Dispatches From Hillside: The Washington Heights Hashtag Affair

BY Claudio E. Cabrera (@cecabrera21)

Over the weekend there was a back and forth discussion on Twitter over what the Washington Heights #hashtag should be.

Should it be #Wahi or #WashHts?

Some said they liked #Wahi as a name, while others wanted to stick with a tag you can sound out and immediately know the location. Others said one may fit better in tweets than the other.

Close to two years ago, I started a club called the “Wahi & Inwood Brunch and Supper Club.”

I initially went with “Wahi” because that was the real estate buzzword and the most commonly used Twitter hashtag at the time. I hated it inside, but went along with it for my own reasons. Well, I’ll be honest; I thought that Wahi would attract more people than WashHts because it identified with a certain segment of the population – the new population.

A few months later, I changed the name of the club to the “Washington Heights and Inwood Brunch and Supper Club.” I changed it because I felt it didn’t represent me. It represented the real estate agents, the new residents who were cool with that name and all the magazines that love to brand up-and-coming neighborhoods with new, hip names.

When @carlazanoni, @UptwnCre8tivLab, @AbbieLicious07, @zuzupetals  and others were going back and forth about the issue, I wanted to jump in the conversation but decided to stay out.

To me, these are trivial issues. The real mark of change in our community will be when we discuss real issues on Twitter.

We’ve seen examples of that with the Columbia University expansion, but their needs to be more. And I’m not talking about dog gravel or guys playing chess in a park. While I applaud the roundup of community activism surrounding those events and believe they deserve their own special attention, I wish we did more of the same (including myself) for the real issues in our community.

So, if you want to use #Wahi be my guest. If you want to use #WashHts, I echo the same sentiment. If you want to use both and reach the separate groups that use them, even better. Actually, that’s the best move when it’s doable with fewer than 140 characters.

But the keyword in all of this is separate. All we do by having these discussions is never come to a consensus, but just build division, and we don’t even notice we’re doing so.

I understand where @peraltaproject is coming from when he believes the hashtag should be #WashHts. He’s not mad; but it’s a fear that with the rising rents resulting in increased gentrification – everything that has long represented Washington Heights and Inwood will no longer be unrecognizable on the street – but on the internet as well.

But we also have to understand that someone using a #Wahi hashtag isn’t harmful. It isn’t a measure of how much that person cares/doesn’t care about this community. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about the roots of this neighborhood or Dominicans. Sometimes it feels like one group belongs to #Wahi (White, new residents) and one group belongs to #WashHts (Dominican, old residents).

There shouldn’t be one universal rule. There isn’t a Twitter governing body. You may do as you feel.

So next time you see me tweeting I’ll use both #Wahi and #WashHts because our community is calling for two and no one ever said there just has to be one.

I may be Dominican and #WashHts may be what people expect me to use considering who uses it on Twitter, but this is bigger than just being Dominican. I feel so strongly about this neighborhood that I’m a Dyckman resident who happens to be Dominican, not a Dominican that happens to be a Dyckman resident.


Claudio E. Cabrera is the Lead Editor of NewsOne.Com, runs the Washington Heights and Inwood Brunch and Supper Club, and hosts the Washington Heights & Inwood Online Radio Show. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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  • Divino DeNegro
    April 29, 2011 at 10:53 am

    That’s interesting. I was always attached to #TheHeights hashtag. I noticed #WaHi was more popular among the “yuppie” crowd tho. Sometimes I use both. But I’ve never used #WashHts before.

  • DC
    April 29, 2011 at 11:26 am

    I thought WaHI stood for Washington Heights & Inwood – thanks for the insight!

  • James Bosley
    April 29, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    I’m glad I live in Inwood.

  • Rich
    April 29, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    It’s funny, cuz if you would have mentioned the name ‘Wahi and Inwood Supper Club’, I would have told you that the name has a redundancy. The “I” in “WaHI” stands for “Inwood”. So I hear “The Washington Heights/Inwood & Inwood Supper Club”.

    Eduardo Gomez is the person most likely attributed with coining the term.
    (I believe Carla has mentioned this before).

