This group of friends party and fight, but don’t expect to find juiceheads or gorillas among them. Just as viewers said goodbye to MTV’s hit series, “Jersey Shore,” they welcomed a new docu-novela chronicling the lives of nine people living in a Dominican-dominated neighborhood in Uptown Manhattan.
Step aside, Situation and Snooki. “Washington Heights,” which features 11-hour-long episodes, made its debut Wednesday night and it’s one of the network’s few shows for and by Latinos.
New York City has never been portrayed this real or this hard. And it’s not HBO. It’s not a movie. There were shows that glamorized the sex of the city, the clothes, and the clubs, but our show is about culture. That’s what makes it completely different. There’s never been this much culture on TV before.
- Dominican-Cuban cast member Jonathan Perez
“New York City has never been portrayed this real or this hard,” Dominican-Cuban cast member Jonathan Perez, an aspiring rapper who goes by the name “Audubon,” told Celebuzz.com. “And it’s not HBO. It’s not a movie. There were shows that glamorized the sex of the city, the clothes, and the clubs, but our show is about culture. That’s what makes it completely different. There’s never been this much culture on TV before.”
Washington Heights being a bicultural neighborhood led by Latinos isn’t a new concept discovered by the television network. In a 2008 study conducted by CUNY, it was noted that since the 1980s, the upper Manhattan neighborhood has been transformed into a community where Dominicans have been the most prominent national group. Dominicans also accounted for more than 50 percent of the neighborhood’s total population and more than 70 percent of Latinos live in the district.
And with one of Manhattan’s final stops on the subway garnering notoriety over the years, thanks to the Tony-Award winning musical, “In The Heights,” and popular former residents, like Alex Rodriguez, garnering the spotlight, the neighborhood is getting more publicity than ever. But how do residents feel about MTV adding their take?
The response has been surprisingly positive among some.
“I think a reality show showcasing a group of 20somethings chasing their dreams is a great idea,” says artist M. Tony Peralta, who is friends with cast members Audubon and Ludwin. “I was born uptown and have lived here all my life and when I step out of my apartment every day, I see a group of 20somethings and teens hanging out on the corner doing absolutely nothing with their lives. There’s a large portion of kids that get stuck in the ‘ghetto’ mentality and spend their lives on the streets.”
Danny L., who’s been living in Washington Heights “for all of my 28 years,” and knows cast member Jimmy, believes a series about young people striving to pursue career goals is one completely different from the GTL world of “Jersey Shore,”- one many will welcome with open arms.
“I think it’s important for networks to take notice of different neighborhoods to give viewers some insight into what goes on and what’s available elsewhere,” says Danny. “I think the concept of the show was a good way to introduce the community and its people because it’s supposed to be based on the stars of the show working toward their dreams in life. But I don't think everyone in the group is focused on their achieving a career goal.”
Despite positive reviews, others have gone to Facebook to call the series “trash” because “there was nothing Dominican about it.” One said there weren’t enough “Dominican mothers screaming” or “coños,” a common slang term.
In the case of Francis Rodriguez, a Dominican-born journalist who lived in Washington Heights for four years, she hopes MTV will continue to raise more awareness about a seemingly forgotten neighborhood, stepping away from stereotypes or the usual club brawl that made “Jersey Shore” famous.
“I think this show will be a great opportunity to showcase the rich culture and great vibe of Washington Heights,” says Rodriguez. “I'm eager to see what the show has to say about Washington Heights, the same way I felt when I first heard about a Broadway musical inspired by the neighborhood or how its folklore made its way into stories by (Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist) Junot Diaz. I'm sure we're going to continue to learn about many other shows, plays and books about Washington Heights.”
“The main reason I support this show is because I hope it inspires the younger generation of Washington Heights,” he says. “I hope it puts a bug in their ears to become artists, musicians, poets, whatever they want to be and not get sidetracked to being in the ‘streets.'"
You can reach Stephanie Nolasco via Twitter: @SNolasco