A Look Back at the Latino Lower East Side and East Village

Within our Historic Image Archive of over a thousand images of our neighborhoods and other parts of New York City, a few mysteries lurk in terms of where exactly a picture was taken.  A few weeks ago one such mystery was solved when the location of the 1970s photo of a piragua vendor from our archives below was identified as the northeast corner of 4th Street & Avenue B.

We were particularly grateful for this tip because it allows us to more fully paint the picture within our image archive of the vibrant Latinx heritage and presence in the East Village and on the Lower East Side.  The examples abound.
Piragua vendors like the one above appear in several of our images from the 1960s and 70s.  While the literal translation of “piragua” is “canoe”, the piragua got its name from a mashup of the words “pyramid” and “agua,” Spanish for “water,” reflecting the conical shape and water base of this Peurto Rican iced treat.  Though perhaps not as common as they used to be, piragua vendors continue to appear, especially during the summer months, in certain parts of the East Village and Lower East Side.  In a city filled with $6 ice cream cones (even Mr. Softee is $4), it’s especially nice to still be able to enjoy a cool snack on a hot summer day for only $1.

Here’s another example from our archives of a piragua vendor, this one dating from the 1960s, on the corner of Stanton and Orchard Streets:

Other longstanding Puerto Rican traditions still survive in these constantly changing areas. Every Palm Sunday and Good Friday, some of the predominantly Puerto Rican Roman Catholic churches in the area hold religious processionals. In addition to a congregation member holding a cross while dressed as Jesus, these processionals also sometimes include other members playing the roles of Roman soldiers leading Jesus to his crucifixion. We have several images of several such processionals in the East Village in our archive:

View them in the archive here, here, and here.

In addition to the Puerto Rican Catholic presence in the neighborhood, you can see the presence of a born-again or evangelical Latinx community. One such example was the Iglesia de Dios Church at 636 East 6th Street, identified in the photo below, circa 1960s. Originally a Moravian Chapel, the building also served as a German Church and a synagogue. It now known as the Church of God.

Other scenes captured in our archive are oriented towards more earthly pursuits.  In the image below, a vendor is cooking outside the Banco Popular on Delancey Street for assembled locals:


And here is the old ‘Corazon de Jesus’ (“Heart of Jesus”) Botanica on Second Avenue between 2nd and 3rd Streets:

See more historic images from the East Village here.

Read more about Puerto Rican migration to New York here.

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