMAN: Yes. That had an opposite effect than in what the United States I guess 33:00wanted it to. I remember people were real angry because they thought it was unnecessary.

MARKS: Wasn't there a big migration in the '60s of professionals?

GUZMAN: Yes. They were afraid already then. There was a fear. I don't know, I think there was a lot of people who were coming from Cuba and all that stuff. A lot of people were trained. What was that guy's name? The guy with the white hair, I forget. I think he was the president for a little bit, and they said he was a communist, this-and-that. It was like an almost McCarthyism; fear of communism. A lot of people just got out.

MARKS: While you were growing up in the '50s were people coming up before that?

GUZMAN: After Trujillo was killed, yes. Before that, no.


MARKS: Your area, where you lived, that wasn't becoming more Dominican at the time?

GUZMAN: No, not until--I lived there until 1963 on 135th Street. There it was pretty stable. There was Dominican people but there was also a variety of other people. It was becoming less White and more-- There was a lot of Puerto Ricans, South Americans.

MARKS: It had been Irish, right?

GUZMAN: The Irish were there. Towards Amsterdam Avenue was still all Irish. That was Irish for a while. [Interview interrupted.]

MARKS: Were there any ethnic conflicts, ethnic gangs in the neighborhood?

GUZMAN: Yes, there were. You had the Knights, which is Irish. Then you had the 35:00Latin Gents and then you started getting into the Untouchables.

MARKS: Most of the Latin kids were Puerto Rican at the time?

GUZMAN: Yes. Those gangs were really basically Puerto Ricans. The Dominican kids that came there, that was new to us anyway. Let's see. I think the Fordham Baldies was a Black gang. Basically those gangs that were there, there was no Dominican gangs at all. Now there is, I guess, but at that time there wasn't. There--They were having wars.

MARKS: Would Dominican families ever follow each other into the neighborhood? Is that how it happened? When did the real--You had already gone by the time the neighborhood turned over, when it became more Dominican?

GUZMAN: Yes, when it became more Dominican I was already gone from there. I 36:00think my family had moved to the Bronx. Then my uncle, the one that had the tire company, the truck company, he had established a business already here and he moved to Rosedale Avenue in the Bronx. By then a lot of things were happening in my family. My grandmother died and we went back to Puerto Rico. Half of them stayed here and the other half wanted to go to the Dominican Republic. One of my aunts went back to the Dominican Republic and we started splitting. My mother wanted to be with her brothers. Her brothers were living in Mayaguez. I finished high school over there.

MARKS: In Mayaguez?

GUZMAN: In Mayaguez, yes. It was weird. I stayed here two years. I was in Harran 37:00High School and from there I went to Puerto Rico to my senior year in high school and then went to college out there.

MARKS: Where is Harran? I've heard of Harran.

GUZMAN: It's gone. 59th Street and 10th Avenue. Now it's a condominium or something like that, or one of those co-ops. It's a shame. It was a nice school. It was one of the only aviation schools besides the one they had in Queens.

MARKS: Harran was a special--

GUZMAN: Was an aviation school, yes. I wanted to go into aerodynamic engineering. That's what I wanted to be there. I ended up an artist. [laughter] Anyway, when I went to Puerto Rico I did want to become an engineer. I never did. I think it was more the war than anything else. I got drafted out of college.

MARKS: You were at the UPR?


MARKS: Didn't you have a student deferment?


GUZMAN: Yes, but I only had 11 credits that term. You needed 12.

MARKS: What year was this?

GUZMAN: '66, '67.

MARKS: What were you studying?

GUZMAN: I was in going into my sophomore year because I changed. I was trying to start into civil engineering. I was basically taking all the other required things. Humanities, economics--What was the other thing?-- Trigonometry.

MARKS: This may be a dumb question, but everything in UPR is in Spanish, right?

GUZMAN: No. You'd be surprised. Chemistry, the books were in English and the classes were in Spanish. That, that was really strange because a lot of people didn't really know English that well. So they were having problems reading and all that.

MARKS: How old were you when you really got a command of English? How long did it take you when you went to New York?

GUZMAN: I think a couple months.


MARKS: That's because you were thrown into it.

