African American Studies
Interviewee: Connie and Americo Questell
Interviewers: Dr. Mark Naison and Natasha Lightfoot
Date of Interview: January 30, 2006
Connie Questell’s parents met while working as a maid and a butler for a family in New Rochelle. When she was born, in 1943, her parents were living on Boston Road, in the Bronx. Her mother was from Georgia and her father was West Indian. Americo was born in Puerto Rico. His mother is Puerto Rican and his father is Dominican. In 1949, his family moved to East Harlem, he was 9. After he got into a fight in school, he and his sisters moved to Castle Hill Avenue in the Bronx.
When Connie was 4 or 5 she attended Forrest House, a place where children could play and learn during the day that resembled pre-school. She then went to P.S 23 for grade school until the county said they were going to tare the school down. Her siblings attended Morris High School. When she was 8, her family moved into the Melrose Projects, which she viewed as a blessing. The neighborhoods she lived in were multi-ethnic and very welcoming. Americo attended P.S. 51 when he was living in Castle Hill. He was behind a year because his English was not very good and there were no bilingual classes. When he moved to Melrose, he attended P.S. 3, as did Connie. Connie’s family listened mostly to rhythm and blues where as Americo’s family listened mostly to Latin music. Both talk about the Italian neighborhoods and how welcomed they felt and how much about Italian culture they learned.
Not everything was perfect, however. Both speak of tensions between the various housing projects, especially about the rivalry between Melrose and Patterson. Americo attended Bronx Vocational High School, which had a very bad reputation. He remembers one day during an assembly two boys got into a small fight, and the end result was one of them got stabbed with a pen knife. He also remembers the organized Gangs that were in the neighborhoods, schools, and projects. He says however, that unlike today, the gangs were not out to kill people, just merely beat them up. Connie went to Morris High School. She said she chose to go there because of the good reputation of the music program. Both say that their teachers were very encouraging in terms of continuing their education after high school. Connie went to Lehman and Americo went into the Service. A little while after he got out of the service he enrolled in nursing school and became a registered nurse.
When Americo was growing up he was very fond of basketball. At first he just played recreationally, but in high school he got to play on the varsity team. Connie met Americo when he was playing a game and she was watching. Connie’s favorite activity was singing. When she was 12 she began to get involved in organized singing groups. She later joined a group called the Decoys. She also started a magazine devoted to rhythm and blues. She got connected with the producer Al Brown through a newspaper advertisement when she was older. One of their songs was recorded and played on the radio and they got a little notoriety for it. Americo was also in a group called the New Ports. Connie did not start making money off of music until she joined the Sound Pipers, which were, as she describes them, a wedding band.
The two got married on New Year’s Eve, 1961 and moved to Brooke Avenue. Then moved into Melrose Projects and left in 1963. At that time it was still nice and well kept. They were still very safe and an ethnic melting pot of sorts. From Melrose they moved to Lafayette Morrison, which they saw as a step up. They both feel that their children had a wonderful experience growing up in those projects. One of their daughters was very involved in hip-hop and was a ghostwriter.
They conclude the interview by discussing how misunderstood the Bronx is. Very creative people came out of the borough, which is often overlooked.
Questell, Americo and Connie. January 30, 2006. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham.
Click below to download supplemental content.Questell, Americo and Connie.mp3 (125678 kB)