Friday, March 30, 2007
Cultural Case study of Julia Alvarez's Queens, 1963
I said that I'd write back about the other documents in the study, so here it is.
Wow, it must be true then. American are afraid to voice their opinion about issues such as race. I see a number of you have viewed my blog but were afraid to say something. Well, I've got more to say and hopefully the next time you guys take a peek, don't be shy, take a stab at thinking for yourselves for once and speak.
When I reflected on the 1920 advertisement of row houses for sale, I didn't really think anything. It was more so what I felt than what I thought. While reading, a number of different things ran through my mind. First, I thought,"these houses look cold and uninviting." Maybe because they reminded me of all the "urban renewal"development going on downtown and in other neighborhoods throught out my community. The new condos, townhouses and lofts are expensive and were not build for the city's current residents. They were built for young urban singles or couples who commute to the city to work in downtown law firms or computer giants. Some of these projects are strategically located on the city's "main drag," close to work for well-to-do white people.
While these people are on their way to work, they'd see the progress that the city has made or falsely maintained. Pretty much what Cariello was trying to do with those brochures of Queens.
Looking closer at the ad, I noted the time period of the ad and thought to myself, "I know my mother would've liked to live in a neighborhood like this but never could afford to."The photo makes me realize how unequal society is. I know that in this world if you want the best life has to offer, that you have to work hard in order to live comfortably. But that does'nt change the fact that the governments of major cities do not really help its residents achieve goals that would lead to better living either.
Some of the money that is spent on urban renewal should be reinvested and spent on entrepreneur development. (I'm not talking about job training skills for vocational work either, that's been tried and failed) Establish funds that would aid career development officials in assessing information like what types of skills do people (already) possess. Help people to enhance those skills so that they can translate into self-employment allowing residents to become more self-reliant. This way, when the city feels like renewing something, its long time residents won't be helplessly displaced because of it or regard certain parts of their city as cold and uninviting.
Some communities don't have reasons to go through renewals because they possess vast tracts of land and build properties at the drop of a dime. If you drive through some communites in the United States and looked at the landscape, you'd be struck by the beauty and shocked by the sticker price. Like the developers were only fantasizing about building for the upper eschelon of America.
The upper crust of America reminds me of a club that only some people can get into;so does the photo. Getting into the clubs of the upper class,would be based on the size of your wealth. As this poem relates to this advertisement, I believe the Queens residents of 1963 would get into row houses like these based on the color of their skin. Today, most blacks still have a hard time obtaining the so called "American Dream" of home ownership because of both reasons........lack of the right kind of money and credit or skin color, especially the latter.
I am not quite sure what the racial make up was in Alvarez's entire neighborhood but she did not title the poem "Queens, 1963" for nothing. I assume the whole borough is made up of white people who act like her neighbors. Although All in the Family was created in 1971, and depicted blacks living in the Queens neighborhoood right next door to Archie Bunker, a funny and likable bigot.
This one is hard for me because I grew up watching All in the family and never felt like a fool laughing at his racist jokes. Hell, I was laughing while reading the script included in this study. However, once I juxtaposed it with the poem, it was still funny but it shed more light on the forces of the media. Oh,the media..... it can be a curse and a blessing! Television was comforting some nights while I struggled with the death of my mother. My favorite show at the time was Friends. It helped me forget how much my heart hurt if only for an hour a night.
As a matter of fact, I believe television gives most of us, most of the time, an avenue of escape from our problems.
According to Michael Meyer,who said in "poetry, an introduction," "tensions arose when new immigrants and ethnic groups moved onto the block and were mirrored in many American neighborhoods in 1963."
He goes on to say that (in part)"issues were hardly resolved and culminated on November 22, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas." I've listened to documentaries of Kennedy arguing on the phone with openly racist governors of the south over blacks trying to exercise certain rights and concluded that some of his actions involving us is why I use to hear my mother say that people use to call Kennedy a "nigger lover." Well what that means to me is that he probably tried to do something for us that most of America did'nt want him to do. Alot happened in that year and I guess I could see why the media would feel like it needed to give America a much needed break from reality.
In the early seventies, Hollywood played down the tensions felt by the average working white man by creating a character he could live through. You know, come home from work, gripe about all the spics that are down at the job or moving into the neighborhood. Instead of actually doing that, white people could just turn on All in the Family and enjoy Archie doing what they wish they could do openly.
All in the Family gave black people the notion that in some all white neighborhoods, there may be a few Archies but they'll be harmless. This was to get black people to thinking whites and other races couldn't really be that bad......make him funny and they'll all by it. Taking our minds off of the serious issue of looking at the broader picture of racism and how it is woven into the social fabric of society.
Taking the setting into account with the fact that Queens was mostly an all white working class neighborhood, I feel like the producers of the show distorted reality for blacks because they knew it wasn't typical for blacks to be living that close to white folks.
The point being made by the show's creator was probably to satirize working class whites because they're the very group that fought tooth and nail to keep blacks out the neighborhoods and away from job opportunites that working class whites have held down for so long.
An ingenious ploy to get the average American's mind off of that very thing.
Through shows like All in the family, blacks could easily be conned into believing that America could'nt be filled with as much inequality as they complained about. That American society at large can't hardly be filled with people who really think like Archie.
It's just that with all of the ploys and escapes that have been laid like traps waiting for blacks to fall into, looking at the show caused me to raise a paranoid eyebrow at the intentions of All in the Family.
It's hard to change how you've come to regard something in life but after working on the study, I can say that I've developed more than one perspective of many things that I previously took for granted or had'nt put in a certain context. Teachers, parents and the media can have us look at certain issues with such a narrow focus to the point where you unquestioningly accept how they and everbody else see's something.
Like Alvarez's poem for instance, I had changed my perspective on it several times before realizing her meaning. Even though I may know her meaning I haven't accepted it as the last and final word of the day. It just means that I have my own thoughts about her writing, and the neighborhood she grew up in,as well as her perspective.
