There’s no need to look at street names. As soon as you see two large metal palm tree sculptures flanking each corner, you know you are on Fifth and Lehigh, the gateway to El Bloque de Oro, the golden block, the main business and cultural corridor of the Latino community in Philadelphia.
It’s a two-block area that has witnessed decades of celebrations, politicians’ visits and community events like this year’s Nuestro Barrio Fair (our neighborhood fair). The energy of the gathering was not fueled by fanfare or pageantry, but by the people who flocked to dance to the rhythms of four bands, listen to slam poetry and follow the intricate steps of Venezuelan and Puerto Rican traditional dances.
It was also a place where corporations and social service agencies peddled their message and distributed hundreds of promotional goodies — bags and caps, key chains, small toys and useful information about health services, education programs and the arts.
Colorful T-shirts identified each group. Dark blue led you to a large RV where people, mostly women, were being tested for diabetes and high blood pressure; pink shirts identified the group Positive, which provided information and on-site testing for HIV; white shirts for the Univision people and its raffle booth; black tees for a high school group participating in the Photography Without Borders Project; and so on.
Watching the whole thing with a somewhat benevolent eye was a group of bikers, leather jackets and all but with no “attitude.” They were members of the family oriented Hispanic American Riders Association.
The food was nothing to write home about, but the souvenirs reflected Latino identity, the crafts by local artists added to the dynamics of the place and the children were invited to create their own art in a special garden next to the Taller Puertorriqueno. A slam-packed afternoon indeed.