People from all parts of the world come to the Ironbound in Newark, N.J., to build a future for themselves and for the next generation. They find a way to live in harmony amongst their differences. Behind Penn Station, you can’t help but meet a fork in the road, which will take you to the right and lead you straight into the heart of the neighborhood on Ferry Street. The bright colors, busy people and irresistible churrascaria restaurants are not the only attractions that bring so many to this avenue. The many nationalities and cultures embedded in this neighborhood keep the Ironbound thriving every day.
The decorations on every corner stand as reminders of the part of Newark you are now in. There are two specific signs: One is yellow and green, about two feet long with a rectangular shape and big letters spelling out “Welcome to Newark–Ironbound.” The second one is a foot long, square shape with a green and orange border and yellow lettering saying “Portugal Avenue.” Portugal’s and Brazil’s flags share these colors, and these signs match the endless Portuguese and Brazilian flags that hang from every other window and store.
A Brazilian-born beauty named Flavinha Tarez has been living in the Ironbound for two months. She has traveled to America to learn English and plans to return to Brazil after her course is done. “It’s funny—I feel like I’m still in Brazil. I can buy the same products here that I do there,” she explains. “When I want to feel like I’m in America, I take the train over to New York.” Overall, Flavinha feels safe, and being able to speak her native language is making it easy for her to get around and buy the things she needs.
There is an array of stores on Ferry Street that offer mainly products from Brazil and Portugal. Some of them are O Boticario, a Brazilian perfume store; Ourivesaria, a Portuguese jewelry store; Ironbound Bank and BCP Banking, which cater to Portuguese-speaking clients; a Vigo, which is similar to a Western Union; Toquefinal (meaning “last thing” in Portuguese) is only one of the many amazing clothing and bathing-suit stores. The bars and restaurants even offer their loyal patrons the opportunity to watch that night’s big soccer game.
Some of the most popular places on Ferry Street have to be the bakeries. A push of the glass door and the sweet bread smell begins to tickle your nose. Your eyes begin to gaze over the sugar-covered breads, Portuguese rolls and coconut-filled pastries, when suddenly it’s your turn to order and you want it all. One of the young ladies working in the Portuguese-owned bakery Teixeira’s is Rosaria Flores, an Ecuadorian immigrant. She explains, “We somehow communicate, it’s a great place to work, the owners are respectful and reliable, plus its fun to meet people from all parts of the world.”
But it wasn’t always the Portuguese influence that dominated the aesthetics of Ferry Street. Helen Mason, vice president of the board at St. Stephen’s church informs: “Ferry Street was mostly Germans. It was only after 1953 that you started to see the Italian influence developing past Adams Street.” St. Stephen’s church, built in 1874 for the German-speaking congregation, now holds services in English, Portuguese and Spanish. One of the church’s pastors, Maristela Frielberg, is fluent in all three languages. The church is known as the site at “the five corners.” It is so attractive that Steven Spielberg felt it was worthy for a scene in his big summer hit, War of the Worlds.
The Irish and Germans started coming in the 1830s, settling in the Ironbound. The 20th century was when the Italians and Portuguese immigrants started arriving. The black community began locating at the same time in this area. The neighborhood now has more than 50 cultural groups with a population of 50,000. The neighborhood is a great blend of Spanish, Portuguese and Brazilians.
The Ironbound section has learned to adapt to the good and bad. With all its diversity, it is possible to find present and former residents who complain about one group or another, who ascribe to whole nationalities a lack of good manners or criminal tendencies. Still, people from all parts of the world have migrated to this area, and it continues to offer them the chance to experience the purest form of the American dream. They work, learn and help each other in order to coexist.
The most important element helping Ferry Street remain so vibrant is the pride that people have in their work and neighborhood. The whole ambiance embraces their culture and others. The future of Ferry Street may just be a new wave of immigrants that will arrive and transform this place again. Taking pride in this area is a way in which the residents can give back to a community that has given them their dreams.
Ammy Martinez is a journalism and media studies major at Rutgers-Newark. Posted August 2005.