I guess it was the American thing for people do when they demonstrated or marched for certain rights but I can't help feeling like "Why do people have to do that in order to get what they deserve in their own country?" I'm not promoting that we all take to the streets to get things done (then there would be absolutely no control), but the centuries that it took legalized segregation to end was down right ridiculous to me. I know that I've already indicted past generations for having accepted their lot in this country, but every time I think about it, my feelings do not change. I would have never stayed in a country where I could'nt exercise all of my constitutional rights everywhere in it.
Long before the case study, I use to reflect on civil rights and feel like "why did my schools and teachers drill Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks into my head as a child?" I've, like others I'm sure, have watched or heard the "I have a dream" speech a million times, hell, I have a copy of it. Have been told the bus story two million times and probably got the story on dvd with Angela Bassett playing Rosa.
What I feel and think now is why in the hell did'nt anyone of those teachers tell me something about the Commerce Clause. It's a little clause in the Constitution referring to the inherent powers of the federal government or the Congress' power to regulate commerce among the several states in the country.
There was a time when states use to be confused by the word "among" and thus courts, especially the Supreme Court of the United States, would interpret the word to mean commerce between two different states and not within the state. So southern lawmakers took that and ran with it. They probably said to themselves, "Oh so, we can regulate what people do with their money within our borders." Imagine our destiny being shaped by little words that carry huge meanings. Finally, someone caught on and said that it meant that Congress has the power to regulate business(money) within the states too. que pena!
Now just stop and think about it for a minute.
The clause has those far reaching powers I talked about when we were on the significance of citizenship. It has a practical side as well though. When the Supreme Court would clear up a matter under dispute, how does it have to be done? Through someone filing a law suit right? Well, someone did file a law suit when they felt that their fourteenth amendment rights were violated......you know the one that guarantees due process and equal protection etc......I bet, but I'm not sure because see the focus for so many years of my life was on black people's rights and not on the rights of whites. Nobody ever suggested that a white person was the one who filed a suit claiming that his right to equal protection was being violated by a state that allowed blacks and whites to sit together on a common carrier in the same state.
That translated into all public places where the races would undoubtedly mix. If Blacks did'nt have a problem with it then why should the federal government. I mean I know there were some smart black and white lawyers who probably filed suit after suit and lost when this mess became an everyday reality. Somebody was reading the damn statutes, because it's how white people were always able to get around what was not in it.
However, when black people became more frustated and more aggressive when trying to figure out the best course of action, they looked to the white house. Well, remember the commerce clause? In short, it's what Congress used to get the South out of segregation. It used its authority to regulate business, thus commerce.......money, to end segregation. So for all the teachers out there that forgot to tell me that Civil Rights marching, protesting and demonstrating or a renewed sense of justice on the part of the Supreme Court, did'nt end segregation, shame on you.
You could do a lot of things in this country, but when you messed with the money of the nation then you're in trouble.
See, southern whites were controling the flow of commerce. There was a substantial number of black people living in the south who had money in their pockets ready to spend it. You've got to be crazy if you think our government is going to continue to allow United States currency from being spent in America. So all of the places that blacks could not patronize, dealt with commerce.......hotels, restaurants, theaters. America could not survive like that and become one of the wealthiest nations in the world. Imagine the cost today, to operate two separate school systems across the south.
White southern law makers saw a way to continue spreading their ideology of superiority. The Supreme Court practically gave them good old boys the green light to be "separate but equal." See the Constitution does'nt say anything about being together or apart so southern whites had a ball with that. I constantly thought to myself "Did'nt the black people know it..........blacks lawyers or somebody!" It feels like it should've been so obvious......all the public places were segregated. Although you could'nt work in a white establishment, you could damn sure shop in them.
Where I find fault with the leaders of the south is in that for example. Why were they so worried about integrating a store or a lunch counter? YOU DON'T EVEN HAVE TO STAY IN THIS PART OF THE COUNTRY IF YOU DON'T WANT TO. YOUR MOVEMENT IS NO LONGER RESTRICTED. HELL, YOU DON'T EVEN HAVE TO LIVE IN AMERICA. SO WHY TAKE IT?
I think it's because as Americans we are filled with so much pride as it relates to how much our ancestors did for this country and thoughts of how many things they were never able to accomplish,that some people feel they owed them something.
It's also a thing called entitlement. Black people feel America owes them something. Respect and Justice. I'd be lying through my teeth if I did'nt feel like that as well when I think about those before me. The ones who could'nt just hop on a plane back to Africa though. Blacks in the early 1900's thought the better idea was to try to assimilate as best they could to prove to America that they were an intelligent, loyal and decent race of people. Well I don't feel Blacks should've ever proved it in the ways that they did. Going along with Jim Crow is'nt exactly intelligent.
Perhaps there's no place in the world that blacks could feel equal and like everybody else, so they figured why not try to make it work here?
I'll just have to accept that because, to me, there is actually no place on this earth where blacks are treated just like everyone else or equal in terms of economics or politics.
I know that I can say all of this because I'm from a different generation and I was'nt there. I honestly believe that I still would'nt have lived that way. Like so many other immigrant families who fled environments where they could not see themselves living as oppressed peoples,I just can't understand why so many African Americans did not do the same. As you know though, I do have my theories and I have already weaved them throughout this blog.
By now, you can just about guess what my perspective is on peaceful protests and the photo.........they don't work, never really should have to be resulted to and will never happen again in America. Everyday, federal, state and local governments spend their days installing some kind of program, kickback, credit or grant to ensure that most of us are satisfied with life in America.......pacified is what really comes to mind.
I'll admit that at first I was a little surprised to see Blacks and Puerto Ricans on the same side of the fence, but whatever both groups were thinking then, they don't anymore. The collective thought in terms of the races today are long gone. It's a dog-eat-dog world.
