Monday, July 18, 2016

Experiencing Philadelphia

Yet more beautiful weather in Philadelphia, taken just outside of Houston Hall
To start the class, we were shown a video about the de facto segregation in a school cafeteria, made by one of the students, named Sam, in our social justice class. The video demonstrated that whites sat with other whites at tables while minorities sat together, which was also attested to by other students he interviewed. Interestingly enough, his video pertained to the activity that followed, which was to make a map of our routes to school, as both were about the social geography of a certain area. As we drew the routes to our schools, we were instructed to include where we encountered people of different social classes. We were also told to consider what form of transportation students from each area take to get to school. Once we had started thinking about social geography in our own neighborhoods, our guest speaker for the day, Dr. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor of Princeton University, arrived to speak to us more about it, from its history to its modern relevance. After the Great Migration, cities became concentrated with African-Americans. However, they were discriminated against in the sale of property and were not permitted to live in white neighborhoods, instead merely being relegated to live in the poor neighborhoods. There was also a disparity in police presence in different neighborhoods that persists to this day, as her sightings of police in her current neighborhood are infrequent, while in Chicago, she had seen police numerous times per day.

After slavery, blacks were viewed criminally, and vagrancy and other behaviors of the impoverished were criminalized. For such crimes, the perpetrators had to pay a fine, but most did not have the money to. Instead, the wealthy former plantation owners would pay the fines for them in return for service on the fields. In essence, it was slavery in all but name. In addition, segregation was not only tolerated, but also encouraged and institutionalized along with the pervasive attitude of white superiority. Landlords exploited the system of racially homogeneous neighborhoods, making housing units smaller to increase profits at the expense of privacy and comfort. Further instances of the injustice manifesting itself include vices being planted in black neighborhoods to keep them out of white neighborhoods, the "red summer" of white-on-black mob violence, and the police presence that did not protect blacks, instead sometimes aggravating issues. As she transitioned to the situation in our contemporary society, very little has actually changed, although people seem to believe progress has been made. There is still a perceived criminality of blacks, and employment is difficult to find for them, as whites with criminal records are about as likely to get jobs as blacks with clean records. She sees crime as a product of inequality and poverty, so the consequences of crime merely compound the situation, particularly fines from victimless crimes and minor traffic stops, such as the broken taillight that Philando Castile was stopped for before he was shot to death by a police officer. In addition, while many blacks are languishing in substandard conditions, the conditions for poverty are made more severe to artificially reduce the number of the impoverished.

In my opinion, that is simply glossing over the actual situation and somewhat devaluing those just above the poverty line, who still undergo very difficult circumstances. It is also disappointing to see that so little has changed from the past, yet we regard many of those issues as though they have been resolved. However, many of the same inequalities still hold true today, with the primary difference being whether each is still institutionalized under the law or simply preserved. I think people need to recognize that these are still relevant issues that we should examine and address thoroughly to truly eliminate them.

This time, our field trip was to El Barrio, a predominantly Latino neighborhood, to see the murals yielded from Jane Golden's effort to encourage more positive forms of artistic expression, instead of the graffiti that was prevalent throughout the city. We took the subway to the York-Dauphin station, at which point we disembarked, much to the annoyance of the commuters trying to board the train. As we descended the stairs of the station, we were greeted by a cold grimness that permeated the air. The pervasive desolation accompanied us as we began to walk, observing the dilapidated buildings, the remains of what used to be sidewalks, and the largely abandoned streets as we did. This derelict part of the city, merely a shadow of the other areas within Philadelphia, revealed the less glamorous realities many of those near or in poverty endure. The rather depressing image portrayed by our surroundings was further compounded by the foreboding background of gray clouds that obscured the sky, concealing the sun and its brightness from view. It occurred to me that people actually do live in this area, despite being seemingly devoid of life, leaving me with only the hope that there was much more warmth and liveliness inside the homes.

The hidden part of the city
An abandoned lot with burgeoning vegetation, the result of negligence
One street flooded by water from a broken fire hydrant
However, as we approached our destination, Taller Puertorriqueño (which translates to Puerto Rican Workshop), the skies finally cleared and the solemn atmosphere was punctuated by the laughter of two young children, who were playing in what I presumed to be their front yard, and the world seemed to come to life once more. We entered the Taller Puertorriqueño, where we met Mr. Rafael Damast, who proceeded to give us a tour of El Barrio, also known as El Centro de Oro, or the Center of Gold, as well as some of the murals within it. He talked about how Taller Puertorriqueño tries to preserve the Spanish language and various Latin American cultures in the area, mostly Puerto Rican, how this particular area of Philadelphia contained many ethnic ghettos, and their way of recognizing their heritage through art.
Some of the murals in El Centro de Oro
Although the initial reception after getting off the train was rather cold, I soon discovered that El Barrio itself was quite lively. I also enjoyed seeing the murals, which are all intricately detailed and bursting with vivid colors. There were also the steel palm trees throughout El Centro de Oro that are reminiscent of those from Puerto Rico. However, the areas surrounding El Centro de Oro appeared to be victims of negligence, which seems to be unjust, given that they are the ones likely encountering the most difficulties.

After returning to the Quad from our field trip, I ate a quick dinner at the 1920s Commons before gathering with the others for the Phillies-Mets game that evening. This was my first time ever attending a professional sporting event, so I was fairly excited for it, even though I'm not usually an avid fan of baseball. Upon our arrival, we walked over to the entrance of Citizens Bank Park, where we had our bags checked and had to walk through metal detectors. I was somewhat startled to see that sort of security, so when I got to the checkpoint, I was rather unprepared, to the exasperation of the employees. Also, I had been unaware that my water bottle presented a potential security risk, so I watched as they emptied it before handing the now empty bottle back to me.
Eventually, we made our way to our section in the stands, which was almost at the very top, giving us a great view of the stadium itself but not of the game itself. It wasn't quite what I had been expecting, as the stadium was nowhere near full, and the fans were relatively calm throughout the game, even after one of the players hit a home run. I sat near Serina and Eva, so I ended up talking to them for most of the time while the game continued. We were actually able to watch the whole game in about three hours, which I was somewhat relieved by, as I thought it would last longer and that I wouldn't be able to see all nine innings played out. Although the Mets won over the Phillies by a score of 5-3, it was an interesting experience to actually be at a ballpark, even though baseball isn't among my favorite sports.
Pictures of Citizens Bank Park at three different times

Once I finally got back to my dorm, I was exhausted from the day's events, although I had no regrets about any of it. The field trip to El Barrio was enlightening, as it demonstrated a completely different aspect of Philadelphia from the one I've been experiencing for the past two weeks. However, I'm glad to have gotten the opportunity to experience the Latin American culture there, as despite the circumstances, they managed to maintain a light atmosphere in the neighborhood. I also attended my very first baseball game and professional sporting event, so that was definitely interesting as well. I think the experiences helped me to develop a more complete picture of Philadelphia, as I hadn't realized how little of the city I had been exposed to until now, and I look forward to seeing what else Philadelphia has to offer.

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