Tag: racial segregation

What’s the 414?

I was a teenager a million years ago.

OK, it was the late 1980s.

In any case, once you cross 40, a lot of your teen memories start to fade, or get augmented in unintentional ways, or just get merged with John Hughes movies.

One truly unpleasant memory that I had not conjured up in years came back to me recently.

The catalyst for this flashback was an article by Sarah Hoye, who wrote about her childhood in Milwaukee, the city that recently suffered a fall-blown race riot and which CNN implied was the worst place in America for black people.

 

milwakee-riots

Hoye wrote that “more times than not, when I tell people that I am from Milwaukee, I get a sympathetic head tilt followed by, ‘I’m sorry.’ And that was before the recent protests.”

OK, I relate to that. Because I too am from Milwaukee. And it might pain my Wisconsin crew to know this, but I’ve often received that exact same “I’m sorry” reaction from people when I mention where I’m from. My hometown’s reputation is not a good one.

Now, I haven’t lived in Milwaukee since I graduated high school, but I go back often to visit friends and family.

I spent my childhood in the Latino section of town, an enclave on the South Side that is still heavily Hispanic to this day. Yes, I’ve written about this era and place more than once.

When I was a teenager, we moved to a quasi-suburban area (still within the city’s limits), where all of our neighbors had German or Polish or Serbian ancestry. Our house was all the diversity you were getting for many blocks in any direction.

To be clear, I have fond memories of this time. However, even then I knew that all was not right in my city. You see, Milwaukee has long been the most segregated municipality in America. Growing up, I assumed all cities had stark lines separating the ethnicities (and indeed, to some degree, they all do). But I had no idea Milwaukee was such an extreme case.

And this brings me back to the creepy memory that I had long ago shifted to my brain’s attic.

No, it’s not about the many times I was called spic or wetback or had someone “joke” that I had jumped the border. Hell, I remember those things just fine.

The memory I had forgotten was about my friend J.

I won’t use his full name out of respect for his privacy, even though we lost touch after high school, and it’s highly unlikely he’s reading this right now.

Just in case, however — hey J!

J and I were teammates on our high school football team. We weren’t close friends, but we got along well, and one day after practice, I invited him back to my house to play video games.

Later that evening, he walked to the bus stop for the long journey home. Yes, he was African American, and as such, he lived on the North Side — several miles away and a whole other world socioeconomically, politically, culturally, etc.

I kept him company at the bus stop. We were talking the usual teenage shit — girls, school, football — when we noticed a car slow down as it approached us.

I’m sure both of us considered the odds that the car’s driver was lost and needed directions, or that the vehicle was stuffed with hot cheerleaders just roaming the city looking for a couple of hunky football players to keep them company.

But come on, we both knew what it was.

As the car passed, a young white man leaned out of the window and yelled, “Fuck you, nigger!”

J rolled his eyes, like he had gone through this a million times already that day, and such bullshit no longer fazed him.

The car stopped at the corner, as if preparing to turn around. J and watched to see what the driver would do. After a moment, the car sped off, leaving us in peace.

J’s bus arrived a minute later, and we high-fived, and he left. On my walk home, I realized that I had never, not even for a moment, been afraid that some thugs would jump out of a car and take a swing at me just for being brown.

As I said, I had received my fair share of insults and vague threats. But the real potential of physical violence was alien to me.

After all, it’s not like I was black in Milwaukee.

Instinctively, J and I both knew, without discussing it, that a black kid couldn’t stand around in that neighborhood for more than a few minutes without someone yelling an epithet at him or the cops being called.

And we just accepted it as normal.

I doubt J even remembers this incident, because it was most likely among the milder forms of verbal abuse that he has received in his life.

Indeed, in Sarah Hoye’s article, she writes that “in the Milwaukee I know, I have been called nigger more times than I can count.”

Hoye ends her story with a burst of optimism, saying that “I truly believe, as idealistic as it may sound, that there is hope for a city in pain, and hope for a way forward.”

I share that hope.

 


Move Over

As I’ve mentioned before, I live in an LA neighborhood that features both apartment buildings with working-class residents and million-dollar mansions. Again, I am much closer to one end of that scale than the other (I will let you guess which).