This demonstration took place in Queens, New York where most blacks had migrated to. What they found was that life wasn't any better up North than it was in the South in terms of a better life economically. The poem really drives home the reality of Queens in '63......not just Queens though, America as a whole.
When Archie Bunker had us all cracking up, Alvarez and many more like her, including white folks across the nation, were busy as hell getting all degreed up. While masses of people marched and protested throughout the nation, some of them had sense enough to put their picket signs down and pick up a degree or two.(While other did'nt). I can imagine some white ethnic immigrants coming to America and looking at the condition of the Negro and saying to themselves, "If we don't get our shit straight and really mesh with this culture, then we are going to become just like them..........scratching to survive."
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Wednesday, March 28, 2007
A Cultural Case Study of Julia Alvarez's Queens,1963 Category: Writing and Poetry
The ducuments you'll need includes Alvarez's "Queens, 1963" followed by an excerpt from a 1997 interview with Alvarez in Frontera Magazine 5,titled "The Politics of Fiction." An advertisement depicting row houses for sale in Queens in 1920; a New York Times article titled Queens:"The Fair Borough"dated July 18, 1963. An excerpt from a television script for All in the Family,the show's first episode in 1971(set in Queens);and a photo of a civil rights demonstration at a Queens construction site in 1963.(AP/Wide World Photos.) Based on some other connections I made when completing the study, I had to include the murder of Kitty Genovese. A Queens resident murdered in 1964. Her story is so widely known, that I'm sure you've read about it somewhere before. If not, it can be found at a library on microfiche or microfilm because it was also published by The New York Times Company in 1964. It's titled, "38 Who Saw Murder Didn't Call Police."
I have tried to discuss each ducument separately as it relates to Alvarez's poem, but I found that once I became absorbed in the entire study, there was no such thing as looking at it separately. For me it has become a part of my mental framework. Therefore, I encourage you to discuss any part of it in any order or no order at all.
Remember, this is a free for all. I invite you to bring your bag, full of beliefs, views, assumptions, life experiences of yours or others that you know. Constructive criticism is always welcomed and intelligent, informed readers of this blog is desperately needed! I hope that you agree that there is no way my kids or anyone from the next generation can truly learn anything if it's never discussed among a diverse group of people. I don't care who you are, how old you are or where you come from. Nothing that you write will offend me if whatever you write is truly how you feel about my views on the case study and the study it's self. Likewise,please do not be offended by anything that I've written. I'm bringing my bag of culture, views and assumptions to the table based on all that I know and feel. We can't help what happens in our minds while we are reading something so we shouldn't feel any guilt about telling others what we think.
In response to lines 65-66 of Queens,1963. Why African-Americans can never be the right kind of American.
African Americans in the United States of America can never be the right kind of American because of the way the path was paved here in America when she took her first steps as a baby. Our residency here never meant that we should consider America a home or a place that would bring us freedom, citizenship rights and privilege. Our reasons for ever being here was to work for all the others who brought us here with them-purely for profit. As America grew and prospered, she never had any intention of acknowledging that we were here before some of the other groups that came after us. While they came and were immediately counted among the citizenry, they too grew and prospered.
Initially, our reason for being here was to cultivate the land for the plantation economy. That was our job. As America continued to prosper as a result of the blood and sweat on the backs of its sub-human slaves, her insatiable thirst for more, changed our work, but not the roles. In order for her to continue on her journey to greatness, she had to increase our responsibilities and could not do so if we were considered only half human or shall I say three-fifths a person. How could you fight for the country or do other military work if you weren't Costitutionally recognized as a full person? That could've been the argument of any Confederate leader who would want to keep slaves from joining the Union army. It could also be the argument of any Union leader needing the manpower that the slaves could provide to fight on his side of the war.
It would have made the Constitution look hypocritical if its agents gave sub-humans work responsibilities that only a full person could do.Then that would have been like saying that the citizens-the people considered and recognized as full humans- were not and that they were the same as the slave, the sub-human. So to get herself out of that psychological trap, America, after more than two hundred years, decides to give us a permanent Visa to stay and work here. The slaves become citizens of America. The Atlantic slave trade has dried up and America(at least the northern part of her) has been weaned off the breast milk of the plantation economy and like other kids, wants to gets her hands dirty in the Industrial Revolution.
The Industrial Revolution allowed America to join the big kids on the playground of the world economy. With new games to play, it enabled her to leave the agriculture/plantation economy behind in the hands of her second class citizens. With the rapid success of the Industrial Revolution, it attracted an astronomical amount of immigrants from Europe. While the large population of Blacks remained in the agriculture/plantation field in the South, industries such as commerce began to flourish in other parts of the country. Some of America's newest citizens have introduced her to fields like investment and banking, stocks and bonds, real estate, art, science and literature. Most Blacks wouldn't know anything about that for years to come because most of them were still heavily concentrated in the slave states. They were illiterate and not allowed to read about how much their baby had learned and accomplished. Too bad the world works this way.
It soon gets dark outside and America has to come in and lock her doors for the night, she closes the door on Immigration for a while too. In her quiet time, she reflects on the past and thinks she should be more fair with some of the natives of this country and decides to share her good fortune. Soon enough though, some of her new friends worry that she'll give too much to the Blacks and so they try to stop her. For example, in the early seventeen and eighteen hundreds, the Irish represented the largest immigrant population in America. When deciding which side to fight on in the Civil war, some Irishmen, like Patrick Cleburne chose to fight on the Confederate side because in his and others mind, the success of that war would bring freedom to the slaves.
Northern Irish feared that newly freed slaves would come north and take away the jobs that "Paddy" had worked hard to acquire for his fellow Irishmen. To ensure their fellow countrymen would not have his livelihood threatened by Blacks looking for work, a small circle of members, came to dominate the local government, as well as the police and fire departments in order to perpetuate their success in American cities such as Boston and Butte. Hence, the racial predjudice that the Irish had encountered years before, was soon deflected off of them and onto the Blacks. Thus, America had replaced her old groups of ethnic white immigrants with new ones who continued to deny Blacks economic and political stability.