    I was an old school member of the WaHI forums, the first local ‘Social Media’ outlet that our neighborhood had. Born and raised in Washington Heights, currently living in Inwood, I never thought of “WaHI” as being a ‘white persons’s term’ or a ‘Real Estate’ term, perhaps as I do when I hear ‘Hudson Heights’.

    It’s a shortcut for combining two neighborhoods that, while they share many of the same sort of people/cultures/ethnicities, they, for one reason or another, do have their distinct characters, yet are undeniably linked in so many ways.

    I’m concerned at what seems to be an attempt to point at ‘white people’ as though they are the problem. To be clear, Claudio, I don’t mean you, and honestly, I don’t think it’s any one person in particular. It just seems like it’s almost an undercurrent tone, or what’s referred to today as ‘dog whistling’;

    We’re threading slippery ground here. This isn’t a race/ethnicity issue. Last I checked, it’s major institutions (like Columbia) and property owners (like landlords) that are giving us the shaft, not any particular race or ethnicity of people. The color to look out for isn’t white; it’s green.

    There are serious (and not so serious) issues that should concern our neighbors, no matter what their race (or income) is. And as a person of Latino/Hispanic heritage (acknowledged grudgingly so), I can tell you I’m certainly disappointed in the level of participation of my fellow latinos (especially my parent’s generation) in community affairs, in everything from PTA meetings, community board meetings, Art & Music events, etc.

    While I do think the younger Latino/Hispanic generation is playing a much more active role in the creative dept, and even in activism to a degree, you have to admit that much of the local Latino/Hispanic community doesn’t seem interested in participating unless there’s loud music and free food.

    Everytime I go to PTA meetings, it’s 10-20 parents that show up, with maybe 1-3 of them being latino. The ‘Language Barrier’ card can’t be played, because most of these local teachers at these meetings speak Spanish. I know, because they tell me how frustrated they are by the lack of participation of latinos… in Spanish.

    All of the cultures/ethnicities that make up our neighborhood have their issues.
    Again, if I’m going to be frank (and I’d like to be), then we should feel free to discuss them.

    (Granted, these are personal observations, and not any sort of ‘scientific data’, but even if calling out my flaws engages others in a dialogue, I’m glad to be the mistaken fool.)

    Some examples:
    Sometimes it seems like the “non-Dominican” community “tunnels” it’s way around our neighborhood. By that, I mean it’s like they’ll visit the same spots over and over, and not really explore anything outside of that ‘safe zone’.

    There is also no denying that some of our local latino merchants participate in something called “the White Price”. That’s when they over-charge someone for a product/service because they consider that person an “outsider”. (Though it’s not just towards white people. I’ve seen it happen to black folk, and other Latinos that don’t dress/act typical Latino “whatever that is”).

    That shit ain’t cool.

    I’m sure everyone has something they can add to this absolutely goofy list.

    So what?

    At the end of the day, what kills me is how ridiculous this all is. This whole “Latino” “White People” etc stuff is so ridiculous. It’s like Donald Trump runs the local philosophy; some sort of time-warped old-timey tribal caveman bullshit where people bunch up by race/skin color as though we’re about to fight over scattered buffalo bones.

    And it seems like today’s media and culture want to keep these divisions alive by reminding us of our differences. I guess it makes for better drama. (and Nielson Ratings).

    We have to realize that playing up these divisions will only leave us more isolated, more balkanized, and the people who really want to screw us over will only too happily take advantage of the gaps between us.

    So while we’re all busy bickering over abbreviations and checking each other’s membership card credentials. the crooks are laughing their asses off trading chunks of neighborhood around like a cheap set of Pokemon cards.

  • uptownco
    April 29, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    Lessons From The Wash Heights Hashtag Affair

    First off, I think that whole point of this whole exercise is to foster dialogue. For Uptown to speak to itself, something that we don’t do often enough.

    My whole issue with #WaHi is that it is not a real entity, it doesn’t refer to an actual place, called by that actual name. Conversely, it has the odor of one of those words created to negate something else. A catchphrase that thrives virtually but not IRL.

    Whether it was created by a real estate agent or Eduardo Gomez, WaHi, in my humble estimation, is a moniker without substance.

