Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Day 16: Undocumented Unafraid Unapologetic

Today was my last Tuesday in the Social Justice Research Academy.

Today was a day full of field trips, new perspectives, and important causes. Our class took a trip to South Philadelphia and met with two city planners who talked to us about the South Philly neighborhood. They talked to us about gentrification, also known as urban renewal (or negro removal), and the tactics used. Tactics such as making property cost more so that Colored people lose their homes and have to move somewhere else. Moving these Colored people make it possible to turn the land into a suburb or whatever else the state wants. And this is happening in other areas around the country, not just Philadelphia.

South Philadelphia
While they were finishing up their talk, a woman who owns a funeral home and has been living in South Philly for 31 years, came up to our group to ask us what we were doing in her neighborhood. We learned that when people from a neighborhood that have all these networks with each other, like South Philly has, news gets spread around fast; and the news today was that there were a group of strangers in the neighborhood. When there is a group of strangers in the neighborhood, they are usually there to buy drugs or do something illegal. She was there as her community leader to find out what was going on.

She ended up explaining to us more about gentrification, and it was great hearing it from her because she is experiencing it first-hand. She told us about the gentrification cycle. What they first do is they tear down the area and make it affordable to low-income families, which are usually Colored people. Soon enough prices go up and it is too expensive to live in these neighborhoods any more. The expense does not bother the suburban, typically White, people, so they begin to move there in order to have access to smaller businesses. While Colored people are being slowly pushed out, White people or Asian people or whoever are moving into these neighborhoods. "They don't speak to Black people even though they are in their neighborhood. That is until they get robbed." 

She taught us that everyone is equal and that everyone has rights. She told us that even though in her neighborhood you have to be suspicious of people who look different from you, she asks questions first instead of automatically judging. " Don't judge people on their race or where they live; instead on the kind of person they are." She is such a great woman and our class loved her. I wish we had had more time to get to know her more. 

Then we went to the Italian part of South Philadelphia, which has had a rise in Mexican immigrants, and spent time with the Juntos organization. Juntos is an "immigrant community led organization in Philadelphia that focuses on gaining human rights as workers, parents, youth, and immigrants." Some young people who are a part of Juntos told us their stories and about their involvement with immigration. They explained to us that many immigrants leave Mexico for the U.S. because they need to make more money for their families, or they want a better education for their children, or they are chasing the "American Dream." When they come to the U.S. they end up facing discrimination, culture shock, and fear. They struggle through a lot, and even though they work in the U.S. and do the jobs the country needs done in order to survive, they are still not considered citizens. Because they are undocumented many cannot go to college or do not know how to apply. Immigration is a topic that is greatly explored in schools and in the news, but it never really touched me like it had today.

Many of us realized today that we are either immigrants or someone in our family is or has been at some point in history. They showed us "Borders" by Denice Frohman, which is a spoken word poem about immigration. It was very powerful and I advise everyone to watch it (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daArPiX1Fjw). 

Graffiti in the Italian part of South Philadelphia
Afterwards we walked around the city and noticed a lot of different things. In the Italian part of the city there was racism being shown towards Mexican immigrants, like an order out restaurant that had a sign saying "Order only in English." We also saw a mural for the Burmese community being made by people from the Mural Arts Program. There was a lot of graffiti as well, which made the neighborhood even more beautiful. Even though the field trip was long, it was worth it. I really enjoyed it, and it was easier learning from people who were currently experiencing what they were talking about. 

After class my dorm floor mates and I went to the city and ate dessert at Max Brenner, which is a dessert place. The dessert was fantastic and it was fun hanging out with all of them. Our residential counselor, Halie, is great! I am lucky to have lived, and be living, with such awesome people this summer. 

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