With America on lock down, other residents manage to get in the door right before she closes it. During the period of 1890-1910, Italian Immigration saw their numbers more than double that of African Americans fleeing the south for a better life up north in the period between 1910-1930. By that time, the Italians and the Irish, just to name a few, had consistently and economically trounced on the Blacks in their fear that the Blacks would take everything they came here to get. Although some Blacks were hired, many, many more were not, for the competition with their white counterparts were exceedingly high.
When given the opportunity to employ blacks, if a supervisor had to choose between hiring a fellow European or a Black person, who do you think got the job? According to Julia Alvarez, who said in her interview with Frontera Magazine in 1997,"the model for the immigrant was that you came and you became an American and you cut off your ties and that was that." Her parents were so afraid, and they were 'Learn you English" and 'Become one of them." In order for most immigrants to get on here in America, they knew they had to assimilate by quickly dropping their accents, learning some English and adopting American customs even if that meant at our expense.
On the contrary, the majority of the immigrants I know, have all been able to hold onto their language, customs and traditions. Depending on what you come here to do, it may be true that you can cut off ties and become one of them but one of the main attractions of America is that people can come here and still have a foot anchored deep into the culture of their native land and culture. I know that's how Richard felt as he tried to reassemble the heavy accented words of Mrs. Hoffman, his Jewish boss' wife. The Hoffmans didn't seem to be trying to lose those accents that quick and they had already made the transition from poor or mistreated Jews to capitalistic and middle class Jews.
He witnessed the Jews achieve self-sufficiency during the second wave of European Immigration commonly know as the period of the entrepreneurial immigrant. The remnants of that wave has evolved into many wealthy ethnic minorities dispersed throughout America. Arabs and Caldeans represent the face of the new ethnic minorities in predominantly black neighborhoods and communities where they own all the gas stations, most of the party and grocery stores. As a child, I can remember little old black men owning the nickel and dime store on the corner of my street. As time went on though, a white looking face took the place of Mr. Hicks' party store.
It was like the domino effect and since then, just about every store I walk into in the major black city where I live, there are no black owners or entrepreneurs. Only difference is, I can live in this neighborhood until I die if I want to. The reversal has occurred in America's big cities. When the white neighborhoods of the north turned black, it was a welcomed invitation to some of those ethnic minorities from oil rich nations like Iraq and Saudi Arabia. One way to get the focus off of what the wealthy white establishment had done to blacks over the centuries is to pit us against other ethnic minorities from other countries. America allowed people from these countries to come here,purchase land and buildingsformerly owned by Germans,Wops,Polacks,Jews and Irish Some of us got in where we fit in but not to the degree these white folk had.
The Arabs saw their opportunity to move into these fresh black ghettos to further the corruption already taking it's toll on American society: Crack in a bottle as referring to a forty ounce bottle of beer. Alcohol, like religion, is one of the best vehicles of escape used by the wealthy and powerful class of America, to divert the attention of a mass of ignorant people. Placing themselves right in the midst of a disunited people was ingenious on the part of the power elite. Instead of seeing that it was all a ploy to pit us against one another, we end up hating and fighting one another.
The Arabs feel that it's necessary to constantly reaffirm their position in predominantly black communities by their working in the community but keeping a social distance through not living near us, nor employing us and by using the English language only when they're cashing us out at the check out. The Arabs and Caldeans like the Vietnamese, Chinese or Africans all seem to think black Americans are stupid and that we never pick up books to teach ourselves about the world. The ethnic minorities that I just mentioned replaced the Germans, Italians and Jewish of many presently black ghettos. They talk to you like you're nothing when you patronize their stores forgetting that if they were still in their native country they wouldn't be able to earn a fraction of what they earn here………they 're backgrounds are similar to ours but they don't want us to know it.
Most of them have come from very poor countries where they could never make the same kind of money as they do here. I think the reason so many other ethnic groups keep such a distance is because they don't know what we know. But I can guarantee that they know a black man's history in relation to the world better than the black man knows it himself. The Arabs and Asians who operate businesses in my community think that most of us don't know that black people in America weren't the only group of people that the colonial powers of Europe had oppressed, we know that Europe eventually brought China to its knees at one time in history, even if it was through the horrors of Opium.
Not only that, despite what the media will have us believe, all the countries of the middle east are not oil rich and most middle easterners do not benefit directly from oil profit. Thus, there are many poor people living in the middle east comparable to that of Africa or some of the poorer parts of South America. Nevertheless, when people from these third world type countries come to America, they come already predisposed to regard us as inferior to them. They don't want us to know that America's poor black people live better than they ever could at home. In any case though, I'd say blacks have been thoroughly reminded that America is not our home, we've always been but mere visitors.
From her early days as a newborn, to her later years as a grown woman, America had woke up from her nap to find that by the middle of the 1900's, she had made friends with people from all over the world who came to her house for opportunities they could not find at home. It seemed that the model Alvarez spoke of caught on fast as people from all over knew that all they'd have to do is what Alvarez said her parents told her to do and that life would be sweet. As a matter of fact, it sounds so easy to do it could have been America's second National Anthem: "Learn your English, become one of them." What's amazing in all this is how all of America's friends from around the world except Blacks and Asians, all look white. I mean after a few things are taken care of like hair straightening for the curly head Polish and Italian, or nose straightening for Jews(not that she's an immigrant, it's just an example of how people of European descent, who also have an ethnic look to them, change their appearance in order to blend into the American landscape take a look at an old then new photo of Jennifer Aniston.)
