Story blogs

Curious photographer: thoughts on racism against Puerto Ricans and portraying West Side history


Phyllis Butler, Norwood
Photo by David Greene

This week we asked readers if they believe the original West Side Story The film accurately portrays the racism experienced by Puerto Ricans in New York City at the time the film was shot.

“I don’t know about racism; it was, like, 50 years ago, but i saw the upcoming attractions for the new movie, and it looks nothing like the original.

Phyllis Butler,


Julio Rivera, Village of Van Cortlandt
Photo by David Greene

“I guess it was before most people’s days. I’m 73, grew up in the South Bronx in the 50’s and 60’s… I was traumatized, man. My brother had to fight and run away from school every day. Because there weren’t enough Puerto Ricans, we were forced to form our own gangs. We did not come here to fight. When we had enough guys… I was too young. I was four or five, but the guys formed their own gangs and started fighting back. The BS on dancing and singing [expletive] me when people were mistreated, cursed. That’s a lot of crap. It’s not a romantic story. It’s just coating it all. They do not tackle discrimination and hatred.

Julio Rivera,

Van Cortlandt Village

Paulette Gordon, University Heights
Photo by David Greene

“It was a good movie; the only thought I have about it is that they should have had more African Americans in the movie. When we came here in 1974, we were living in Brooklyn, and that’s where I realized racism existed when, on our way to night school, a group of young girls attacked us and told us to return on the banana boat to Jamaica. A girl picked up a stick and threatened us. I got the stick from her and slapped her so we could get away. The next day we found out that she was in the same high school as my brother. So that’s where I first saw racism in America. I moved to the Bronx in 1979 with my daughter, then 2, and never returned to live in Brooklyn.

Paulette Gordon,

University heights

Karree-Lyn Gordon, Williamsbridge
Photo by David Greene

“The original West Side Story the film was the start .. to highlight racist themes in the civil rights era. However, movies tend to soften and idealize racism to make it tolerable for white viewers. “Tony” would have been hated and probably ostracized by the Jets, and Maria could have been beaten by her brother. The remake of this story promises inclusion. It’s refreshing to know that larger-than-life producers have recognized the need for a truly representative Latin cast, unlike the original white cast made up of a “brown face” to appear Puerto Rican. We have a long way to go, but maybe we are making progress. “

Karree-Lyn Gordon,


Raqibah Basir, Belmont
Photo by David Greene

“I’m Puerto Rican and I always remembered… back then there was racism with Italians and Irish, and if they went out of their race with others there was a problem, as you see in West Side Story. I would say the movie was fair enough, because racism never went away in America, but to some extent I can say there were race relations, but they had to be low-key because it wasn’t accepted. Until the laws of the land, as far as the Constitution is concerned, are changed, racism will still be entrenched in America. “

Raqibah Basir,