GUZMAN: Yes, I was thrown into an environment that there was no Spanish people around. There was only my family and maybe two more families that spoke like that. I said I met that Spanish kid, Puerto Rican guy, and that's the only guy. So he was my communicator with the other kids until I finally started learning. It just took a couple months. When you're a little kid you can learn English faster. My uncle never learned it. That's funny. He never learned English and he had a business here.

MARKS: But he dealt with Spanish speaking people all the time, or just never--

GUZMAN: Yes. It's funny. He had two partners, two Jewish men, and one of them just spoke a tiny bit of Spanish. They had a great [laughter] trio together. He 40:00never learned English. He knew a little bit. He knew how to defend himself and all that, but not to carry a good conversation.

MARKS: So you got drafted in, out of school.

GUZMAN: Yes, I got drafted out of school in--That's what?-- '67, June. I was down in South Carolina getting ready; six months--

MARKS: You had become a U.S. citizen long before, right?

GUZMAN: I wasn't even a citizen. That's the funny thing about it. That they could draft you. They would tell you, you could leave the country if you don't, but I didn't want to leave the country. I was already, already Americanized. So to me probably going back to the Dominican Republic and going back into the country and all that would have probably been a different story. Now I think maybe I should have. At that time I was just living my life in the United States.


MARKS: But you still had a Dominican passport and citizenship?

GUZMAN: Yes. In fact, I didn't even become a citizen until a few years back when I was going to Brazil. I kept my card. I just did that for Brazil. Now I'm a citizen, but doing, going to Vietnam I wasn't. And I met a few Dominicans there, too, surprisingly. In Vietnam, Dominicans here? No path; the same as me, same situation, non-citizens.

MARKS: How did they get pulled in? They got pulled in through some other--

GUZMAN: The same thing, drafted. Some of them were drafted from work. They weren't even in school. I was in school. I always found that kind of strange.

MARKS: Were you around a lot of Spanish speaking soldiers?


GUZMAN: Basically. You look at that thing with Quayle and all and, you look, and what you're going to see was mostly minorities and poor Whites. Mostly that's what it was.

MARKS: But the Spanish speakers were either New Yorkers or else from some other, maybe from the West Coast or--?

GUZMAN: Yes. I met people from Puerto Rico, from Ponce. I met people from--Mexicans from California. I met some Puerto Ricans from Chicago.

MARKS: Did Spanish speakers hang together?

GUZMAN: Yes, it was like we'd form, we would form a clique and we would start talking. The sergeants and all these people would get kind of upset when we were talking our Spanish. We sort of like cliqued together.

MARKS: But you were in combat in Vietnam?


MARKS: How long were you there for?


GUZMAN: I was there for a whole year. It was during the TET offensive, too, which was a good time to fall in there. I got there five days after it started. It wasn't fun. I was there a whole year. I was in the front probably six months, and after that, since I was an only son they moved me to the back. Then I was having a good time after, if you could call it that. But the first six months was really bad. Then after the TET offensive, after it started it was bad all over. It was just like those attacks anytime. It was kind of rough. I look at some of the movies that they show and laugh at them. The only one that's come 44:00the closest is "Platoon." After that all the rest is-- Well, all the ones I've seen.

MARKS: They don't capture the reality.

GUZMAN: No, they become fakey. Like that "Apocalypse Now" with the helicopters and the music. Give me a break. They had code silence. There was no music. They would have loved that. They would have chopped us down like target practice. That was dumb. I try to keep away from those movies, anyway. They ch-ch-ch, they click into the head and then you can't sleep at night, things like that.

MARKS: Then you came back, you finished in Vietnam?

GUZMAN: I finished in Vietnam and then I stayed a year and a half more. I was in Arizona. That's when I told you about the Berkeley thing and all that. Then 45:00there; we did some training. I was working with these helicopters, the Cheyenne helicopters and all these Cobras and all this latest sophistication from the war over there. We were cleaning up all the little nuts and smoothing out the pieces, if you could call it that. Good old days, [laughter] if you could say that.

MARKS: So then when did you leave the army?

GUZMAN: It was 1970. I came--I took a trip around the United States; took it slow. One of my friends that had gone all the way with me from basic training, went to Vietnam and all that. We almost got out within a matter of two or three 46:00days apart so we waited and we came, we drove across the United States. It was interesting just looking at the whole country itself. It's huge. [laughter] Then after that, I came back. I tried to be lazy for a while but I got bored and then went back to college.

MARKS: In New York?