Whether the ethnic whites left Europe for religious or political reasons or even a famine-they had a choice, my ancestors did not have a choice, they were brought here by force probably without their families and stripped of their native tongue and customs. Whether or not people of European descent were able to read or get an education in Europe, my people did not have that right for a mighty long time. All this talk about the English language and literacy reminds me of how some Arabs who have immigrated to America take advantage of learning how to read and speak English while others take it for granted. The shop keepers throughout my city, love to put up little hand made signs that read things like "we except food stamps" or we do not except checks." I would get so freaking mad and feel so insulted when I'd see that they'd used the wrong "accept" to convey a message to me. My thing is if you're gonna come here, to make a ton of money then why can't you take the time to learn how to read or spell English words.
When I think about Alvarez's neighborhood, all those nationalities living on one block, it does, however, makes me sympathize with them because I know that during the 1800's it wasn't strange for like a whole village to immigrate to America and settle on one block. With them, they brought their traditions, heritage and the value of living together as a close knit family. Then here comes this race of people, whose going to destroy our customs and take away our livelihoods, trying to integrate. Yes, it angers me to know that those oppressed ethnic whites who came from illiterate societies and were poor as well, came only to become oppressors themselves.
However, if I am going to be mad at them I might as well be mad at the African middlemen who sold my people into slavery for salt and spices to the Arabs and the Europeans. All that I'm saying is that, I can imagine what went on in the minds of whites in the early twentieth century in regard to going so long not being around Black people and then all of a sudden things have to change. It was plain old fear-fear of the unknown. They probably worried that their children would not get decent education or jobs because we(the niggers are going to take them all.)Then again, my ancestors had to be scared out of their minds as well, being chained together and shipped off to God knows where to a place unbeknownst to them, awaited them the most horrible life one could only imagine..........but really you can't imagine.
White ethnic's fears and worries were exceptionally different and pales in comparison to the fears of some of their fellow oppressed people in the world. Nevertheless, I believe, deep down, white people also became to hate us because for so many years (400+) we (Black people) let it happen. We accepted the brutal treatment, the denial of literacy, the right to learn, be a citizen, hell, be considered a full person. Instead of fighting, even if it meant death, we allowed ourselves to become complacent with the established order of slavery and then later on segregation. And over the course of hundreds of years, we accepted a white man's religion, (Christianity) the very root of that complacency. For example, in the mid 1800's, Pierre Toussaint, a black Haitian catholic, who was under the impression that since he had contributed financially to the building of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, he'd be seated among the congregation. Without protest, he was turned away by a white usher.
I think whites said to themselves, about blacks leaving the South especially, "they'll never fit in up here." Richard Wright had discerned this when he was a young man in 1927. In his autobiography, Black Boy, Wright is referring to his Jewish boss in Memphis when he states, "Though English was my native tongue and America my native land, she, an alien, could operate a store and earn a living in a neighborhood where I could not even live." (pg.264) When he began teaching himself through the books he'd "stolen" from the library, he noted, disappointedly that he was almost a grown man and his English and his overall education was below that of the average boy or girl his age. The education of most blacks at the time probably was also. If a black man knew that his destiny had been altered so much that his chances of real success in America were slim to none, then surely every white person in America knows it as well.
Black people in America are a daily constant reminder of slavery, segregation and apartheid. Not to mention, economic and political inequalities that still exist. To minimize the guilt and awkwardness they must feel about our history, they are more willing to share their work and living space with those who look like them over us any day because other ethnic whites do not remind them of something like slavery or unequal housing . I think they hate the fact that citizenship laws were ever extended to us- that by birth, all those born here are automatic citizens. But remember, citizenship still really only means we get to work here while giving America a piece of our paychecks and a part of our souls every day. For me, being an American doesn't mean I'm free nor does being in America. The only place anyone is every really free is in their minds. Free to think how and what one wants to think. And real freedom is the result of having the nerve to express what one thinks outside of the corners of her mind, no matter where she lives in this pathetic world.
Trujillo sounded like a pretty scary guy, but not as bad as King Leopold's was to the Africans under his horrific rule in the Congo. When I think about that I realize it doesn't matter where you are, if one group of people decides to rule over or enslave another group, the enslaved group's own people must be mentally prepared to fight or those in perceived positions of dominance. That did'nt happen so then I must say to myself, this was bound to happen. As soon as soon as African kings or leaders let it be known that they could be bought and that they were so weak-minded that they allowed themselves to be converted to religions that took their minds off of what was going on around them, then why would anyone have a reason to think better of African Americans as a whole today?
When we got off the slave ships in the 1600's, here in North America, most people probably think that the very first thing that our ancestors had thrown at them was a tool for cultivation, oh no, the first thing that the slave master cultivated was our ancestor's mind with Christianity. If you can convince a people who formerly, knew nothing about a Jesus, who had a background in indigenous religions, to start praying for salvation and waiting on the lord, then you can make them believe just about anything else that you say.
Because of this weak-minded nature, we never have or never will be the right kind of American because white people, feel and think that we are a weak-minded race of people and they don't like us because we did not fight back the way we should have fought back a long time ago. They also pity most of us for not knowing our history and over the centuries accepting second class citizenship and treatment. With a history like that, a Black person shouldn't even waist his time trying to be the right kind of American, for it is an unachievable goal. A Black person in not only America but the world should only seek to be free mentally. That is a goal worth trying to reach and is achievable.
In reference to Frontera Magazine Interview with Alvarez
When Julia Alvarez talks about how discovering books in the united states made her realize that she did not have to suffer what was going on around her, it makes me think about my beloved Richard Wright whose voice I can hear echoing her sentiments and wish that he would have had a supportive family like Alvarez probably did. when I think of him and what he went through just to read or obtain books, it makes me very sad and I have often cried about how my great-grandmother and others like her were probably beaten or killed over and ultimately denied literacy and a decent education. Beatings or killed over education is a very powerful symbol conveying its importance to a nation.
