Sardonic Sistah Says

Observations… Ruminations… Ponderances… & Rants from Another Perspective

Building Your Own Arcadia

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Every workday morning when my bus drops me off on 6th St I pass by a row of big empty buildings.  They used to be upscale restaurants (one was a five-star for over 40 years) but now they are just empty shells; where they were once teaming with life, they stand abandoned as a tribute to a dying downtown nightlife.

As I survey the edifices from the opposite side of the street I replace the old buildings with different businesses.  I think where the french restaurant used to be would be a great place for a Morrocan restaurant.  And next door to it, maybe a Korean Grill?  Or an upscale Latin-Vietnamese fusion place.  I can see a changing landscape to businesses that would reflect the gradual changing of faces and cultures that are now inhabiting the Queen City.

I’m not sure if that is something that could be recognized as being needed in a city that sees racial diversity as having two or three blacks in a sea of white. 

But then, people have different ideas about what makes something “diverse” anyway.  For some people, heterogeneity would be an array of varying hues.  Or, excluding race, some would think a cross-section of ethnicities and cultures means more to diversity than color.  Others think that economic variance brings more of a variety than race and culture would.  Then there are sexual preferences, although they are harder to gauge just by looking at a person’s appearance.

These are the things that run through my head yesterday as Sybil tells me about her plan to build the perfect lair –I mean hiking club –so she can meet her dream man.  She’s planning on making the cards so she can pass them out to potential cute male hikers.  She asked me to suggest some places she could go and hang up a flier and pass out cards and I suggested this one area.

“But isn’t that a gay area?” she asked.

“Well… yeah… kind of.  But an eclectic bunch of people seem to roll through there.  What’s the problem with having gays join?”

“Because I’m a gay magnet,” she said.  And she is.  When we were in our twenties most of her closest male friends were gay.  Unintentionally they became her ideal and her stand-bys during her spate of being sans boyfriend.  But now, for the makeshift community she’s building, she wants to create a group that is racially diverse but restricted by age and sexual preference.

“I don’t want to go there,” she dismissed the diner I suggested because it was in that neighborhood.  “Isn’t there a place in the city that is creative and conservative?”

“No, not really.  A creative conservative would be an oxymoron here, don’t you think?”

Our city is not only stratified by race but also by class sensibilities.  One day while visiting my best friend Vee on the westside of town I was in dire physical need of coffee and went in search for a Starbucks or a coffeehouse.  There was none to be found.  In a five mile circumference around my home there are at least five eight Starbucks and three or four independent coffee shops.  I find it odd that coffee houses would be pervasive on my side of town and asked friends who lived on the west side what gives?  Why no Starbucks?    There’s one in the grocery store on Harrison, a friend said.  They didn’t see a need for it and my notion for having a surplus of them (I thought they just needed one or two on a main throroughfare) seemed so eastside to them.  The eastside is where those with money (or those who desire it) seem to habitate, they said.  The westside is the working class; they’re for Godliness and no nonsense.

No, we can’t meet.  No, no intermingling.  East is east and west is west and everything is just fine, thank you very much.  So on the westside diversity constitutes of being catholic or methodist or presbyterian and on the eastside one would find the chichi clothing stores, the art galleries and, for some reason, an abundance of coffee houses.  For the eastsiders diversity is what street you live on and which neighborhood.

My city is divided by race with neighborhoods that are nearly all black or all white.  Yet in some of the roughest sections there are oases of affluence on a few blocks.  You can be walking down a street that seems to be a rough, blighted area with a few small trees and houses that need a lot of work with large dirt patches in their front yard and then turn the corner and be among tall trees and large houses with lush lawns. 

In a lot of those black areas there aren’t a lot of black businesses.  And we are just beginning to have a discernable latino community, which at first was spread throughout the area but now seems to be concentrated on the lower westside.  My thoughts were that it seemed cool; we could finally be like other cities and maybe have a Lil Havana or a Chinatown or Koreatown; there could be ethnic enclaves that one could patronize and get authentic food (yeah, I’m thinking of my stomach).  J disagrees.  He likes the fact that the races (aside from African Americans) are interspersed among the community and thinks the idea of different neighborhoods inhabited by race or ethnic groups to be exclusionary, even if they are self segregating themselves. 

“Its not really self segregation,” J argues.  “They move into those areas because no one else wants them in their communities.” J is a student of urban planning and ethnic studies and then proceeds to lecture me about the planned building of neighborhoods, the marginalization of minorities, and the disenfranchisement of the poor.  Although he’s Korean,  he wouldn’t appreciate a Koreatown in our city unless it could be built up and as prosperous as the richer city communities. 

“I’m against planned minority ghettos,” J said.

Although I can see his point I can’t concede it.  Sometimes people want to be around what makes them comfortable which may include being around others with similar backgrounds and heritage.  I have a friend whose mother lives in the projects and even when they moved her out to do a two year renovation she moved back in when the time came.   She grew up there and then raised her son there; it was all she knew.  The community is beginning to change, though so I’m not sure how much longer she will stay but I suspect that when she moves again she will search for another place that offers her the same feeling.

But going back to my vision of a utopian society it would be a place where all cultures could co-exist peaceably side by side and it wouldn’t matter what color someone’s skin was or what religion they practiced.  No one would care if someone loved someone else who was the same gender.  There wouldn’t be any class barriers.  I’m sure I sound like naive dreamer but I don’t think I’m the only one….

(John Lennon music swelling in the background to a finish)

“I hope someday you’ll join us/And the world will live as one”.

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Written by rentec

26 July, 2007 at 9:34 pm

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