i never thought i’d get to understand
A reaction piece to Nina (because your URL changes all the time)’s poem titled “Gentrification.”
I don’t know if this actually contributes to the problem or what.
i never thought that i would understand
the creeping whiteness, insidious
in its obliviousness, choking out
the flavor, the color, the variety of
what was never quite perfect
but what was certainly better than anything i’ve seen since
i grew up in a Greek neighborhood
with brown faces
(overall, it’s the brown faces I remember):
one, two, three;
Muslim after Muslim,
Hussain, Yousaf, Mustafa;
a classmate in third grade who participated in Ramadan;
a girl named Ronjini who was partnered with me for one science fair project, and who certainly treated me better than did
the white Queen Bee bitches of our graduating class
(they ruled the roost, and kept the likes of sweet mild Ronjini in line, but my gay Anglo-Saxon-Italian friend assured me years later that they had indeed been bitches, my memory had not played me false);
a man I grew up seeing, an employee of Dunkin’ Donuts who
(unlike any other I’ve ever encountered)
was always friendly and talkative with my brother and me, shy as we were of practically all adults not our parents
(my mom tells me now that in Spanish, what we were/are is corridos);
a girl named Princie, the closest approximation to a friend that I had at that age, who didn’t even recognize me when we came across each other years later.
i never thought i’d get a chance to understand,
when we moved to the Bronx
and I felt white for the first time in my life
and I was made to feel
and explicitly told
I wasn’t Latína, for all the Ecuadorian blood running through my veins
(75%; 25% from the south of Spain).
I never thought I’d get the chance
to feel like my own community was being whitewashed,
gentrified, bohemianized, victim of the great Aburguesamiento,
until several months ago,
the last time we visited Ditmars Blvd. ($13 round trip) for paella marinera con una jarra de sangría roja and a quick stop at the Top Tomato, whose prices
(even after renovation)
are still better than those of our neighborhood Fine Fare,
and all of us but my mother went inside to look for something,
and she stayed by the produce and watched passers-by
until I came back out and she told me that
yes, there were more white faces than she remembered.
my mother only has one specific anecdote
(though it must have been the common presumption of anyone and everyone who saw her ferrying us around)
of someone (a grown Latína, una niñera) actually asking her if she was my brother’s nanny
and her proudly responding that he was her son!
ever since we were kids,
my brother and I said
that we wanted to have
the golden-brown skin tone of our mother.
we still do.
(Mami says que siempre hemos sido especiales)