Destiny Saldivar


Destiny Saldivar is a wounded-healer, a story-teller, a Washington Heights native, una Mami, a partner, una hija, pajonua, una bailarina de Antony Santos, a bookworm, a "College Access for All for REAL" advocate, her immigrant parent's dreams in human form and her own muse. She writes to understand herself and her experiences, while spreading love and light as far as she can. Her website is currently under reconstruction, but you can find her on Instagram @lovedbyDestiny for more stories and tons of self-love/positivity talk. While you're there, subscribe to her new website launching in September 2018!


My Washington Heights

Pride will always accompany the statement, “I’m from Washington Heights.” Steaming from that pride arises the smell of chicken from El Malecon on 175th street and the sounds of bachata and merengue escaping the storefronts. Walking through Broadway Avenue feels like flipping through radio stations, starting with Antony Santos on FM 171st street and ending with Romeo in the chaos that is FM 181st street. The platanos are always on sale, and the maduros are always just the right amount of sweet. Though the aguacates don’t taste like the ones growing on your abuelita’s avocado tree in the Dominican Republic, if you close your eyes and take a deep inhale after it rains, you can smell the tropics of Santo Domingo right in front of your doorstep, because The Heights is Manhattan’s replica of Quisqueya.

I’m so Washington Heights that I lived here back when J. Hood Park still had monkey bars. Across the street from that park, nestled right in the middle of 173rd Street between Fort Washington and Haven Avenue sits 710 West 173rd Street, New York, NY 10032 - the first address I learned as a kid. Apartment 38 holds my first lessons on life, love, fear, and pain. The ascending steps that lead to the entrance of the building felt majestic compared to my small frame. It is down those steps in which I tumbled, face-first clutching on to a school project, and earned the chipped tooth I wear proudly today. The black handrails helped prevent every fall after that one, and most importantly, I loved the familiar scent that accompanied the light breeze after it rained.

I remember, which is a surprise in and of itself because I don’t remember anything, but I remember…

I remember smelling the pastelito lady’s cheese pastelitos on the corner, back when they were a dollar, and for another dollar, you could get yourself a Morir Soñando that beats any Morir Soñando these days.

I remember walking past the hot dog stand between Fort Washington and Broadway Avenue empty-handed because Mami never lets me eat food from the outdoors.

I remember when a dollar actually got you far at the bodega.

I remember drinking purple quarter juices in secret because if Mami found out we’d probably end up in the hospital, guided by her fear of parasites.

I remember when I first thought boys were cute.

I remember the bad advice Papi gave me about whacking my bullies over the head with a strawberry-kiwi glass Snapple bottle.

I remember that despite living two cross streets away from school, I was never allowed to walk there alone.



After 6 hours in school and another 4 hours in an after-school program, who never failed to remind Mami that she was behind on her $15 a week payment, I walked home in the safety of my mother’s embrace. As we approach the building, I analyze my majestic entrance. The maroon color of the bricks mirrored my personality, reserved but powerful. The black rails that stood on the sides of the steps wobbled at times but never fell, just like I struggled a number of times through school or my parent’s divorce, but also never fell. The stairs were jagged like me, resourceful and got the job done while showcasing the wear and tear of everyday use through the scuffs of dirt from people’s shoes. I admired the boldness of the buzzer, wishing that I too could use my voice to be just as boisterous.  Like every kid, I tested my balance on the crooked brick paths that led up to the stairs almost every day. The familiarity of the entrance was comforting. No matter what was happening, no matter who bullied me at school, no matter how many weeks Mami was behind on that dreaded $15 after-school payment, I could always count on the fact that my entrance would always be there. 710 West was a reminder that I had a home, full of love, right in the middle of Dominican culture.

We were doomed when the first Starbucks opened on 168th street and the rumors about our name being changed to WaHi surfaced. Gentrification has been rearing its ugly head into our vibrant community since the early 2000’s. In addition to the changes in my community’s exterior, our third-floor, one-bedroom, back-of-another-building-view apartment grew too expensive for us. Mami and I moved one floor up to lower our costs, but even that solution eventually grew into a problem. Soon after, we were pushed out of 710 West and consequently changed our address more than 4 times after that.




