When I first worked here, the neighbourhood was not called Alphabet City. It was the Puerto Rican part of the Lower East Side and the Puerto Ricans called it Loisaida, low-ee-SIGH-da, a new York-Puerto Rican version of Lower East Side.
Loisaida is bounded to the north by Fourteenth Street and to the south by Houston, which falls one below First Street but is still two miles from the bottom of Manhattan. From Avenue A in the west the neighbourhood runs east across Avenue B and Avenue C – through rows for five-storey tenements built in the mid-nineteenth century for immigrants – through the public housing projects built in the late 1940s and early 1950s, across the footbridges that span East River Drive, across its long, thin park, to the East River.
The Puerto Ricans started to come in the late 1940s when the neighbourhood was Jewish. They dominated Loisaida in 1977, when I first started taking pictures there. I gave away pictures and got to know people. I went to clubs, to parties, to events and into homes. So people helped me; some tried to make me leave. After two years, I couldn’t make the pictures say any more, so I stopped.