GUZMAN: Yes. I went to Lehman, Lehman College. But I didn't last long, either, there. I think after the war I couldn't take, I couldn't take school anymore.

MARKS: What were you studying when you came back?

GUZMAN: Art. I changed altogether; art. Yes, I was--

MARKS: But you were drawing during this--

GUZMAN: --drawing all the time. One of my cousins used to tell me I should have been an artist, and that's when I was trying to study engineering. [Interview interrupted.]


MARKS: Okay. You were in Lehman College.

GUZMAN: Yes, I was in Lehman. So I started taking art. I was working through college. During that time I was taking the GI Bill and all that. I was really interested in art. I guess basically that happened in 'Nam. I started getting more into drawing. I guess a lot of things were coming into my mind. When I came back, when I was in Arizona I was in the art department, also, because they didn't have anything for us to do except flying once in a while, helicopters and that type of thing. From there I changed because I was going to go back to engineering.

MARKS: They had an art department?

GUZMAN: Yes, doing lettering, charts, invitations, stuff like that. They didn't 48:00have anything for us to do, really, except flying every once in a while the helicopters and that type of thing. Besides that we were just waiting for your time to expire so you could get out. Like a lot of people did re-up and stay in the service. I didn't want to do that, definitely not. When I came here I started studying art and I started working in a graphics department in a company where I was working myself through college. After a couple of years I just found school kind of boring. I had good grades. I was on the honor roll and all that, but it wasn't to me anymore an accomplishment. Ever since that I just stayed in the, in the graphics. I started my own company in '78 and ever since then I've 49:00been on my own.

MARKS: Where do you work now?

GUZMAN: I do exclusive work for this agency in the city, Roman and Tannenholz.

MARKS: This is your own? You have your own company?

GUZMAN: Yes. I rent space from them. What I do, I do photo-lettering and so I do all the lettering in the dark room. I work with this machinery. And I do--Basically it's a service oriented business. So I do all the work for TV commercials, magazines, newspaper, so-on, so-forth, posters.

MARKS: Do you ever do anything in Spanish?

GUZMAN: Yes, I've done Spanish, but not for this agency. I've done work for Hispania, which is part of J. Walter Thompson.


MARKS: So they're promoting to--? Are they trying to break into the Hispanic market?

GUZMAN: They usually do what J. Walter Thompson does in English. Like Safeguard soap, they did something and they translated everything into Spanish. Then they send that type of mechanicals and work into, let's say, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

MARKS: But it's identical to the English?

GUZMAN: It's identical. Well, some of the translations are terrible, I tell you. I had a little argument with one of them and I won because they were putting "Spanglish." The person who was translating was totally raised here, spoke terrible Spanish, and to him that was correct. Right.

MARKS: I know that they use the word "sensitivo" instead of "sensible" or something like that.


GUZMAN: You know, like the usual words "partqueo" instead of "estacionamento" and all of that. So, I showed it to the guy in the dictionary and said, "That's total--That's not in Spanish." I don't remember what it was. I worked a few times for them in doing some Ford Motor Company in Spanish and that was it. I've done some work for some of the smaller people in Spanish, but there's not that much work in Spanish. Although, the market is big. The Spanish market is really big. It's just that they haven't been able to tap it. They don't know how to tap it, I think. The people in charge don't know how to tap it. I don't know how, which way it is, but one of them it is.

MARKS: How long have you been in Sunset Park?

GUZMAN: Now we're going since '82. Six, six years, yeah.


MARKS: How is it different from when you got here? Can we talk a little bit about the Hispanic community here? Like what you know about it. Like the relations among different Hispanic peoples.

GUZMAN: Since we've been here, let me see, it seems like there has been a transitional situation. First it started, there was a lot of Hispanics moving here. It was really getting heavily Hispanic.

MARKS: People were moving in from other boroughs?

GUZMAN: No, from the same area were buying houses. Like the man next door, he used to live in that building over there. He bought it. He's Dominican. And then the house next to that guy, he's Puerto Rican, and he came from another area. The other women there, the older lady; the Puerto Rican lady has been there for many years.