When I finally had enough money to move out on my own as an adult there was no other place I could think of living than in Washington Heights. Something about this place screams, “Stay forever!” I hear stay;

When parents leave their children the generations-old apartments that “belong” to them.

When us new parents send our children to the same schools we attended as kids.

When we buy ice cream cones from the same truck that sat on Fort Washington Avenue, as we walked down that same hill on 173rd street holding Mami’s hand.

When our kids play on the concrete playgrounds we stumbled and gained battle scars, except now they have rubberized ground that interrupts their fall, or as our old-school parents would say, the growth.

In the way that the outside still smells like Santo Domingo the morning after it rains.

I knew that this was home. What wasn’t as clear? How I could afford it.

23-year-old me and my then 2-year-old daughter were entrenched within the apartment hunt in 2015. I was determined to stay “home” and had aspirations of one day introducing 710 West 173rd Street to my daughter, Lyla. My expectations were shot by reality, which brought with it insane monthly rents, and even more insane security deposits, realtor fees, and credit requirements. I got a first-hand look at how we, as Heights natives, are pushed out of our own communities.  If you know The Heights, you know that anything East of Broadway, as of late, feels like they took all the Dominicans they pushed out of the apartments West of Broadway and clumped them in one place to make space for the new white folks coming in. Apparently, the real estate world deems this an incredible accomplishment because the realtor I worked with attempted to seal the deal on an apartment between Audubon and Amsterdam (East of Broadway) by saying,

“You know, a lot of white people are starting to move here so it won’t be as bad!”

I stared at him in disbelief and walked away, while he continued to perpetuate the same ideas that hurt us native Heights tenants and our ability to keep our homes and the platanos in Washington Heights.

One of the less-spoken-about but just-as-devastating effects of gentrification is erasure. I walk past 710 West every day I drop my daughter off at daycare, and never fail to take a look at the majestic entrance that enamored me in my earlier years. I first noticed the changes when the dull maroon of the bricks showcased a bright orange undertone. “That looks new,” my subconscious said, not giving it much thought. The changes occurred rapidly, without warning, shortly after. The wobbly rails that broke my falls after I chipped my tooth no longer boasted the stains of dried dripping paint, instead, a sturdy smooth chic black finish, and the crooked bricks I balanced my growing body on every time we exited the building, were removed. The stairs looked newer, smoother, brighter as if to erase the time I fell over them and chipped my tooth. The jagged edges of those steps, that reminded me it was okay to not be okay, were replaced by a smooth, rounded, stone-white marble finish. Half of me thought I was being overly-sensitive, but the other half mourned the loss of my childhood. I walk past this new building unsettled, thinking about all the other things that no longer exist. For instance, the carpeted small room within the calling center on the corner of 173rd and Broadway Avenue where I used to walk with Mami to speak to our relatives in DR and mandarle un dinerito.

In mourning the entrance that once was, I realize that this is how we keep our neighborhoods alive – we have to tell its stories. I must continue telling the stories of my mother’s struggle to keep that apartment we loved so much. I must continue to tell the stories of our infamous J. Hood Park and how the monkey bars were so old they made the whole park smell like rust after it rained. I must be unafraid to explain the story of how I chipped my tooth, or how banging the pastelito lady’s Morir Soñando was. We must continue to support the bodegas that sell the platanos on sale and blast Luís Vargas because they represent us. We must embrace the sounds of the culture that ring out of the infamous flea market space between Broadway and Wadsworth on 175th street because it means we are still strong and resilient, despite the familiar feeling of our land being colonized as each day passes.

We have to keep the essence of the Heights alive, and its stories alive. Always. Because what is the Heights without a little Antony Santos? It’s WaHi, and I’m not from WaHi, I’m from Washington Heights.


© The Acentos Review 2018