In any case, the mixed character of my neighborhood may be doomed. According to one study, “the percentage of American families living in middle-income neighborhoods dropped to 42 percent in 2009 from 65 percent in 1970.” Basically, more people are packing up and moving to one end of the spectrum (i.e., very wealthy or very poor), and “the growing physical separation of the rich and poor is hastening the decline of middle-class neighborhoods and could make income inequality even worse.”

moving co

In essence, this is the new segregation, but along class lines rather than strict ethnic boundaries. Of course, those two concepts are strongly linked, so it’s really just racial segregation again, but not as overt and with a twenty-first-century twist.

But keep in mind that “the growing divide has been especially striking in the country’s black and Hispanic communities, where the rich and poor of each racial group are dividing from one another at a pace far quicker than in the white community.”

I suppose this means that I have to start packing.

 


Suburban Sprawl

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about the Brown Invasion. No, I’m not talking about all those Latinos stealing our jobs, selling our kids drugs, and hooting at our wives.

Hey, that’s old news. Even right-wingers are tired of peddling such fictions.

I’m referring to the recent study that showed ethnic minorities are no longer content to live in barrios and inner cities. For example, “metropolitan New York is being rapidly reshaped as blacks, Latinos, Asians and immigrants surge into the suburbs.”

Yes, my friends, it’s a damn surge out there. Watch out, suburbia.

I used to live in NYC, and my neighborhood, although primarily white, was decently mixed. The same is true of the LA area in which I live now. It’s one reason that I’ve loved both neighborhoods.

However, I have never lived in a suburb, nor do I have any desire to do so. Every time I visit a friend who has bought a house on a cul-de-sac, I get a little jittery, like the 1950s are going to suddenly explode all over me. I expect to look over a manicured lawn and there, in the distance, see a nuclear family in black and white, playing croquet and drinking lemonade.

But that’s just my hang-up. As much as I love living in cities, it would be a sad commentary if every Hispanic thought exactly as I do. By all means, if the Rodriguez family wants to take the commuter rail, I say enjoy the ride.

Still, it’s not like Latinos are blending in effortlessly with their suburban compatriots. That old barrier — segregation — exists even when Hispanics leave the big bad city behind. Latinos tend to be “typically clustered in ethnically or racially monolithic communities,” even in suburbia. So Wally and the Beaver won’t necessarily be hanging with Juan and Maria.

But perhaps that’s in the future, and maybe there are other positive developments yet to come. For example, suburbanites may have more diversity at their key parties someday.

And perhaps the whole concept of suburban angst will have to be redefined. Maybe a couple named Hernandez will feel ennui for once.

This opens up exciting possibilities. Perhaps a Hispanic director will remake “American Beauty” or “The Ice Storm,” but with Latinos in the lead. And of course, maybe someone can take another shot at “Revolutionary Road.”

If so, can we talk Kate Winslet into playing a Latina?

Yes, I still have a monster crush on the woman; sue me.


Separate, Unequal, the Whole Thing

I don’t want to forget to thank Ankhesen, Michele, and Steven for their recent comments on my posts.

And speaking of forgetting, let’s take a second to reacquaint ourselves with an overlooked part of Latino history – indeed, an ignored part of American history.

Most of us remember learning about Brown vs. Board of Education, the case that ended racial segregation in public schools. It is justifiably remembered as a mighty blow against legal discrimination.

Like many Americans, I thought that Brown was the alpha and omega of school desegregation in America. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I only recently found out about Mendez v. Westminster School District. Why this case doesn’t even merit a passing mention in history classes is beyond me.

Because I assume most of you are as in the dark as I was, let me recap Mendez for you. Basically, in 1945, a few uppity Chicanos sued a California school district because their children were forced to attend separate “schools for Mexicans,” rather than the nice schools where white kids went.

To the shock of establishment types everywhere, the parents won. The school board appealed, and the parents won again. The disturbing aspect, however, is that the appeal relied on a technicality, which was that Latino kids weren’t specifically mentioned in the segregation laws of the time. Instead, the laws pinpointed “children of Chinese, Japanese or Mongolian parentage” (yikes!).

But a win is a win, and the case seemed destined for the Supreme Court. However, California saw how this was going, got wise, and abolished the law, thus ending the practice of legal segregation in the state.

It wasn’t until seven years later that the rest of the country caught up, in the Brown decision. I will leave it to a lawyer to assess how important the Mendez precedent was to the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown. However, I think we can all agree that it certainly didn’t hurt.

In any case, the girl at the center of the Mendez case tells her story here. She may have been an unwilling pioneer, but future generations of Latinos can still thank her and her parents for standing up for civil rights.

And I would add that her place in history is secure, but unfortunately, that’s not the case.


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