Tuesday, July 23, 2013

South Philadelphia

Creating shade
Today has been very eventful. Because some students were running late, we postponed our tour by half an hour and watched the video from Theater of the Oppressed day two. Professor Lamas made it very funny and the pictures really proved how much we grew as a class and became unified. We got to South Philadelphia around 10:00 AM and split into groups to take walking tours. We took notice of things we did and did not see. Then we met as a whole group and discussed it. We came to the conclusion that this neighborhood was run down. Our guest speakers taught us about gentrification and urban renewal and the effects they have had on the residents. It was very hot where we were sitting, so as soon as we got a break everyone took out their umbrellas to create shade. 

We soon after moved to a shadier spot under a building. All day, as we were walking around, people who lived in the area asked us why we were there or gave us confused looks. Apparently, a couple of the questioning people went and told a well known funeral home owner, Charlene, about the group of "white kids" on her block. She came over to us and challenged our guest speaker about what he was teaching us and why we came to her neighborhood and her block. He was without words. Since no one would answer her the way she wanted, and sort of went around the fact that her neighborhood was a poor, run down neighborhood, in fear of offending her, one of the students asked her why she thought this neighborhood was the way it was. She explained she had lived here for 31 years and has seen the effects of urban renewal first hand. She turned out to be a great resource for information and a highlight of the day. We learned about the cycle of gentrification and how the area is cheap to live in at first and then becomes too expensive so the families who have called this land their home have to move out, suddenly. She told us people in her community discriminate. The White folks don't speak to the Black folks even though they live next door to each other. The Black people think the White people are racist and destroying their neighborhood. She told us to remember that when one person does you wrong, blame that one person. Don't blame the whole race.

Immediately after, we went to Juntos, an organization that helped the immigrants in Philadelphia feel hope and come together to make movements. We met a lot of people who came from backgrounds of struggle when coming across the border. We learned about how difficult it is to become legal and how long it takes. I never really understood until today that immigrants have it so hard. They face a lot of prejudice if they or a family member is undocumented in the United States. This really doesn't make a lot of sense because all of us have had immigrants in our family at some point or another. There are very few actual Native Americans, but for some reason some people think they have more rights to live here than others.

We were shown a spoken word poem by Denise Frohman about the struggles of undocumented people. There was also a panel discussion with young people, around our age, who have struggled through these issues and are now organizing for human rights. One of the struggles that stood out most to me was the issue they have with applying to college and getting scholarships. They are excluded from almost all scholarships and are not eligible for financial aid in this country. Since most of them come from poor families, this makes going to college impossible. To think about being in a situation where all your peers are applying to college and getting help to do so and not being able to do anything to get yourself in their shoes is heartbreaking. 

The sudden rain storm
After our time at Juntos, we walked around and noticed murals and the "Italian" part of the neighborhood. There was a lot of Mexican restaurants and stores in the "Italian" town but it seemed that they had no say in anything. There seemed to be a lot of prejudice against immigrants there, as I am sure there is in a lot of communities. It started pouring rain in the middle of our walk, so we were cut off a bit sooner than expected but it was actually a lot past the end of class already. We were learning from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM with no breaks longer than five or ten minutes so today was exhausting. It was definitely worth it, though, and one of the most memorable days of class thus far.

1 comment:

  1. That was very interesting, Hannah. I experienced such a thing first hand as a boy in Chicago. We should talk about it sometime :-)