'Little Spain' a valuable addition to New York's immigration history

By Rafael Bernal Follow @Rafael_Bernal_ Contact the Author   |  Jan. 15, 2015 at 3:56 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- The history of New York and its inhabitants is a crowded one. In a city where almost every ethnic group and nationality is represented in some measure, coming-to-America stories are the norm, rather than the exception.

Little Spain -- a history of New York's Spanish neighborhood -- takes a relevant place in the already-massive archive of New York origin stories, bringing with it the expected color and excitement of immigration, along with a few advantages over other American Dream documentaries.

The main idea is well-known to all: A European country falls on hard times and its people take to America and make a small part of Manhattan their own. The Irish potato famine immigration of the mid 19th century and the later Italian great arrival, both key in defining New York's personality, were well documented for their time, but mostly preceded modern film and recording technology.

With Little Spain, director Artur Balder takes good advantage of focusing on a wave of immigration that went on until the 1970s. Through archival footage and direct interviews with immigrants and their children, Balder successfully illustrates the moods, flavors and excitement of recreating a far-away home in a small radius of Manhattan city blocks.

At points, Spain is excessively concerned with geographical minutiae of the city, but that magnifying-glass perspective serves to build an original story arc. The takeaway is a community immigration story, as opposed to currently common solitary immigrant sagas. The progression is this: the recreation of local customs in an American city, a nationality-defined neighborhood's heyday, and ultimate integration into the melting pot of America.

The melting pot aspect of Spanish immigration carries with it an advantage over purely historical documentaries. Through shared language customs, Little Spain -- the neighborhood -- attracted many Latin American immigrants over time. Little Spain -- the film -- records a multi-dimensional perspective of integration among immigrants from different backgrounds as a key part of integration into a host country.

Little Spain is on sale on DVD, distributed by the Spanish American Society and it will be screened Jan. 30 at the William V. Musto Cultural Center in Union City, N.J.

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