MARKS: So Hispanics were buying houses back in the early--


GUZMAN: Yes, but now lately in the, I think, the last two years some yuppies bought that house over there. They converted that one up this way to more of an apartment. I mean, three apartments in one of these buildings, I mean, houses. So that type of thing is what's been happening. A lot of people have stayed. The Ecuadorian family right over here. I guess the guy you said was coming with you. It's a fact, they're all Hispanic except the Wards. They've been here since the turn of the century, the family probably. And Mr. Felino is an old Italian man from Argentina. He's been here since the '20s or something like that. A few 54:00younger couples have been buying.

MARKS: When I walk on 5th Avenue it seems very, very Hispanic to me. Maybe even Central Americans. Has that increased even through the '80s?

GUZMAN: Yes, Central Americans. That I've seen a lot. A lot of Central Americans. You could see that in the park itself; in Sunset Park now they hold their little soccer games. They're very heavy into soccer and there's a lot of them now.

MARKS: Like Nicaragua or El Salvador?

GUZMAN: I've seen a lot of Mexicans and probably Salvadorans and Nicaraguans probably because of the wars, I guess. They've been fighting down there so a lot of them are moving up this way.

MARKS: I don't know how you could describe this, but could you say something about the relations among the different Hispanic groups? Like is there a kind of mixing or a--?

GUZMAN: I think the Puerto Ricans probably resent the other Hispanics that are 55:00moving in. I think it's more because of the drive or whatever of certain people. They're coming from situations, like let's say, coming from a war torn country or something like that. They come with more of a drive and within a matter of a couple of years they have a house. While these Puerto Ricans are still in those buildings. Collecting--

MARKS: In the tenements.

GUZMAN: --welfare and all that. They have problems. I think the Puerto Ricans have more animosity toward the other Hispanics. While the other ones assimilate themselves more because they probably come from the same type of situation or whatever.

MARKS: So the Hispanics really are drawn to Sunset Park. It's a, maybe the major Hispanic neighborhood of Brooklyn, right? Word must be out.

GUZMAN: Right. I would think so. That's what a lot of people asked me about my area. I say, "Yes, there are a lot of Hispanics." A lot of South Americans I 56:00usually tell them. It's quite a big mixture.

MARKS: I noticed a lot of the stores on 5th Avenue are run by Dominicans. Can you account for that?

GUZMAN: Yes. That's what I was telling you about the animosity, see. These people come with a certain drive. They want to do something and they do it, and there are a lot of Dominicans. Yeah, the bodegas mostly. Not mostly all, but there's quite a bit. The Botanica is still Puerto Rican and the liquor store is a Puerto Rican guy. Most of the bodegas are Dominican and the travel agencies. There are a lot of Dominicans here in this area. Quite a bit.

MARKS: I noticed the name Cibao on almost every other--

GUZMAN: Cibao, but that's like one family that owns around five or six stores and they are all Cibao.

MARKS: Are they from the Cibao?

GUZMAN: They rose from the Cibao, yes. You can tell by the way they talk and all 57:00that. They got a pretty big family so each of them runs one store, whatever.

MARKS: And they all live in the area?

GUZMAN: Yes, they all live in the area.

MARKS: Are there Dominican associations or social clubs or anything that you know of?

GUZMAN: No, not really. Now they started a few little--a few clubs around here, but it's kind of weird clubs. Like hunting clubs. In here? What can you go hunting for around here, you know? Then they have these two night clubs up there on top of one of these storefronts. They have their little dances every weekend or whatever.

MARKS: Dominican?


MARKS: I notice even the record store seemed Dominican. I hear merengue every time I go by.

GUZMAN: Yes. Yes. It's hard, bad to say, but a lot of them did a lot of the coke 58:00dealing and all that stuff and then they were able to buy it because a lot of the record stores are young guys who own it. You see them in the 20s and 30s and they're owning these stores. As you move more towards the 50s and the 40s it becomes more Puerto Rican.

MARKS: And they've been here for longer.

GUZMAN: They've been here for a longer period of time. I think this area, because this area there was a lot of abandoned buildings. This house; it was one of these handyman specials.

MARKS: Who did the--

GUZMAN: I did.

MARKS: You live on two floors?

GUZMAN: Yes. We live on two floors and then we have a rental on the third floor.

MARKS: I rang her bell by mistake. That's how I know that you have somebody upstairs.

GUZMAN: Margaret, yes.

MARKS: Oh. So this was like abandoned, this was like a shell?


GUZMAN: Yes, it was. Well, the old man was here. He was ninety-something years or 92 I think and he had died in here. We bought it from his nephew. He lives upstate. A lot of the work I done; that ceiling had fallen down. I stripped all the wood, did the tiling.