One of the most blatant attempts to keep an oppressed people away from doing better for themselves was school segregation. Education and literacy is so powerfully important in America that it can be read clearly on the faces of the white protesters to integration in the documentary "Eyes on the prize." Part two of the seven part series chronicling black people's struggle for equality captures the raw fear felt by the whites in one Arkansas community. Faced with the prospect that their children's schools would be integrated, some of these white people did everything from throwing bottles, shouting racial slurs, becoming so infuriated at the idea, one woman began to cry, kicking at a road block cone. When I viewed this tape in particular, I was literally speechless while I watched the mob scene at Central High School in Little Rock, AR.
I will never forget the woman who was crying. I could see the fear in her eyes. It wasn't because whites feared that students would harm their children. Those white people, like so many others, were afraid of what an educated black girl or boy meant in America in relation to their own kids. It meant the end to shoving the notion of racial superiority down our throats was coming to an abrupt end. Sharing knowledge meant they'd be equals and the lies they had told their children about the intellectual ability of black people were going to blow up in their faces. Later on in life, their kids would probably be competing for jobs or seats in the schools of higher education against these black kids and their not so sure if their kids would win.
A movie critic, who in the July/August 2004 issue of Paste magazine reviewed the Disney version of a Gary Paulsen book titled Nightjohn, reaffirmed to the world that knowledge is power when he said that for little Sarny, "learning to read seemed as important as breathing" and that "withholding education oppresses people and is, by the way, still true."
As important as the breath in your body. I swear out all of the things I've ever read, nothing yet has topped that quote. That some of my people risked being killed over it is unfathomable but is the reason I can consider myself free.
Right when you say to yourself well, we can't blame white people for all of our limitations. That people in our family are sometimes the very ones holding us back from success or trying something different that would give us something to call our own. When Richard Wright wrote his first story as a young boy, his grandmother said that anything made up was a lie and was of the Devil's work. She was so disillusioned by religion that she would tear up his fiction novels. When he asked his mother was his grandmother white, she kept him at bay about it for so long that my ears began to burn with frustration. As I read it, all I could hear was the voice of Mary Logan from Roll of thunder, hear my cry, screaming at his mom to, "tell the boy who he is, tell him the truth Ella!
Nothing that you tell him is worst than the kind of life he's living right now. That's what's wrong with us right now, we so afraid to talk about this sorry country we live in. He's going to need to know our history because it ain't in the textbooks for damn sure. And it won't be in them for many, many more years to come. Why, it will never be in any text book, in any school that is predominantly black. It is up to parents to teach their children their history and the history of this world. Tell him that the man who owned his grandmother, your mother, was most likely her father and that while white people he see today wouldn't be caught dead sitting down having a cup of tea with a black person, they sure didn't have a problem with having sex with their slaves any day of the week." Although, it is discomforting to know that Richard went through a part of his life like that, it is also encouraging to know that he overcame his obstacles in becoming a writer.
Alvarez's parents knew that she'd have it a whole lot easier than they did even at the expense of other ethnic minorities. I am glad that Julia Alvarez made something of herself and that books were the gateway to her success as a writer. Wright felt like he knew more about self expression via all the attempts he made at writing although he never had a professor give him an assignment or never took a writing workshop, the thing that has always impressed me about him is that he was his own teacher.
Although, his education wasn't of the formal kind, it was nevertheless one of the most indispensable kinds of education because he didn't have to be told what to read or what to think, he picked up a book and taught himself. Ironically, learning in this way is not popular at all in America any more. Unless you say that you've gone to college and received at least a Bachelor's degree, no one wants to hear or really believes that it's possible to read the "right" things and come out knowing just as much if not more than a veteran college professor with tenure. It's an implied assumption that most people who have college degrees are well read. I beg to differ. Like one character in Maya Angelou's, I know why the caged bird sings, said "most people who can't go to school are some of the smartest people in the world."
When I read Queens 1963, I came to the poem expecting Alvarez and her characters to sympathize with the Black people's struggle, but instead it felt like she was teasing us all the while. Reminding readers like me that she and her family melted into the block, and that they owned a northern home-successfully assimilated, something Black people have vainly tried to do and cannot achieve. Several times in the poem, she makes Mrs. Scott out to be the bigot of the block, but as I see it, it's only to get the light off of the Dominicans, Jews and Italians, who quietly blended in and tried to get all they could while the rest of society destroys the Blacks. Wait! If they are trying to move in here, they will see what opportunities America gave to us and for so long denied them. We don't want them to know that as Americans we are apart of that oppression and the tension that is raging across many societies in America, thinks Mrs .Scott as she sweeps her walk.
At first it felt like Alvarez was insinuating that we represented the dirt on the block -dirt that you try to hide from people but it keeps on coming out, letting everybody see you for who you really are. Trying to act like you're so innocent, saying to yourself, "The condition of the niggers was a problem long before we got here so why should we have to feel like we helped in the fight to keep them down." "All we came to do was seek a better life for our families."
The Immigrants who have come to America since our forced emigration, helped to perpetuate social, political and economic inequalities by making sure that they "learn their English" and by "becoming one of them", not by becoming American, but by adopting a capitalistic, insensitive-to-others-of-color, group of people who oppressed us and other ethnic minorities in a much more pervasive way: through the educational system, employment and local government. Not giving more Blacks a chance to go to schools of higher learning, not offering jobs that are not limited to labor-intensive work or involving asbestos and other killer chemicals. No, Blacks couldn't get jobs teaching at predominantly white or diverse Colleges or Universities. Nor could they obtain entry-level employment, sitting behind a desk, pushing paper all day. You know, jobs where you use you're mind and not you're hands all the time. That reminds me of an old Confucian proverb: "Those who work with their minds rule and those who work with their brawn are ruled."