    So therefore, I choose #WashHts. Just my personal preference. For me, it has nothing to with race, ethnicity or class. It has to do with a deep love for Washington Heights, yesterday, today and tomorrow and the notion that the hashtag for Washington Heights should properly represent the neighborhood.

    In practical terms, #WashHts appears in the search for Washington Heights in Twitter, which is an added value.


  • Anina
    April 29, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    This is how stupid I am: I’ve always typed #wahi thinking it’s WAshington HeIghts using only 4 letters instead of #WashHts which took seven. I thought they were interchangeable. I never heard it from a R.E. agent or E.G. I learned it where I learn most things about my neighborhood – on Twitter.
    When I typed #inwood #wahi I thought I was referring to two places. All this time and none of the Twitterati said anything. Don’t I feel like a moron!

  • Rich
    April 29, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Just to be Devil’s Advocate (because the truth is, I actually am the devil, but I don’t want people bothering me for autographs):

    By your own logic, #WashHts is no good either, because no one says “Wash-hits” (just like no one says “Wa-Hee or Wa-High”.

    They’re simply an abbreviation for a location in written form.

    If I follow your reasoning, then we have to use #WashingtonHeights, which could be very impractical in a setting like Twitter, where character space is already very limited, but at least is an accurate representation.

    If anything, #WaHI is not the one to negate, but actually be more inclusive, because it includes Washington Heights & Inwood. Funny enough, I always felt that #WaHI kinda made Inwood the ugly stepsister, since it only got one letter in the mix.

    Seems rather odd that so much emphasis would be placed on a hash tag abbreviation, considering that what gives our neighborhood substance is the people in it, not a hash tag created for brevity.

    Now, as not a devil’s advocate, I preferred #WashHts for the sake of clarity and to identify hyperlocal tweets, since I was seeing a few people note that it would get confusing when people were tweeting about a local event using the #WaHI tag, when in fact it had nothing to do with Washington Heights, but exclusively Inwood.

    Thus the idea that Washington Heights has #WashHts, Inwood has #Inwood, and Washington Heights/Inwood got #WaHI.

    At least that’s the intention of that particular convention.

    Otherwise, the idea that a hashtag somehow plays a role in identifying a neighborhood would illustrate how lacking in character that hood must be to rely on a hashtag to help find it’s identity, no?

  • James Bosley
    April 29, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Washington Heights was a name some real estate dude gave the area in 1870 something. Before that it was known as Harlem Heights.

  • Led Black
    April 29, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    You and I know that no one reads #WashHts as “Wash Hits”. You said it yourself, that #WashingtonHeights is impractical and that #WashHts is preferred for the “sake of clarity”. It serves it’s purpose, it is concise and direct and has a connection to an actual neighborhood.


  • Rich
    April 29, 2011 at 9:45 pm


    I agree. No one reads it that way. I’m just saying that perhaps we’re also reading way too much into “WaHI”. This whole idea that WaHI is an attempt to rebrand a neighborhood or something is really based on…I don’t know what, really. It sounds conspiratorial or something. Like Glenn Beck’s chalk lines connecting communists and Obama.

    If ‘concise and direct’ are your motives for choosing a hastag, then “WaHI” is by far the more concise and direct hastag, in my opinion, when referring to both Washington Heights *and Inwood as a single entity, especially if we’re talking about hash tags for use in Twitter, where brevity is golden.

    (I don’t think people typically use hashtags in Facebook/blogs, etc, unless it’s just Twitter habits carrying over, or they’re posting to both sites simultaneously).

    I guess my only question is: what is meant by “has a connection”? What is this “connection”? Metaphorical? Allegorical? Why does one abbreviation have more value than the other?

    Thanks for the responses. I imagine at least some people are interested in why this has become such an issue. If not, there’s lots of Royal Wedding and Donald Trump on tv they can watch 😉



  • Observer
    April 30, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    I think it’s irresponsible to dismiss this as a non-issue or one that should be taken lightly and does not warrant discussion.

    I agree that this isn’t just a Twitter spelling problem but rather an identity, cultural and social issue. To brazenly relabel an established neighborhood that has slowly forged its own identity over the years also begins to redefine the area in the mind of those who have lived there as well as the newcomers entering the scene. How clever to do this by just “renaming” it!

