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Abstract

Anyone walking down Chelsea’s main drag, Broadway, would be struck by its raucous cacophony of sights and sounds, a panoply of foreign languages spoken by women (many mothers with young children and infants), children, teenagers, and men of a variety of physiognomies and skin tones; a collage of small specialty shops selling jewelry, clothing, religious statues, CDs, and mobile phones; and restaurants and eateries serving El Salvadoran, Vietnamese, Mexican, and Chinese food; pawnshops, check-cashing places, bakeries, and coffee shops, with occasional rectangles of negative visual space occupied by the post office and chain drug and convenience stores. It is a new twist on Mondrian’s polychromatic painting Broadway Boogie Woogie, vibrating with the sounds of reggaeton, norteño, salsa, or punta instead of jazz. For almost two decades, I have been fascinated by this tiny city, which, due to its compactness, induces its highly heterogeneous population, perennially fed by an inflow of poor immigrants, to rub shoulders socially and civically. This has produced a remarkable kind of working-class cosmopolitanism that has, for example, occasionally been noticed elsewhere and described in social scientific writing on multiethnic neighborhoods in early–twentieth-century Los Angeles and in late- twentieth-century New York.

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