Guest columnist Nadine Gallo: ‘In the Heights’ film brings back memories

  • This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows Dascha Polanco, from left, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Stephanie Beatriz in a scene from “In the Heights.” Macall Polay/Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP

Published: 6/15/2021 5:19:54 PM

There’s a pool scene in “In the Heights” that shows a huge number of multi-ethnic locals splashing around. As a kid, I splashed around in that exact pool (Highbridge, a recreation idea of Robert Moses who designed Jones Beach) and it was like a pool made for the Olympics so you could hang out there all day and not get bored.

All shades of skin were on display. Pale Irish skin, medium Hispanic skin and many shades of raw umber. Those were great days for New York swimmers. Decades later the behavior of pool visitors wasn’t so good, but I had already moved to more suburban areas.

Tolerance was in vogue when I lived in Washington Heights. Each street had its gangs and its cultural enrichment. The parks were well supplied with equipment and touring marionette shows. We had a Jewish cultural center on Fort Washington Avenue where kids could have craft classes. Up the street was a Lutheran church with a day care. A plaza in front of the George Washington Bridge had pigeons galore and was a great roller skating place.

I liked to go hiking down by the Hudson River under the bridge with my friend Lorraine Ramirez, who happened to be from Jamaica. She was very adventurous. Once we visited her cousins on 181st St. I was surprised to find that they were all Chinese. Lorraine was definitely not Chinese. Our other friend was Beatrice Eckhaus, who was from Germany. Across the street we had Greek, Irish and Norwegian friends. We jumped rope together, played kick the can, dropped milk cartons of water from the roof down on the boys in the street. If we wanted to see Fort Lee, New Jersey, we could walk across the bridge. Roller skating along the bumpy sidewalks kept our knees scabby.

We went to public schools or Catholic schools. Sisters of Charity kept strict order in the Catholic school. We practiced for N.Y.S. Regents exams for hours at Incarnation school. By the time we actually took the annual exam, we were expert test takers. My high school was 10 streets north near the Cloisters. Mother Cabrini H.S. was the work of St. Frances Cabrini, an Italian immigrant who loved founding orphanages and schools. Her work is all over the country and in South America.

One of her hospitals went broke after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. Columbus Hospital on 16th St. was established by an act of Congress so that Mother Cabrini could run a hospital downtown. She had an orphanage up near the Roosevelt home in Hyde Park. Cabrini gave so many scholarships to Dominican girls that the school went broke. It’s now a charter school.

My mother took us to Moosehead Lake in Maine in 1950 and I was surprised to see so much beauty as well as so many blueberries. For two months I had my first experience outside of Washington Heights. When we finally packed up and got on the bus to return to our apartment on 179th St., I felt as though I was leaving paradise.

Fifteen years later we moved to Hadley, the closest we could get to Moosehead Lake. I don’t miss the Heights but I’m grateful for all the cultural experiences, the six movie theaters, all the ethnic groups I was lucky to grow up with.

Nadine Gallo lives in Hadley.


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