MARKS: What drew you to Sunset Park? It had nothing to do with the fact that it was Hispanic, did it?

GUZMAN: No. It was more financial than anything. I couldn't stay anymore in Park Slope. Park Slope was expensive. We started looking around and as we looked, we found out that every place was very expensive. Bay Ridge, forget about it. Boerum Hill, all that area was super expensive. Park Slope, forget about it. It was--definitely we had to get out of there. As we searched one of the real 60:00estate offices around here called us and told us, "If you don't mind fixing it up," and when we came in here we loved it.

MARKS: Are you active in the Sunset Park Restoration thing? Are there many Hispanics? What is the makeup of that and what is the relationship?

GUZMAN: That's funny, because the Restoration committee, when you go there, there is probably one or two Hispanics. That's about it. I've seen an older couple, Hispanic, and then when I go. That's it. You never see too much Hispanic participation.

MARKS: I noticed in the literature that I've seen that they don't really mention that it's in a Hispanic neighborhood. They sort of drop that.

GUZMAN: I got a feeling when I first moved here that the Restoration committee 61:00was trying to gentrify this area; making more White and less Hispanic or whatever. It's the same thing. Debbie belongs to the Sunset Park School of Music. She is on the board. The things that they teach in the programs are basically all classical music. They don't have anything. If you want, if you wanna to have something in this area, I would think that they would have some more, let's say, Hispanic music type of teaching.

MARKS: But that's not.

GUZMAN: Whatever. It's not, not done. I've been telling them a lot and they're sort of like leaning. They even had a Hispanic concert, but of course they didn't advertise it so nobody went. That type of thing. Eventually I think they're going to have to do a lot of changes when they do open that old precinct 62:00over there on 43rd Street. When they do that, they're going to have to just have one Hispanic program to attract them, anyway.

MARKS: That's being turned into a school?

GUZMAN: Yes, it's going to be turned into the Sunset Park School of Music. Probably music and arts because it's too big for just music.

MARKS: Do you think the future of Sunset Park is that it will remain Hispanic, or will there be something--?

GUZMAN: I think it will remain Hispanic. Because there's a lot of Hispanic people who own houses. That's the difference from living in an apartment and owning, owning a house. So I would think it would probably stay Hispanic.

MARKS: Do you think that the people who own the houses here are interested in doing anything cultural in the area, or are they simply home owners in a kind of private world with no particular interest in promoting--


GUZMAN: Yes. They're not too into, into the society or whatever that's surrounding them. Like you said, they're more into their homes and all that. You never see these people out. Maybe once in a while. The kids are always out there. They're the ones, I guess who'll be--whatever they think in the future will probably be what's going to happen.

MARKS: What do you think is happening with the kids? Are they becoming more American? Do you think they're kind of merging into some kind of pan Hispanic identity?

GUZMAN: They're becoming more American.

MARKS: They are?

GUZMAN: Yes. You can see. Their mannerisms, and the games they play. The way they dress. The dress code is; the older guys are still wearing guayaberas and the young ones are wearing all these super tight pants and things like that. And getting all these punk hairdos. Yeah, I don't know. A lot of the Hispanic kids 64:00here, they're more Americanized than anything else.

MARKS: Do you think among the older Dominicans is anybody trying to promote Dominican culture?

GUZMAN: Yes. Yes, they are. You see that a lot; in a lot of the posters and the dances. They do all these picnics and things like that. They try to promote their groups. Monchito does that a lot, he's-- There's always a big bus standing there. They're going to Atlantic City or whatever. He's good for that. If there were more Monchitos there would probably be a difference.

MARKS: Is there any equivalent to Monchito who is Dominican?

GUZMAN: Not that I know of. I think there's one guy that's a politician. Some politician that has come around a few times, but you never see him around. That's the difference. But I think Monchito will probably keep the Puerto Rican 65:00influence here more than anything else.

MARKS: Do you know if the Dominicans who are here, if they go back and forth a lot?

GUZMAN: Yes, they go back and forth a lot. They're constantly going to the Dominican Republic. That's one thing the Dominicans have is that I think they basically stay here for a long time. They make some money and then they try to go back to the island, as opposed, I think, to Puerto Ricans who probably feel that this is just part of theirs, too, so they'd rather stay here. A lot of the Dominicans, they all have, they all try to go buy houses over there. I have a lot of cousins who have all--who've been here just as long as I am, and they all have houses in the Dominican Republic just waiting for the time when, I guess, they retire and they'll go back.

