Monday, May 08, 2006

Shabby Chic Is In


Where I Lived
By Loida

I hated that we didn’t live in a big house,
Like some of my friends.
In a neighborhood with sidewalks
And paper boys on bikes,
Like Henry, Beezus and Ramona’s friend.

Instead the neighbors all put their junk out
In piles
On the street
Or in the “cul de sac” or as we called it,
“the circle.”
And it stayed there for weeks
Or maybe months
Because the trash people never came
To pick it up

Then as I grew up
I realized
How unimportant sidewalks are
And how great ditches are
For swimming in.
Wondering if a crawfish
Might bite me on the toe.

I’d run barefoot on the hot black street
Often cutting my feet,
And I’d run home for Mama to wash it
And pour sangre de chango on it.
I can’t remember how many times I did that,

Or how many times I ran home exhausted,
With the sweat on my face,
Going home
When the street lights turned on
To hear my mother yelling
That I smelled like a dead dog.

I wrote this poem in 1992 and I came across it recently. I thought about it again the other day when I had to cut across the back streets of downtown towards my house. I had to go through some of the lower income neighborhoods. Those kinds of neighborhoods where the houses are close together, paint peeling, holes in the small porch and people sitting outside on a sofa drinking beer. I drove down one of these streets and looked out at the people and they looked back at me in my SUV. One older man waved and I waved back. He didn’t seem surprised to see me driving through.

Houston’s inner city has become so much more diverse these days and residents in predominantly Hispanic or Black neighborhoods are seeing different faces in their neighborhoods.

When I drive my kids to their babysitter’s house every morning I pass by my dad’s house in the neighborhood where I grew up. It isn’t much different today and it’s one of the areas that hasn’t become diverse and probably won’t. This isn’t a neighborhood with big new structures going up. The street that leads to my babysitter’s house has some prostitutes walking early in the morning looking for business and one of those corner stores with all kinds of shady characters hanging out.

The funny thing is I don’t feel unsafe leaving my children with her. I turn down her street, the one with the “Jesus” sign in big red letters on white, and there are several modest but neat homes in a row. You see children playing outside in their yard or on the street with a basketball hoop. My baby sitter’s house has a tall iron fence and I know that the children play within this fence under the watchful eye of the sitter, an older Mexican woman originally from Tabasco, in her early 60s. She has been a great caretaker and almost like a surrogate grandmother to the children. .

You see, I grew up in a neighborhood just like this one and I turned out just fine. I truly believe that a psycho can walk into a home in Suburbia just as easily as they can in this neighborhood. I also believe that kids from the suburbs sometimes get into drugs and alcohol more often than city kids because they grow up sheltered and without seeing what that life can do to you. I grew up in a neighborhood where a lot of people gave in to those vices and therefore I knew what I didn’t want to do. I had living examples of pregnant teens in my neighborhood instead of just posters in my nurse’s office at school.

My husband and I didn’t even give it much thought when we bought our home. We knew we wanted to live in the city and that we’re not suburban types. Some of my high school and college friends bought homes in the small neighborhood where we ended up buying a home too. It’s an old 1940s house with hardwood floors and two extra attic bedrooms upstairs. In fact, almost all the houses in our neighborhood are this same style and were constructed in the ‘40s.

It’s a charming little neighborhood with a lot of character. The Houston Chronicle once did a very flattering feature piece on it when they were covering different neighborhoods in Houston.

When I tell a workmate where I live he says, “I looked at a house in that neighborhood but I didn’t like the neighborhoods around it.”

Yeah, that would be the area two blocks from my house to the left. Or it would be the Corner Bar, on the other side of our neighborhood. We aren’t surrounded by the best neighborhoods, but we like our small area and we love our old homes. We love being so close to so many different freeway entrances and perfectly centered in town.

Suddenly in the last few years there’s been a big exodus from the suburbs to the city. I crack up when I drive near downtown. I see these super expensive three story town homes and luxury apartments going up everywhere. They’re built right next door to old decrepit buildings and houses. It’s become shabby chic to live in bad areas.

Having grown up in a poor area, I think it’s hilarious that this generation of homebuyers finds it cool to live in rough areas. I wonder if any of these residents ever even drove into neighborhoods like these before deciding to move into these huge homes off W. Gray or Washington. If they didn’t, then I’m glad they’re here now.

People who may have never grown up in poor areas now get to see how most of Americans live. They can see this as long as they don’t close their eyes to the homeless people in the park across the street from their $500,000 town home when they steer their BMW into the driveway. All they need to do now is open their eyes and take a look around them. Hopefully, if they aren't doing so already, they can find ways to help their community.


Gwen said...

I've been thinking about this stuff (gentrification) all morning. All week. All month. Since the year 2000.

Diversity is good, but I'm sad that I can't afford to live in the neighborhood where I grew up. (Sixth Ward.)

Did I tell you I'm moving to the suburbs this summer? I can't afford my own city anymore.

Okay - no more hijacking your blog now... It's just funny that I saw you talk about this right now.

Sangroncito said...

You're right...inner-city, multi-ethnic, mixed income neighborhoods aren't scary, and they don't produce bad people. As a matter of fact, they're a lot more interesting and real. Good for you for honoring your roots and recognizing the value of urban diversity.

Anonymous said...

Great story and very true! Or course, I'm biased...since I lived in the same house with you. Well written. Rosy

ShoeGirl said...

Thanks to all of you for your comments. Everyone seems to like my new essay format!