    Catchy relabeling serves to “kick-start” a neighborhood’s “new” identity, one that is more flexible and in turn, more profitable. Certainly you won’t mind a rent increase or paying a higher mortgage or more for that cup of coffee because this is actually a brand new neighborhood… we’ve just renamed it! Ta-dah! Quite efficient but potentially dangerous if misused and furthermore has ramifications that will take many years to estimate.

    The point is to choose your labels wisely and know why you are using them and what they mean. If it is unclear, then they should be used with even greater caution, if at all. It is important to know what we subscribe to and what we promote.

    It’s a personal choice of course, what to call a neighborhood. We could just keep calling them by their original names. I agree, certainly it’s more tedious to type out a few more letters on Twitter, but that’s far less tedious than unknowingly promoting the redefinition of an identity. Maybe that’s a little harsh, but you get the idea.

    This is an issue that keeps resurfacing on the net and in greater frequency as of late. That says a lot about its importance or perhaps that it’s hitting a nerve.

    As we all well know, words have meanings. They should not be arbitrarily changed, altered or replaced without thoughts as the words, by design, will change the definition of their subject.

  • uptownco
    April 30, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    I could not have said it better myself. Perfectly and succinctly stated.

    For the sake of brevity we wouldn’t change the #Inwood hashtag to #InWo because #InWo is not a real place. Neither is WaHi. Also, #Inwood is only one character short of #WashHts.


  • Rich
    April 30, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    Me thinks we’re seeing “problems” where they don’t exist.

    “WaHI” is a problem? “WaHI” has been in use before Twitter existed, before this blog existed, when Facebook was still only allowing college students to join their Social Network, and before most of knew each other, both on Social Media Networks and in meatspace.

    I’m not sure how people who have used “WaHI” as a hashtag on Twitter is a problem.
    It’s been around for years.

    I believe I was one of the first ones to propose we use #WashHts on Twitter to label tweets hyperlocally, so let there be no confusion about my motives. I’ve already explained why I think this works.

    This has become a very distracting ssue, but one illustrative of how our activist tendencies misfire, placing many a bullet in our feet.

    The “Village” is still called “The VIllage”. I sincerely doubt anyone would consider “The Village” to be the same kind of place it was 20 years ago.
    “Times Square” is still named “Times Square”. Chinatown, etc.

    The “Meatpacking” district is certainly not anything even closely resembling what it was years ago.

    These places were gentrified, re-classified, changed into plastic, soulless, culture-less sterile tourist zones with over-priced sandwiches: all while being able to keep their original names.

    To suggest that a hashtag label on a Twitter feed will change the character of the neighborhood is not something I can take very seriously.

    What is changing the character of the neighborhood are landlords who hold out, keeping storefronts empty until someone is willing to pay ridiculously over-priced rents.

    What changes the character of the neighborhood is Columbia going on it’s land-grab spree, and who couldn’t possibly care less about what we call it on our tweets.

    What also changes the character of our neighborhood are the local artists, entrepreneurs, small businesses, activists, and media resources that are taking the charge in defining our neighborhood by no longer being passive locals, but active citizens. By showing others that we have a creative, independent culture all our own. That we can generate the kind of noise that will obligate those in gov’t, in authority, and in surrounding areas to listen to what it is we have to say.

    My concern is that I’m seeing lots of buzz n’ noise about a hashtag ‘threatening’ the character of our neighborhood;

    but it sounds awfully quiet in the community meetings that actually play a role in what actual changes take place in our neighborhood.

    Everyone’s arguing about how to swat the flies, while the ones droppin’ turds whistle right past us.

  • Led Black
    April 30, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    I think you are reading things into this that are just not there. The whole thing about “activist tendencies misfiring” is a bit overblown. No one is trying to be an activist. The post was simply Claudio’s observations on a discussion about the hashtag that took place on Twitter. No one suggested “that a hashtag label on a Twitter feed will change the character of the neighborhood”. I think Observer put it best with the following:

    “The point is to choose your labels wisely and know why you are using them and what they mean. If it is unclear, then they should be used with even greater caution, if at all. It is important to know what we subscribe to and what we promote.”