"We came a long way to be free." Reading that line evokes bittersweet sentiments because the neighbors seem very insensitive and selfish in their pursuit of the American dream. When the Blacks attempt to integrate, it's a huge fuss. Neighbors like the Scotts and Haralambides seems to think it's wrong for Blacks to want a better life, fair treatment, a nice, beautiful place to live and send their children to school, when they express their hypocritical old world views. They don't sympathize with Black people nor do they care to remember what it was like longing for those same things.
On first sight, Alvarez's Mom seems to be a good natured Dominican mother. After several more readings I ask myself why did I assume that? It was only because Alvarez characterized her mother as polite and good mannered. Finally, it dawned on me that she was being sarcastic about it. She also referred to her parents as being hypocritical and old world. I thought more into this and said to myself, oh, because how in the world can her parents or her mother specifically, have good manners and be so polite when the Black family that moved across the street right after they did, have no identity.
Alvarez gives me so many details about some of the neighbors. I learned what part of the country the Scott's lived prior to this neighborhood. What Mr. Scott, the Haralambides and Bernsteins do or use to use to do for a living (Mr. Scott is retired). I even know that Mrs. Scott has back problems! It's so detailed that I feel like I know them. Well I have come to know them because Alvarez has introduced them to me just like her Mom probably did when her family settled in Queens onto this block . It had such an intimate feel to it that it made me feel like Alvarez had grown up on the block and was probably best friends with the Castelucci's kids. In fact, after I read it so many times, it felt like I had known the neighbors personally. It made me want to know everyone's name on the block and more about them.
When I was studying over all the family names and in an annoying search for the correct spelling of "Castellucci" and then the name of the Black family, I grew frustrated because I realized the Black family wasn't introduced to me. Their just known as the dark man in the suit with a girl. It doesn't feel very neighborly now. I felt sad because I realized that the black family had moved in across the street right after the Alvarez's and it dawned on me then that the Alvarez's had made friends with all the other neighbors and not the blacks. Actually, sad isn't the right word to describe how I felt as I caught myself backing away from the poem. I felt hardness mixed with hurt because I realized not even Alvarez's polite mom had ever taken the time to say hello to them let alone went over and introduce young Julia to their little girl............. que pena!
Despite the fact that there is a numerous amount of African Americans who have become successful just like or very similar to Alvarez, the road to assimilation is real for some and a dead end for many others. People who have emigrated to this country lose that " I don't belong here" mentality with every successful attempt at housing, education and employment. The better one does for one's self and family, the more American one feels. It becomes harder and harder, generation after generation, to sympathize with people of African descent for instance, when we murmur and complain. Take education for example, some may come to think that northern blacks did not face obstacles to education like having your entrance blocked when you got to school- that was just a southern issue.
That may be true, but it will always be one obstacle other ethnic whites and minorities did not have to over come. What northern born or migrated Blacks did have to face was watered down educational systems, menial jobs and discrimination from other ethnic minorities who were in positions of authority. Again, a constant reminder to whites of our status here in America. We can never be the right kind of American because every time they look at us they realize that our jacked up start here, tortured sense of not knowing who we are or where we came from, having given them control over our ultimate destiny, is the reason why.
In response to a newspaper article titled Queens: "The 'Fair' Borough
When I first read the account I didn't think much of it. Then when I read Alvarez's poem and read the account again, it made more sense to me. The first thing that stood out was how the Borough President seemed to be trying to cover up something about the Borough-like he was dressing it up for some reason. After perusing the part that reads "the first declaration of religious freedom by a group of free citizens in America," out of that whole article my mind zeroed in on the fact that the text of the Flushing Remonstrance was first printed in 1657.
My mind triggered back to the fact that Africans were just being dropped off here in America and that from as early as 1619 to about 1860, Black people were not Constitutionally recognized or even recognized as citizens of the Unites States before the Declaration of Independence was signed. My thoughts spun out of control and I went on to think something like "so that means other Immigrant groups, were given citizenship status after the Declaration of Independence was signed and also recognized before that. By now I'm hot and my ears are burning, not because we weren't citizens, but because all those damn years of History and Civics didn't tell me what was really important. Teachers always divert your attention with "what's the three branches of government' or "who can explain what cruel and unusual punishment means?"
All I could think about after reading that text was about how the Germans, Irish, German, English and French were all immigrating to America back in the 1600-1800's, by the boat load and receiving not only citizenship but what it came with-rights........to own property and vote. Then when I thought about that last one, I thought to myself, why didn't we receive any land or the right to vote? Oh, it boggled me for days until I went and got out my Business Law book that luckily had the complete Constitution in it. I went to work reading and interpreting those small clauses that was filled with some mind blowing power once the shit is applied in a practical sense.
We were not citizens-the only "people" who could own land and vote for a man to represent "people" in the Congress!
By now, I have like four or five books open cross-referencing my ass off trying to put together what teachers never did. I was down right speechless after racking my brain trying to figure out still why didn't a black man have some land or something. I kept reading that damn Constitution and finally I struck oil........we were not considered a full person. I had my answer to how come Blacks could not own land or vote or later on, redress his grievances in a court of law: only a natural person could possess those tangible and intangible rights. So for like two hundred or more years after planting our feet on American soil, Europeans came and eventually out numbered us, received rights and recognitions that we did not have and used those rights to populate the country with their children, sending for family they left behind until they settled here real good. That system was in place long enough for white people to forever come to dominate their most prized possessions.
You're probably wondering how does ALL that relate to Queens, 1963 and the the article. Well, how it relates to me is best described by the trickle-down effect. I just related how America was shaped in her early years right? I mentioned that early Europeans multiplied their numbers through natural increase and immigration. Well, remember that most of the reason for coming to the New World was to escape persecution in Europe, for religious freedom. Okay, well we know that with most religions come some type of moral value system right? Take the Puritans for example, when they got here and settled, they brought not only their bodies but their value systems and beliefs. Value systems that no doubt were passed down from one generation to the next. Mind you, I have not said anything about good or bad values, only those traits that make up our character.
