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A house is not a home…
[Editor’s Note: The following piece comes from my good friend, and newest member of our writing team, Eddie Blue Eyes. His blog, [un]Common Sense, is highly recommended as daily food for the soul.]
My first morning here, a bright sunny Sunday morning, I was awakened by a hushed but insistent, not particularly good mariachi singing right outside my window. Annoyed, I got up to see who it was and to request they take their singing ass somewhere else. When I looked, I saw a short, older Latino, dressed in black, with black cowboy hat and boots. He wore dark wrap-around shades, and with the small accordion he held, he played the same three chords over and over again. He sang songs of heartbreak, of love lost and regained and lost again, in his hushed, not particularly good, but insistent voice.
Next to him, stood a large shopping cart full of roses for sale and young Latino/a families on their way from church would occasionally stop and purchase a few. I realize he is blind, his cane pressed up against his armpit. He comes here most mornings to sing of love lost in that same hushed, not particularly good, but insistent voice.
I have moved from the largely upscale, yuppie Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope to Sunset Park. It’s not that far away, and still somewhat upscale, but there is definitely more diversity. It’s a neighborhood first colonized by a wave of Puerto Ricans in the 50s and 60s and later revived by an explosion of Latin American and Asian immigrants. One avenue block up, on 5th Avenue, you can walk the main drag and see scores of businesses offering their goods and services to the many different Latino/as that live here. Young Salvadoran teen girls and Mexicans from Puebla pass by Dominican hair salons, Puerto Rican and Mexican restaurants, or buy treats from sidewalk vendors selling everything from aguacates to mangoes, caña, and piraguas.
I live in a very young neighborhood of families with both parents, something you rarely see outside of a Latino/a neighborhood. My building, a six-family building, has one family from India, the old patriarch a hilarious character. On the ground floor behind me, lives a Dominican, a single mother of an adolescent girl. Above me, lives a Salvadoran couple with their young son.
Sunset Park is also home to one of the largest Asian communities in the city. Some say it’s larger than the more famous Manhattan Chinatown. So, in addition to the Latino/a offerings, you can also shop for all things Asian. On 8th avenue (the number eight signifying luck) you can find Chinese businesses, including grocery stores, restaurants, Buddhist temples, video stores, bakeries, and community organizations, and even a Hong Kong Supermarket. And again, there is that unmistakable youthful energy rubbing up against traditional family structures, as young immigrant families work hard for The Dream. On Sundays, you’re lucky if you’re able to find an empty seat at one of the many different restaurants as families — mostly young Latino/as and Asians — all congregate to observe the traditional Sunday repast. Some days you’ll see two or three generations seated together as impatient teens, annoyed at being saddled with tending to their infant siblings, break bread with their parents and grandparents.
I see all of this and I am reminded of the America I knew growing up in New York City and I smile, knowing I have arrived home…
Someone recently wrote me privately, asking why I am so angry about what’s going on in Arizona. I feel the answer to that question is self-evident. There are certain principles I value. There aren’t too many principles I can lay claim to, but the few I value, I hold dear. Two of those are fairness and justice. I am light-skinned with blue eyes and I can probably pass for white in Arizona. But for me, racial profiling is deeply offensive to the values of justice and fairness.
And make no mistake about it, Arizona using race to demand that people produce “papers” to prove who they are is a police-state tactic diametrically opposed, not just to my personal values, but that should be unacceptable in America. If we don’t stop this law now, similar ones will spread across the nation. Already, lawmakers in at least 10 other states have promised to bring similar bills to their legislatures. The land I was born in, the America I know, is my home. And in my home, racial profiling is wrong. It is un-American is the most essential way.
And if you think you’re safe, or rationalize that this is an intelligent solution to the largely fabricated crisis of immigration, you should think again. And if you’re a person of color and think they won’t profile your black or brown ass, think again. And if you’re a light-skinned Latino/a passing for white, internally ashamed of your own kind and in your neurotic eagerness to assimilate, supporting Arizona’s apartheid-like strategy, think again. For if you allow it to be done to those you fear and loathe, what makes you think it won’t be done to you?
And if you can bring yourself to hate and dehumanize another human being, regardless of their citizenship status, perhaps what you really hate is a part of yourself.