Ever since Columbus “discovered” America, colonists have created a diabolical tradition of locating, commandeering and rebranding occupied territories as their own. This, despite the fact that generations of people and families, with their own cultures and values have resided there for years. Whether you label it manifest destiny, eminent domain, or gentrification, this kind of shameless hijacking is nothing new.
Community activists in New York City are working overtime to thwart the latest attempt that threatens to claim portions of their already gentrified neighborhood. In protest to ongoing efforts by some realtors and store owners to rebrand a section of Harlem as “SoHa,” community activists like board member Danni Tyson are putting their foot down. In an interview with NY1, Tyson said, “No real estate company, no coffee shop, no business should be using the term SoHa to refer to Harlem."
In a press conference on Wednesday, community leaders blasted the renaming of the area from 110th Street to 125th Streets in Manhattan as SoHa, calling it insulting to longtime residents and another sign of gentrification run amok. Many residents are saying that changing the name bulldozes Harlem's history as the capital of black America. "How dare someone try to rob our culture, and try to act as if we were not here, and create a new name, a new reality as if the clock started when other people showed up?" State Senator-Elect Brian Benjamin said.
As tapas bars and yoga studios replace barber shops and storefront churches in urban centers across America, the makeover is always accompanied by an inevitable rise in rent and property costs that ultimately prices residents out. The casualties of this so-called urban renewal are most often black and Latino. It’s no wonder that many Harlem residents just want their neighborhoods to be left alone. "It's like a slap in the face to me," one woman said. "We love it and we don't need another name," said another. "Harlem is Harlem all by itself."