Now, depending on what you value in life, in any given period in history, you better believe we get the majority of that value system from our parents, environment and culture. Speaking of which, our culture, can have a tremendous amount of influence on the way we think and behave, like voting for the freedom of slaves. For example, in 1865, Irish-American John Mitchel wrote in his newspaper, The Citizen: "He would be a bad Irishman who voted for principles which jeopardized the present freedom of a nation of white men, for the vague forlorn hope of elevating blacks to a level for which it is at least problematical where God or nature ever intended them." With sentiments like that spreading like cancer throughout the country, and given America's long history of political inequalities and present racial divisions, I'd say the message was received loud and clear by other ethnic whites coming to or here in America: If you are going to come here, then you better learn our ways around here. Indeed, they surely did.
Yes, I get these sentiments when I analyzed the newspaper account of the Fair. The Borough President's name was Mario J. Cariello and my first impression was "he must be Italian" or a member of one the immigrant groups. Feeling like I've identified him and gained a perspective on why he felt it necessary to "reaquaint our residents." It was necessary to reaffirm their position to the world that Queens is a good, upright and oh yeah, all white community of neighborly people. The effect the rest of the article had on me was the usual somber and "less than" feeling that I always get when I read about perfect immigrants in perfect homes who have perfect Moms and Dads and who just have it so damn perfect here. (Except for Jack Welch's mom because the way he characterizes her in his bio makes me wish thatI knew her and reminds me of how much I love my son.)
Sorry, I got caught up in the moment of thinking about immigrant mothers from Europe. So as I read about perfect, idyllic Queens, I came across the part of the article that mentioned some of the boroughs "beautiful, rural home communities such as Forest Hills, Jamaica Estates, Kew Gardens, Jackson Heights,"on" Flushing and Douglaston." By now, my eyes are glazing over the information because they sounded like places no one in my family would have ever been allowed to live. It gave off the impression "Forbidden City" would be placed on the golden gates to each community and unless you were the right kind of American (Fair) then you ain't getting in here. While I was reflecting on that, something about it had a familiar feel, like I had read it before. So I kept reading the list over and over and it finally hit me.
Here I go again, scrounging through books, calling through the house for my daughter to bring me my old college ethics text book. While she's digging for that, I search for my old college sociology text book, we find both books and now the search is on. When I go on these mad searches for information it almost feels like I'm on the brink of discovering a cure for Alzheimer's or something and all I need is one more chemical for a breakthrough drug. I often wonder if there are others out there like me; no matter how small the information seems to others, it's so damn exhilarating to me when I search for knowledge and find it through my way of making connections. Might I add, of the two college course, I took and passed one of the classes. I would buy text books early and read ahead, however, I wasn't able to continue the ethics class and all the sociology instructor talked about was norms and Australian Aborigines, but I damn sure read both books cover-to-cover.
Ah hah! The murder of Kitty Genovese. Where you might ask. In the Forbidden City of Kew Gardens in 1964. Although I knew the story was in both books, and realized I only needed one of them-that was just as intriguing to me as the connection that I made. As you know, this is a Cultural Case Study on Julia Alvarez's Queens, 1963, and after the shock and awe wore off, I very much wanted to know why the author of this Poetry book did not include the murder as part of the case study. I know they had to limit the amount of documents used in the book, but it seemed so dead on. It all took place one year after the news-oh my God, I suddenly just realized that the murder took place the same year that Queens was to host the World's Fair, one year before the article under discussion was printed by the New York Times. Just when I thought that I analyzed this one enough, second sometimes third and fourth readings of a text can reveal something previously overlooked.
Now, putting all this information together, along with Alvarez's poem, the Forbidden City doesn't seem so perfect now. Although the murder was tragic and after examining all the documents together, what seemed more tragic was how these upstanding citizens of a community where only whites resided, did nothing to help Kitty. I had come to characterize Alvarez's neighborhood and Queens as a whole, a place where even if Blacks weren't welcomed with opened arms, that they did at least looked after each other. I can't imagine Alvarez's Mom not calling the police; but maybe Mrs. Bernstein. (Too bad the world works this way).
Among the thirty-eight witnesses, a husband and wife finally talked to the police after Kitty was already dead. According to this New York Times article, when they were giving their account of what happened they said they went to the window to see what was happening, but the light from their bedroom window made it difficult to see. So they put the light out so they could see better. Asked why they hadn't called the police, she shrugged and replied: "I don't know". Sounds just like Mrs. Bernstein doesn't it? Too bad the world works this way.
Juxtaposing the poem and the Kitty Genovese's murder shed light on the evolved assumption that most people think that most Blacks make up the ingredients for a recipe filled criminals and lowlifes. We all know that it doesn't matter where you live, or who you are, crime exists everywhere and that anyone could have a deviant or criminal mind. But in America, the mass media has made sure that we don't see that reality and instead diverts the nation's attention by making sure every little disaster we cause becomes daily news while anything that they could possibly do is just chalked up as a random act (of violence). As a result, Blacks are kept simmering at the bottom of the melted pot waiting to boil over and spill out all over white society in crime and violence.
The facade that Cariello put on for the world was an unrealistic picture of one American city. However, by reporting that Queens had all of these beautiful rural homes that anyone would want to have, it made me think that beautiful streets are suppose to make people beautiful but they don't. Nice looking homes and environments are just a facade to what's really behind those closed doors. African Americans are often characterized as living in the ghetto, and images of the ghetto make most people think about poor inner city families who live in run down homes and on unsafe streets. Well after making this connection, I'm not so sure how safe the Kew Gardens really were, besides, you can't always go on a nice colorful brochure to find out if the people in a community are going to make good neighbors. Whites sometimes spend so much of their time trying to make the world think that all Blacks are just alike and are harmful, untrustworthy people but when one of their own kind kill someone, it's not looked at the same way.
I will write later about how I feel about the row houses, the Archie Bunker script and the civil rights demonstration.