MARKS: So other Dominicans remain Dominican citizens?

GUZMAN: Yes. My cousin is still a Dominican citizen and he went and fought in Vietnam, too.


MARKS: How do you think that happened? It seems like so many of those stores seem Dominican. Do you know when that happened or how it happened? Along 5th Avenue, so many of the merchants--

GUZMAN: When I first moved here, "Cibao" was already there. Cibao was already there; Cibao's been there, the store. Then the store on the corner opened up, the cabana. That guy is Dominican. Then the bodega across the street opened up. He's Dominican. The travel agency opened up. That was Dominican.

MARKS: The travel agency probably also does other services like they usually do. Like transporting and all that.

GUZMAN: Right. The guy down there is South American. He opened recently. They even had a South American sort of like bodega there, market.

MARKS: By South American you mean Ecuadorian or Colombian?

GUZMAN: South American, I would say that, well, with the foods that they eat you 67:00can tell; with the tortas and the corn and a lot of heavy hot sauces and that type of thing.

MARKS: Sort of Andeans.

GUZMAN: Andean, yes. Exactly, used to. They even used to have live land crabs in there.

MARKS: Where is this?

GUZMAN: It used to be down here, but now he just has a moving company. They transport a lot of things to South America. They have a list of all the countries that they go and, basically, you could probably name the whole country of South America on there.

MARKS: So the South Americans came in later, right, after?

GUZMAN: Hmm? The South Americans have been coming, I would say, the last two years, within the last two years.

MARKS: And then Central Americans also around the same time?

GUZMAN: Around the same time, yes.

MARKS: So this is becoming sort of pan-Latin American. It's almost got a complete range.


GUZMAN: Yes, I think so because the way I see it, the Puerto Ricans who have been living for a long time, they're not moving. The Dominicans who came in are going to stay here. I guess all the other ones are coming in to fill the vacancies. There's been a lot of Orientals moving in, too.

MARKS: Do you think there is going to be some giant clash of the--clash with the yuppies? Do you think the gentrification thing is going to work against the Hispanic feeling in the community?

GUZMAN: I don't think so. Not in this area. It won't be like a Park Slope or anything like that because people are enclaved in here to stay.

MARKS: I don't know if this is true in the city, but it seems like a unique case of a Hispanic community that's also renovating itself. It seems like a case of that. You think the Hispanics are going to become more active in the Sunset Park restoration?

GUZMAN: Well, I would hope so. I hope so. You keep telling these people. There's a few people here; I guess they're slowly--And I would think it's more to do 69:00with more, more the educated people. They're more into fixing up their communities and all that. The ones who are coming in who have that type of feeling.

MARKS: But there are a lot of Hispanic professionals moving in?

GUZMAN: Around here, yes. I've seen a lot of them.

MARKS: Who work in Manhattan.

GUZMAN: Yes, they work in Manhattan as an accountant. The guy next door is an accountant, also.

MARKS: Do you think they choose the neighborhood because it's Hispanic, or do you think it's just a coincidence?

GUZMAN: I would think it, it might be more--Yeah, I would think it's because it's Hispanic because of the availability of having the foods that you like to eat. To buy it instead of having to travel somewhere else to buy it, again. As I say, if you live in Park Slope, for you to get some Hispanic stuff you probably have to walk all the way down to 4th Avenue, whatever, and walk a few blocks 70:00instead of just going to the corner.

MARKS: El Grande seems like--

GUZMAN: Yeah, too bad El Grande folded.

MARKS: Oh, it did?


MARKS: It couldn't sustain--

GUZMAN: I don't know if it was probably the competition between Key Food and C Town. I heard people say it was mafia and all this stuff, [laughter] but--

MARKS: But El Grande was sort of up-scale.

GUZMAN: It was an up-scale bodega. There you could find everything. That was a real good store. It's a shame that it closed, really. You could get anything you wanted--

MARKS: It just closed?

GUZMAN: -- there. Yes, maybe like three or four weeks ago. Overnight. It was there and the next day half price sales, and the next day it's closed. They didn't give any warning or anything. They even still had wanted ads for people to work; the cashiers. It just went like that. Real quick.

