Wednesday, August 24, 2005


as a child, i didn't always live in the hood. when i was small, my family lived down south, in areas where my parents didn't have to worry about gunshots. i was a little "country" so to speak. i knew about sesame street, honeysuckle bushes, plum trees, creeks, and the sound cicadas make at night. we moved up north twenty years ago. my new home had rowhouses and graffiti, which i hadn't seen before. tennis shoes, which i would later call sneakers, hung from wires in the air. there were more people, more cars. it was the mid-80s and hip-hop was everywhere. this place was dirty. people would drive by with stereos blasting. there wasn't as much grass, and the trees even looked different. kids in school that year would tell me to say words like "doll" or "bear" to hear my country accent, which i later learned to drop and pick up at will.

growing up, i loved my home. i felt safe there. i never got jumped, robbed, stabbed, shot at. i never had to duck bullets, although, yeah, i heard them sometimes. i can tell the difference between a firecracker and a car backfiring and a shot being fired. i had kids on my block to play with. grownups that i looked up to. we played outside on the sidewalk and out in the street, our games reflecting the grown-ups who sometimes made no sense:

"my mother and your mother were hanging the clothes.
my mother punched your mother right dead in the nose.
what color was the blood?"
"r-e-d spells red and you are not the one to be it in this
game of freeze tag!"

in my city, i went to public elementary school, and learned about heroes, black and white, male and female. i learned about the stock market, computers, and south african apartheid. i was on our unofficial drill team at recess, and learned to jump double dutch, which i love and will play to this day. i learned a love and a familiarity with people who looked like me, whether or not they had two parents, or whether or not they were on welfare, or whether or not their house was kept nasty. i learned how to play the dozens, though, too. i'm so glad my parents raised me where they did. a place where i could learn to appreciate caribbean music and learn there's a difference in being from the dominican republic and puerto rico. a place where i could play softball after school and in the summer. where we couldn't get a pizza delivered from a major chain, but the ice cream man still loved us. even though throughout all this we would have to leave the city to buy anything cause we had no quality affordable retail. and then have to deal with hearing people saying bad things about the crime and the ignorance in my city. nationwide. i left the city i love to go to school determined to show the world that there are smart people with good upbringings from the hood, who were articulate and clean and knew how to act . i love telling people where i grew up. i was saddened by the black people i met in school who were more comfortable with white people than with us. i was even frightened that my more affluent children could one day be like that.

i am seriously considering buying a house in my old city. because as fond as my memories were, i grew up resenting black professional people who were too good or too scared to live in my city. i thought they thought they were better than me. i thought that i would never run away and not look back - never be so afraid of my own people that i couldn't live among them and be a resource, a role model for the little girls, another homeowner, another taxpayer. i'm still thinking about the idea.

but i'm starting to understand those black professionals from the suburbs. it's been eight years since i called my city home. yeah, i've changed but so has my neighborhood. the street isn't as well kept. there are more boarded houses. neighbors have moved out. shoot, even my own parents have moved out, with me cheering them on. and fights over parking spaces, bad water, and backed up sewers are challenges i would be CHOOSING to face. not to mention the school system i'd be choosing. i know i sound old, but my generation seems alien to me, and the babies - they're NOT babies. my old teachers tell me they don't even WANT to learn - don't appreciate knowledge.

this could mean my presence and leadership could be needed now more than ever. and it could mean my presence and leadership could be wasted now more than ever. and if i decide to come back home, it better not be for the city's edification. cause even Jesus was rejected at home. if i go back, it better be because i'm called to be there. cause i WANT to be there. and not because i think i can save my city or because i think i'll really be able to help or be appreciated. cause that may not happen. but i can't say i don't wonder about what can be done about fighting further decline and sticking up for the residents during the gentrification that's taking place. where does a sista find her place? could i still be a soldier from the 'burbs?