Jan 13, 2009

This is a mesquite thicket, called a bosque. It is at a local enclave where the affluent can live behind their gates, safe from the rest of us. Daughter Sneed calls my weekly lunch with my friends, the Geezer Banquet. Nice. Yesterday at the Geezer Banquet, our waitress told us that she is from Chicago. This got us on a tangent about ethnic neighborhoods, of which Chicago has plenty. And on the general topic of people clustering in neighborhoods with people like themselves. My mother was born in Chicago Heights, Illinois, a town on the South side of Chicago. The last of my mother's family left Chicago Heights in the early 1960s. Her sisters, Geraldine and Norma, along with their assorted relatives moved to Berwyn, Illinois, about 30 miles north of Chicago Heights and just west of downtown Chicago. According to my mother, Chicago Heights got "too black" for them. At that time, Berwyn had a large Czech population, or has my Aunt Geraldine called them, "Bohunks". But they were white and apparently that was the important part. Hooterville, like most places has distinct parts of the metro area. Our Eastern, Northern and Western communities are enclaves of middle, upper-middle class or and rich, mostly white folks. The South side is predominantly Hispanic, mostly Mexican and Mexican-American, with pockets of Tohono O'Odham and Pascua Yaqui native peoples. Being so close to the Mexican border lots of people fret these days about the growing influence of the Hispanic population and culture. Believe it or not, our public schools were segregated for African-American children until Brown v. Board of Education, stuck down the concept of separate but equal. Our schools have been under a desegregation order for years. Back in the 1970's, Hispanic and African-American parents sued to force the schools to really integrate. By that time our schools had long been technically integrated, but because of housing patterns, the schools were segregated for practical purposes. In my high school of nearly 5000 students, we had about 10 black kids. After three decades under a desegregation order the judge has lifted the order. Not so much because the goals of the order have been met, but because our largest district has gone from 75% Anglo students to 70% Hispanic students. Growth of the city, as well as expanding school choice have made it easy for white families to move their kids out of the Hooterville School District. Racism, or at least the fear of people different than oneself, never seems to go away, it just become more subtle. If there is a lighter side to segregation, this story is it. We were on a family vacation in the early 1990's and were visiting Mrs. Sneed's aunt and uncle in Providence, Rhode Island. Mrs. Sneed was born and spent the early years of her life in Pawtucket, R.I, adjacent to Providence. She had memories of the Sunday trips to the cemetery to 'visit' loved ones, and she wanted to make a trip out to the cemetery. But, she didn't remember exactly it was. So I stopped at the municipal offices of a town near where we thought it might be and I went in to ask directions. A woman at the reception desk asked if she could help me and I explained our situation. "Well", she said, we have three cemeteries, what were they?" I didn't understand the question. "Dead?", I offered. When in doubt, make a bad joke. "No, were they French, English...that sort of thing?" I told her I thought they were Polish, forgetting that Mrs. Sneed's aunt was married to a man of Polish decent, but her family was not of Polish origin. After she caught her breath, she pulled herself up to her full height and told me in no uncertain terms that, "If they're Polish, they're not in our cemeteries." I was dumbfounded. I recall hustling down the stairs and reporting things to Mrs. Sneed who straightened me out on the background of her family. Back up the stairs I went, where I blurted out, "English, they were English!" "Go down to the stop sign, make a left and it's a couple of miles down the road on the left." And it was. The ultimate in segregation. Being among your own as you turn to dust. Ridiculous. Things in this blog represented to be fact, may or may not actually be true. The writer is frequently wrong, sometimes just full of it, but always judgmental and cranky

15 comments:

Adrianne said...

This is an awesome, thought provoking post, Merle. I think that many Americans tend to think of racism and other forms of segregationism as strictly Southern phenomena, despite ample evidence that that is clearly not the case. As a native North Carolinian, I have always marveled when people who live in places such as those you describe automatically assume that all Southerners are racists.

On a lighter note, my mother calls my dad's lunch with his friends the ROMEO (Retired Old Men Eating Out) Club. Sounds very similar to the Geezer Banquet.

Reya Mellicker said...

It's bizarre! What planet do people like that come from anyway?

Gated communities creep me out. Makes me think of the Stepford Wives.

Variety is the spice of life. Well, isn't it?? I think so.

Kurt said...

Our neighborhood has a little of everything, even white people.

bella rum said...

We live in a enclave of rednecks.

Megan said...

I really enjoyed reading this post but I've just got too many thoughts on it, so I'll probably save them for a post of my own.

I like my neighborhood. It's like Kurt's.

And I think you should adopt the ROMEO name for your gatherings. Awesome!

bitchlet said...

Hello.

Julia said...

When we moved to this town in 1985, I had rarely seen black people. Our town was still unofficially nearly segregated. We had one black kid in our class, but I didn't think much about it because I was 9. Later I learned that the other school on the other side of town was 97% black. I have never thought about it before, but I wouldn't be surprised if we have black and white cemeteries too.

Around here we have a lot of descendents of slaves, who spoke a mixture of English and some leftover West African languages. (Gullah or Geechee) The older people in particular were hard for us to understand. My brother had an older black lady for a teacher, and he nearly failed 2nd grade. My parents took him for hearing tests and they worried that he was learning disabled before they realized he couldn't understand her. By the end of the year he had figured it out and started doing better. Most of the kids in our school had lived here for generations, so they all knew the speech patterns, and he was the only one with a problem.

Barbara said...

Sometimes I wonder what the world would be like if we were a universally tan race, where everyone was more or less alike. Would there be new ways of sorting people into groups?

Avid Reader said...

Great post.


The Dr Seuss story --Sneeches--- there will always be sorting.

Steve said...

I think it's natural for people to gravitate toward others who are like them. But there's a difference between that and putting down those who are different, you know?

Squirrel said...

My high school was 2/3rds black, and 1/3 a mix of Hispanic, White, Asian (in that order) there were no more problems than in an all-white school. (Teen boys will always fight for example, there will always be a few mean girls ) We may have been odd, as we didn't really separate into groups according to ethnic background, but I don;t think so-- I think it depends on how much of a melting pot you live in as a small child.

brigid247 said...

further proof it's never too late to segregate!

pathetic... but humorous in being so.

Coffee Messiah said...

One time afriend took me to her cabin up in the Sierras and there was a gated community there. I was astonished, out in the middle of nothing but trees ; (

People Ae Srange = the Doors ; )

Anonymous said...

I always assumed that (at least during the college years) most people ended up dating outside their race. I never had anyone say anything to me about who I was going out with based on skin color, language spoken at home, nationality ! (The film Guess who's coming to Dinner" came out in What year???... ) maybe it's not something anyone would say. .. to your face... though.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

"lighter side to segregation"

very punny!

no seriously, most excellent and thought-provoking post. thank you.