Tag: barrio

Your Barrio Isn’t Worth Saving

Let’s say that you live in, once lived in, or otherwise have a fondness for a traditional Latino neighborhood in your city.

No doubt, you are aware that gentrification is a powerful force that is either the worst cataclysm in the history of urbanization, or a mighty godsend that will rescue every blighted neighborhood on the planet. Opinions vary.

But let’s sidestep that very real issue for now and address something we can all agree on: Many Hispanic neighborhoods have economic problems that need to be tackled, and improving the quality of life in Latino areas should be a top priority.

Well, I’m here to tell you that’s not going to happen. Because your neighborhood, your barrio, is not going to improve.

You see, we have only so many resources — and more importantly, only so much empathy — in this country. And currently, both are being used up in the effort to rescue small-town America and the white working class.

Now, you might ask, “Hey, isn’t the white working class synonymous with ‘Trump voter’? And isn’t there lots of proof that many of them are racists who have sold out our country because of their fear, hatred, and ignorance?”

Ha, no. I have it on good authority (i.e., the mainstream media) that the WWC are actually the salt of the earth, and they have been cruelly left behind by economic elites, and they have suffered greatly due to myriad other injustices that curiously never get mentioned whenever we talk about ethnic minorities (but that’s a mere coincidence).

In essence, we have unlimited sympathy for poor whites, and vast reservoirs of excuses for why they are free of responsibility for their problems and/or questionable decisions. For those Latinos who live in struggling urban neighborhoods, however, the message is clear: This is all your fault, so quit your whining.

For example, that opioid epidemic devastating rural America? It’s a full-blown crisis. But drug problems in the inner city? Just the moral failures of black and brown people.

Aren’t you glad that I cleared that up?

Oh sure, you might point out that based upon every statistical fact, lower-class white people actually have many advantages over Hispanics, and in some cases even over those Latinos who don’t live in poverty.

It doesn’t matter, because the image of the proud but destitute coal miner — the embodiment of the white working class — is stronger than any silly little facts or figures you could throw around.

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A Little Jumpy

Damn.

I just got done telling you that Latinos are not terribly worried about the future, when an inconvenient report has forced me to add a caveat to that optimistic viewpoint.

You see, while it’s true that Hispanics tend to be happier, and less fearful about scary shit like the economy and the presidential election, there is one subset within Latino culture that is feeling some gnawing concern.

Specifically, many Latino Millennials are worried about all those white supremacists who have dragged themselves out of the shadows of American culture in the last few years.

According to a recent poll, Hispanics between the ages of 18 and 30 “are more afraid of U.S.-born white supremacists than they are terrorists abroad.”

Yes, young Latinos think it’s more likely that a neo-Nazi will come gunning for them than it is that Isis will roll into their barrio.

In fact, 55 percent of Latino Millennials say they are “very concerned” about violence perpetuated by white extremists. That’s just behind the 62 percent of young African Americans who feel the same way.

The survey points out that “in contrast, just one-third of white Millennials agreed.”

Now that’s a cultural gap.

One can hardly blame young ethnic minorities for feeling this way. The technology they grew up with has allowed vitriol to spread and multiply like never before. The number of hate groups in America is on the rise. And of course, the GOP nominee for president has based his whole campaign on telling white Americans to despise anybody who is the wrong skin color or religion.

Yes, for Hispanic Millennials, it’s not all youthful exuberance and inappropriate selfies.

 

selfies stuff

With hope, the potential for violence will die down once this accursed election is over. And there is the fact that ethnic minorities will only continue to gain social and economic power each year.

So maybe young Latinos will soon not be as fearful of what their fellow Americans might do in a fit of racist rage.

And they can get back to chasing Pokémon or jumping on Snapchat or jamming to Taylor Swift or whatever it is those kooky kids do these days.

Yeah, I’m feeling old.

 

 


The Ultimate Insult

I was at a wedding reception when I saw her — a blonde woman trying in vain to get down with Kool & the Gang’s Jungle Boogie. A man seated near me gestured to the woman and pronounced her, “the whitest person I’ve ever seen.”

We all knew what he meant, of course. She couldn’t dance. She was awkward. She was way uncool. And he summed up all that negativity with the single word “white.”

the-21-most-awkward-family-photos07

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The Latino Side of Town

I grew up in a state that was overwhelming white, in a city that was somewhat white, in a neighborhood that was barely white. The de facto segregation in my hometown meant that whole sections of the city could easily be identified as the barrio or the black neighborhood or the fledgling Asian district. It was geographically convenient to pinpoint where the white people weren’t, because they were so plentiful everywhere else.

But in the United States of 2011, it’s not so simple. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “America’s neighborhoods became more integrated last year than during any time in at least a century.” This of course means we’ve achieved the mythical color-blind society where racism and ethnic conflict have been banished forever… well, not really.

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The Roots

 

When I lived in New York City, I didn’t hang out in East Harlem or Washington Heights, the Hispanic areas of town. I was much more into Greenwich Village.

When I lived in Los Angeles, I didn’t feel at home in East LA, the heavily Latino-ized section of the city. I was more likely to be found in Los Feliz, which is Spanish in name more than in constituency.

So when it comes down to it, maybe I am low-level hipster more than hardcore Hispanic. Still, my old neighborhood in my hometown, an area where I lived from the ages of five to eleven, still appeals to me. But I wonder if it is the siren call of nostalgia rather than the place’s inherent charm.

It’s been almost thirty years since I left there. It was, and remains, predominately Hispanic, and can arguably be called a barrio.

The place was rather seedy back in the day, although not homicidally dangerous. It has gotten noticeably better in the intervening years. Still, the improvement is so modest that it stuns me to realize it is the culmination of decades of progress and social activism.

The people who live there have worked very hard – planting trees and painting houses and opening businesses and forming block parties – yet it looks much the same to me. Again, it’s nicer, with far less tagging on the garages and more flowers in the park and fewer suspicious characters hanging out on stoops. But it doesn’t have the resplendent charm of what most Americans would call “a nice neighborhood.”

Is this because large-scale changes take decades, and I should wait and see what 2040 brings to the place? Or is gradual improvement the best that can be asked of an area that was economically disadvantaged for so long that it simply can’t catch up to the more vibrant parts of the city? Or are Hispanics too lazy and stupid to make things better?

That last option was just to see if you’re still reading.

I have no idea why my old neighborhood seems to have plateaued at a merely “pretty good” stage. I also don’t know if it will improve, stagnate, or decline. 

But I will keep an eye out for changes. On average, a couple of times a year, I still walk down the streets I explored as a kid. This is because whenever I am back visiting my hometown, I end up there.

I don’t set out to visit the neighborhood. After all, I’m not in touch with anybody I knew there, and most of the places I remember are gone. But between jaunts to my friends’ suburban houses and escapades around my adolescent stomping grounds and visits to random parts of the city for impromptu errands, I inevitably end up, even if it’s fleetingly, back on the streets of my childhood.

I’m tempted to call this karma or the pull of destiny. In truth, I think it’s because my hometown just isn’t that big.

So there I am, heading down the street where El Sombrero restaurant used to be, or walking through the park where we had Little League games, or passing the corner where that Spanish Cobra stole my Halloween candy (not all childhood memories are fond ones).

Decades ago, when we moved out of the neighborhood, my mother and I ended up in a nicer part of town. At my new school, I was one of the few Hispanics, and our neighbors were white, for the most part.

Some would call this selling out. Others may refer to it as movin’ on up.

I must admit that at the age of eleven, I had no terminology for it other than “I have to pack my stuff in boxes again.” But I remember that I didn’t really miss the old neighborhood.

 


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