  • Divino DeNegro
    April 30, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    LOL. Honestly in Twitter’s limited circumstance of 140 characters, I’m looking to save on characters. So once I learned of #WaHi, I didn’t use #TheHeights as much. And I noticed that many “regular people” use #TheHeights. I’m not looking to be limited in only speaking with my peers. I want to reach all people.

    Then in the sense of familiarity, I grew up with family in “Inwood”. Did I walk down the hill from 193st to Dyckman and think or say “I’m going to Inwood”? No! It’s all The Heights if you ask me. 207 st is The Heights, Dyckman is The Heights, Ellwood is The Heights. Some people like to rep Inwood with an elitist tinge as if living in a different community, that yet is recognized as the political district with The Heights.

  • Divino DeNegro
    April 30, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    But I do think that #WashHts is good hashtag for distinction

  • Rich
    April 30, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    Led says:

    “No one suggested “that a hashtag label on a Twitter feed will change the character of the neighborhood”

    Observer says:

    ” To brazenly relabel an established neighborhood that has slowly forged its own identity over the years also begins to redefine the area in the mind of those who have lived there as well as the newcomers entering the scene. How clever to do this by just “renaming” it!”

    “Catchy relabeling serves to “kick-start” a neighborhood’s “new” identity…”

    “…it’s more tedious to type out a few more letters on Twitter, but that’s far less tedious than unknowingly promoting the redefinition of an identity.”

    “…They should not be arbitrarily changed, altered or replaced without thoughts as the words, by design, will change the definition of their subject.”

    I’m gonna put my $5 on Observer suggesting that using any particular twitter hashtag will *change* the neighborhood, in one way or another.

    Unless she got confused, and didn’t realize we were discussing Twitter hashtags, and the whole “Hashtag Affair” thingy in the title.

    Changing. Relabeling. Renaming. Semantics?

    Nevermind. We’ll gloss over it. My cervecita is getting warm.

    I think I’m also comfortable with the use of “activist tendencies misfiring”.

    I’ll give you an example:

    This whole hashtag debate. The one we’re all having.

    People are debating it. Like it’s relevant to the community. They’re reacting to it, because they think it’s relevant, and therefore needs to be addressed. It’s apparently become some sort of cause. At least important enough to need to be discussed for this long. The people’s revolutionary republic of Washington Heights is rising up against the Imperial Forces ready to relabel Washington Heights and make it milky for higher profit margins on rents. We will rise up against this monstrosity. We will not allow our neighborhood to be relabeled, and thus redefined by the twitter!

    It’s a form of activism.

    It’s a “misfire”, because it doesn’t matter. No one who is in power cares about our squabbles about hashtags. They are a petty matter.

    Columbia. Landlords. Indifferent politicians. Corrupt Park and City Police.

    If they knew what was happening here, I believe they’d be happy to encourage it.

    “Yeah, you guys go figure out those dastardly neighborhood-changing hashtags, while we plot out the fate of your actual neighborhood”

    And then they laughed and laughed and poured fine champagne on each other’s nipples and sang merry songs about conquistadors in Lexus vehicles while ignorant abuelitas wave their banners in support of all that’s been done for them because Espailliat sounds like a latino name, and Levine can’t dance bachata.

    What’s not petty are the community meetings that barely no one here attends. There’s no activism by the same people to encourage our parent’s generation to become more active and aware of their situations, so that local politicians won’t feel encouraged to appeal to their vote by driving loud trucks with merengue music, because they’re that shallow.

    I wonder why this issue isn’t being addressed by us? Does it make us uncomfortable?
    Do we have those indifferent citizens in our families? Are we kinda lazy about it as well?

    Haa. Yeah. We are. It’s ok. We know.

    Unfortunately, my posts are just too long winded and shitty-ly written for me to continue blabbering on. While I do feel I’m asking some legitimate questions, I’m apparently not getting responses to them, so I won’t keep wasting anyone’s time.

    I’m more of the old school type debates, where one side brings up a point, the other side discusses it.

    De otra manera, quien carajo le importa lo que diga yo de esta vaina?
    Donde esta mi botellita, loco?

    I’m sure this will work itself out, as most of these things do.

    Peace, mi hermano.


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