Sunday, July 5, 2009

Trip to Bronzeville: The Harlem of the Midwest

Oh the agony of writing on this again. I know that I need to develop a consistent discipline in writing and reading, especially before I start school again. Summers/vacations have a way of isolating people from their responsibilities and longtime goals. Its like "live for the moment before it gets cold again! (especially for those who live in the Midwestern U.S.) So, what better way than to write on a blog - the ultimate modern-day vehicle of self-indulgence. 

Anyway, speaking of diddle-dalling, I went to Bronzeville today with my partner and one of my closest friends. Say what you will, but the historical ethnic segregation of Chicago has provided much revenue and fame to the city - all you need is to look at the nickname of this garden metrópolis - the "city of neighborhoods." Of course, red lining and institutional racism is nothing to celebrate, but ethnic segregation has given (and still gives) an opportunity for immigrant groups, especially oppressed immigrant groups (even in the 2nd and 3rd generations) an opportunity to produce spaces of political and cultural resistance to assimilation and to produce an economy on their own terms in the hands of their own compatriotas. Por supuesto, this does not happen everywhere in this city. Bronzeville is an interesting case study, though.

As we went to Chicago's House of Chicken and Waffles (which ironically served great tasting black soul food with white and Indian waiters and Mexican cooks - you see a lot when you're waiting 35 minutes to get seated!) we walked through gargantuan empty lots and storefronts, housing complexes isolated by green lawns separating pedestrians with prison-like black gates, and old stone architectural treasures being engulfed by eager yuppies who work downtown. 

Though, I couldn't help but happily think of the community's golden age when I saw all the black families strolling through its green boulevards, when it was dubbed the "Black Metropolis" (forever memorialized in a 1940s book of the same name). Although, its former infamous alderwoman tried to revitalize the community's black character by promoting a Jazz District, since thousands of its residents have left when red lining became illegal and moved into communities of either greater poverty and marginalization or insular wealth, it still has a long way to go. Hopefully its community residents/leaders and institutions are able to pay justice to its historic hayday while providing a new vision of a black community in the 21st century (that does not have to look the same as the Chicago Housing Authority's ridiculous and racist "mixed-housing" plan that it has already imposed on empty lots and bulldozed housing projects). Awww, a  global city-wannabe waiting for the International Olympic Committee's 2016 OK sticker, full of contradictions and fading historical memory. 

1 comment:

Luis said...

I hate how they always have these big billboards that depict some sort of harmonious, green-friendly utopia. Ironically, it shows trees and grass through none of the two renderings on the right feature any sort of green areas.