Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

A River Of Tears: Happy Land

East Tremont

Eventually, Julio Gonzalez made his way to New York City where a large number of los marielitos seemed to gather. Through his sponsor, the American Council for Nationalities, he assimilated into American society without incident. Later, he managed to secure a series of low-paying jobs, which gave him barely enough money to live in one of the most expensive cities in America. He met a woman in 1984, Lydia Feliciano, who worked in a social club named Happy Land in the East Tremont section of the Bronx. Soon he moved into her apartment and for the next few years, drifted along in anonymity, making few friends, barely surviving and living a life that, even in its paucity, was infinitely better than that in Cuba.

East Tremont Avenue
East Tremont Avenue

The area of East Tremont Avenue near Southern Boulevard in the Bronx is an area that has undergone a vast amount of ethnic, social and economic change after the Second World War. Then a neighborhood of primarily Italian and Irish immigrants, it evolved into an African American community during the late 50s and 60s. During the 70s and 80s the area became a vibrant business enclave for the Hispanic immigrants from Puerto Rico, Honduras, Ecuador and Mexico.

Each ethnic group maintained its own culture, traditions and heritage in the form of social clubs along East Tremont Avenue, Southern Boulevard and the surrounding neighborhoods. No one really knew how many existed since most of these clubs operated in violation of city ordinances that were designed to prevent such clubs to conduct business in an unsafe and illegal manner[1]. Social clubs are usually located back from street front locations away from the prying eyes of police and inspectors who had the authority to shut these places down upon discovery. But on the weekend nights these clubs would rock with the sounds of marenge, Carlos Santana, all variations of Latino music and especially the legendary Tito Puente, a Bronx icon. Such a club was Happy Land.

This club was unique from the other bars in the Tremont neighborhood since it became the central meeting place for the Honduran community in the Bronx. These immigrants, from Central America's poorest country, also tended to be from the same region in Honduras: the northern border near Nicaragua. They came to America for the same reasons all other immigrants come: to seek a better life, escape grinding poverty and chase the mythic American Dream. Happy Land catered to the Hondurans by supplying customers with the homeland beer, Salavida, and sponsoring a soccer team for neighborhood youth. Unlike the Puerto Ricans, who have a much larger presence in New York City, Hondurans maintain a more fragmented community than other ethnic groups. Illegal social clubs pulled them together and provided a center for all types of social activities.

Located at 1959 Southern Boulevard, just off East Tremont Avenue, Happy Land was a major attraction for the Honduran and Dominican communities in East Tremont. It was a place where immigrants could go to catch a glimpse of the old country, interact and be with fellow countrymen and women. Happy Land also sponsored a Little league baseball team. Baseball is very popular in Central America and especially the Dominican Republic. Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa, a Dominican native, is considered almost a god in his country. The club hosted many parties for the league players and on the weekends, Happy Land was packed wall to wall with patrons who almost all knew each other by sight. "It's a connection to our culture" one customer told the newspapers (Parascandola and Peyser, p.17).

[1] TIME magazine reported on April 9, 1990 that over 1,000 such clubs existed in New York City (p. 38)