MARKS: I wonder if it will reopen.


GUZMAN: I wish it would, I wish, yes.

MARKS: Was the owner Puerto Rican, do you know?

GUZMÁN: Yes, I think he was. The hard thing about that was that there was a few owners. You never knew who really the owner was. But they were all Hispanics. There was one American man. All the rest were Hispanic, but you never knew what was happening there. That's why a lot of people say it was mafia. They closed. That's a shame.

MARKS: Did Key Food have a Hispanic section? Like tropical things. Or they don't bother too much with that?

GUZMAN: Key Food; I rarely shop at Key Food, but I have seen a few mangos and things like that. Basically if you want Hispanic stuff you go to the Koreans. 72:00The Koreans have all those platanos and yucca; they have them. Avocados. Anything you want. They maintain more for the Hispanics than anything else. They're good businessmen.

MARKS: So they understand the wants. What do you think is the future of Sunset Park?

GUZMAN: Well, I want to look at it in a positive way, so looking at it in a positive way, I would think we're moving forward to probably having a good community. Now, the only thing that we've had recently has been the problem with the crack and all that. That set the area back a little bit because I think there's more, more crime around that area where the crack has been prevalent. 73:00You can go over there and you see them all over the place. Ever since that started happening, it started changing a little bit. That's like it went back. It was moving forward real nice. The gangs disappeared, because there used to be gangs in this area. They disappeared and a lot of the abandoned buildings were taken over and fixed up. Then all of a sudden the crack epidemic. That has a hold in the whole city, and the whole country, as a whole. It's happening all over. I would wish that they would clear it up and then we could move onto fixing up the area a little bit better. Yeah.

MARKS: Do you think that the Hispanic core will expand outward in Sunset Park?

GUZMAN: It is. They have this thing called FAMA now, the Fifth Avenue Merchants, and they look like they're--they want to move forward. They've put a lot of 74:00trees up on the avenue. They try to keep the streets nice and clean. Have people sweeping and all that. The merchants look like they want to make it work. So I guess if they put an emphasis in it then it will help, I guess, with the people, too.

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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with J.R. Guzmán

J.R. (José Rafael) Guzmán was born in Monte Christi, in the north of the Dominican Republic. He came to the United States as a child, as a result of his mother's political activity against the Trujillo regime. They had first gone to Mayaguez, Puerto Rico in 1952, where the family had relatives, and then moved to upper Manhattan in the mid-1950s. Guzmán lived at 135th Street and Broadway until 1965. At the time that the area became heavily populated with Dominicans, Guzmán left the neighborhood and moved to the Bronx. While studying engineering at the University of Puerto Rico in 1967, he was drafted and sent to Vietnam, although not yet a United States citizen. After his release from the Army, he attended Lehman College, where he studied art. While still at Lehman, he took a job as a graphic artist, and in 1978 he started his own company. At the time of the 1988 interview, he worked with Roman and Tannenholz, an advertising company in Manhattan. Guzmán moved to the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1982, where he owned a home that he renovated himself. Some years before this interview, he obtained citizenship.

In this interview, J.R. (José Rafael) Guzmán recalls events and places leading up to his life in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. Among his memories of the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan are the different ethnic gangs. The Puerto Ricans had one, but the Dominicans did not. He discusses the ethnic composition of the neighborhood, as well as the influx of Dominicans and other Latinos into the neighborhood. He mentions that the older store owners are usually Puerto Rican, but that the younger owners, especially of bodegas and record shops, are often Dominican. He senses some animosity between the two groups. As a member of the Sunset Park Restoration Committee, Guzmán is involved in community affairs but observes the lack of Latinos in that committee. He feels that Sunset Park will remain Latino because of the large number of Latino/a home owners. 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.


Guzman, J.R., Oral history interview conducted by Morton Marks, August 30, 1988, Hispanic Communities Documentation Project records and oral histories, 1989.004.18; Brooklyn Historical Society.


  • Guzman, J.R.
  • Sunset Park Restoration Committee
  • Trujillo, Rafael


  • Bodegas
  • Dominican Americans| Emigration and immigration
  • Hispanic Americans
  • Music
  • Musicians
  • Puerto Ricans
  • Race identity
  • Spanish language
  • Veterans
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975


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


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Hispanic Communities Documentation Project records and oral histories