My Hood, Your Hood - The Jose Vilson

My Hood, Your Hood

June 30, 2008

By the time you read this, I’ll be more than halfway to the neighborhood from which my mother originates in Santo Domingo, DR. In said neighborhood, as in many neighborhoods, the impression us “Dominican-Americans” give off is that indeed we have more money than them, we are more well-off, and that we have greater access to said resources than do the people there. In many ways, it’s true. Most of the people born in the US hate to admit it, but as much as we want to be part of those people, we’ll never actually be them. We can play with them, socialize with them, knock back a couple with them, but the natives can smell it on us much the way other animals can sniff intruders. My presence is no more welcome here than any other tourist. I’m just more well-connected and am related by blood, a little difference, but I recognize it. (Thoughts like these make me wonder whether the movement to acclimate African-Americans or other people from the African Diaspora back into Africa would actually work on a mass scale. I’m still up in the air about that.)

Anyways, the one commonality I do see with my hood and the hood in Santo Domingo is the gentrification. Most of my avid readers know how I feel about it, thus there’s no need to rehash. But let’s dissect this for a bit. 4 years ago, when I came to visit Santo Domingo, the airport was painted in an earthy light brown, and a tipico (merengue) band played while we walked from the airplane to the baggage claim. Images of this country sprawled all along the way with little stores that made us feel like we, too, were Dominican citizens. Even the bell signaling the movement of the conveyor belts was replaced with a little merengue in the spirit of the country. Yes, I fully admit: too many bags got lost in the baggage claim, and the droves of men harassing begging us to let them drive us to our neighborhood was over the top. But when you walk out of baggage claim, the droves of people waiting at the edges of the walkway made you feel proud of your heritage, with whole blocks coming out to meet their distant relatives.

Nowadays, I’m not sure what to make of the changes. The government’s done a good job of renovating the airport, and as many New Yorkers can attest to, the department of tourism has definitely stepped up their efforts to promote the “good life” here. The walls are painted an off-white, with messages about the country along the walls in English, Spanish, and French (notice the order). The messages on the loudspeakers come in those same languages in that order. My bags didn’t get “lost” or delayed, but something was … missing. Was it the band, whose non-existence was palpable? Was it the multicultural crowd I ran into? I’m not sure yet, but …

I do know that Burger King infiltrated the skyline here, among other corporations. I do know that poor people who’ve never seen any European countries have been forced to learn 7 languages. I also know that when I arrive at the barrio, I’ll be confused at the lack of electricity when only a few hours before, I was at a resort that never ran out of electricity, much less plumbing, running water, and clean clothes. I would still like to gather more evidence of this new country that I thought was Dominican Republic, but if my own neighborhood is any indication, the so-called development and progress of this nation will be heavily reliant on how much stratification between the rich and the poor occur, and how far we can push poor people before they have to move to unfamiliar territory …

jose, who needed to get this in before he went out tonight …

p.s. – I just took a shower, and the water smells similar to what I think the Krusty Krab might smell like … if I could smell underwater.

This post was written by...

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

For more about me, read here.

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