African American Studies


Interviewee: Marilyn Cruz

Interviewer: Dr. Mark Naison, Princess Okieme, Andrew Tiedt

Date of Interview Novermber 3, 2005

Summarized by Alice Stryker

Marilyn was born in Harlem. Her mother’s family immigrated to Harlem from Barbados and her father’s family was from the south. She grew up attending St. Ambrosse church, which was attended by many people from the Caribbean. While in Harlem, she attended PS 113 for grade school and remembers playing in Central Park.

The Basian side of her family was very mixed. She believes her great-grandfather may have been white, but she is unsure. The family really never discussed race, but rather more about social class. When her mother brought her father home, her family did not approve of him. The reason for this was simply because his family was from the south, not the West Indies. The marriage, however, did not last. Marilyn’s parents divorced when she was 10. She believes it has something to do with him being the most popular bartender in Harlem. She remembers him as very handsome and as having women chasing after him.

After her parents divorced, the family split up. Her mother stayed in Harlem, her father moved to Washington heights, and she and her siblings lived with different people. She ended up living with her maternal grandparents in the Bronx. She considered this a step up from living in Harlem and describes the move as being comparable to today’s move to the suburbs. Her family began attending St. Margaret’s Church, which was close to their house. She attended PS 60 for middle school. During her time there, she and her friends formed a racially mixed social club called “The Aces.” Although only 1 member of the aces was Spanish, the girls would frequently go to Spanish dances. A few of her paternal uncles lived in the Bronx and would help her with her homework, particularly in giving her some education in African American history.

The family lived on Kelly Street. There was a very active street life for the children living in her neighborhood. Both boys and girls would play various street games together and hang out on each other’s stoops. Her neighborhood had many Jewish families and consequently she had many Jewish friends. In fact, one year she went to a Jewish Summer Camp. She goes into great detail about the candy store that was on their block. She and all the kids would hang out there after school. One of the main attractions of the candy store was its jukebox, which played mostly Latin music.

Most of her block went to Morris High School. She discusses relationships she and her fellow students had. If she were to go on a date with a boy, she first had to bring him home to meet her grandparents. Because her grandfather was so strict, she could not tell him when she was going out dancing. She said she lived a “secret life” that her grandparents never knew about. She never graduated from high school, but later got her GED. She was mostly interested in the arts and when she took all the art classes she could, she dropped out. After she dropped out she worked in a number of factories.

When she was 19 she married a Greek immigrant, whom she met through a friend. During this time in her life, she stopped going to Latin music clubs and more to Black clubs on Boston Road and in Harlem.

When she was 35, she decided she wanted to go back to school. She enrolled at Fordham University.

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Cruz, Marilyn.mp3 (126806 kB)