Who’s Ruining Your Neighborhood?

October 11, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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What I love most about Ditmas Park, the neighborhood on the south side of Prospect Park here in Brooklyn where my husband and I live, is the extraordinary richness of the population. I can look out our front window and see the most amazing collection of people walking by: veiled Pakistani women pushing their kids in strollers, young white professionals taking their kids to the playground on the corner, Indian women and girls in saris with their men in white robes, men and women speaking Russian, Caribbean-Americans, people from all over Latin America speaking Spanish (or not), Orthodox Jewish men in yarmulkes and their wives in wigs, lesbian couples holding hands, and mixed-race couples of every conceivable combination. You name it.

One of my favorite among these neighbors is Mardi, as I will call her, the Caribbean-American night shift home health aide for the 102-year-old Jewish woman on the sixth floor who has lived in our building her entire life. Mardi doesn’t have an easy time of it; besides the night shift, she works another job in the daytime, to keep body and soul together. And since she doesn’t have $11,000 sitting around, as I do, when she got her front teeth removed, she got nothing to replace them.

Mardi was coming in the other night as Keith was leaving.

“Do you know who’s ruining the neighborhood?” she asked him. “The homosexuals.”

I was glad she had said this to Keith and not me, because I’d have been tempted to say, “You should tell that to the Jewish families who moved out to Midwood when the West Indians came .”

Which puts me in mind of a conversation I had when, in the mid-1980s, I was living out in Sunset Park, a strongly Latino section of Brooklyn. I told my Puerto Rican hairdresser that I loved the neighborhood, to which he replied,”Too bad you weren’t here before the Dominicans ruined it.”

Which reminds me of a comment made to my mother by the African-American serving woman at the 60th reunion of my mother’s graduating class at Chester High School, in Chester PA. Chester was once a prosperous shipbuilding city on the Delaware River, south of Philadelphia, which went into decline after World War II. This caused the white people (including us) to flee to the suburbs in droves. “You were lucky,” said Mom’s server. “You got here before the Korean’s ruined Chester.”

Which reminds me of the white Anglo-American Protestants who believed, in the middle of the 19th century, that the Irish Catholics fleeing to the US to avoid the Potato Famine were going to destroy American democracy, while at the same time allowing them to kill themselves digging ditches and canals and building the railroads for peanuts.

Which reminds me of the Irish Catholics who opposed the abolition of slavery because they were sure the freed slaves would work for less than they did and take their jobs, which in fact did sometimes happen, though lynching seems an unfortunate way for my ancestors to have dealt with the problem.

Which leads me to this question: Who, besides you, is ruining your neighborhood?

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