One of the South Bronx’s staple cultural exports was honored on Monday with a street renaming in Melrose.
The corner of E. 155th Street and Third Avenue was renamed El Condado de la Salsa, or the County of Salsa, as the result of efforts by well known community organizer and boxing trainer, Jaran Manzanet, who organized for months for the renaming.
“I came up with the name El Condado De La Salsa; the same year David Dinkins became the first black mayor of New York City,” said Manzanet. “(Star Salsa vocalist) Hector Lavoe was performing, and I turned to (South Bronx activist) Freddy Perez, and said ‘this is gonna be named now El Condado De La Salsa, tell the world.’”
The blocks between E. 154th and 156th streets were a major destination for Puerto Ricans during the 1950s and ’60s. The Salsa music and dancing craze that developed in the South Bronx and Harlem during those decades quickly became a formidable cultural force internationally.
One Bronxite of Puerto Rican descent, Maria Roman, said she calls that part of Melrose “the 79th town of Puerto Rico,” due to the island traditions in food and music that have long prevailed.
One friend of Manzanet’s, Patricia Zambrano, immigrated from Ecuador and grew up listening to Salsa music, which she says has always been a part of her life and has helped her get though stressful times. She was in Manhattan when she got the word from Manzanet that El Condado de la Salsa was about to get its due, so she came right away.
“What you see is a lot of people not even Hispanic and they appreciate the music because it has so much value to it.”
Another area resident who gave his first name, Jimmy, said the music has the power to heal, and recalls its importance for his grandparents, who came to Melrose from Puerto Rico.
“Salsa has always been a way of another release factor,” he said. “I come back here to reminisce and remind myself that it started here, and it’s important for the community to know that we’re still here,” said Jimmy.