Writing about where we live, what we do, life in general here is sort of a difficult task for me. It is very important to talk about, and it forms the foundation that a lot of our daily life and activities stem from. Yet, I wrestle with what to write and how to write each time I try to talk about an aspect of life here.
First, there’s the words to use. I try not to use the phrase “inner city” very often. I feel it draws up images of poor, dilapidated houses, or when used with children – inner city kids – it puts them in this lower-than category. I struggle with knowing what sorts of words to use to help convey these topics without writing a paragraph on it each time.
Our neighborhood is beautiful, it is a Mexican-American neighborhood with many immigrants (often undocumented), first, and second generation Mexican-American families. Our neighborhood is divided in half by two gangs; there are doubles of a lot of places because of the gangs, one for each side of the neighborhood – two libraries, two McDonalds, two Burger Kings, two Walgreens. All of this within a four and a half square mile area.
Our neighborhood is next to an African-American neighborhood. This is the neighborhood where I work. Churches here sometimes do activities with our church. While the culture is different in each neighborhood, the struggles are similar. Both neighborhoods are poor, they have high rates of crime, high rates of public health issues, and the pain that comes with these.
With all this said, I never want the negative points mentioned above to be the focus. I do not want to talk about how we live in a poor, high crime neighborhood because it is so much more than that and as soon as I describe it that way the good things get pushed to the side. The struggle is that those hard parts of the neighborhood are an important proponent of the neighborhood and living here and so they get mentioned often. I can’t speak well on what my husband or I do without talking about those negatives.
Same with the youth in the neighborhood; they are beautiful, they have all sorts of hope and dreams. I want people to see that, to not focus on the negatives or the stereotypes of what kids in our neighborhood are like. Again though, the negatives are very real. They are why my husband has a job. When we have youth over to our home, when Epi runs softball leagues or I meet with the girls I mentor we see the beautiful and work to cultivate and help it grow. We battle the negatives though, we step into situations that are hard and can sometimes be scary. Those things are very real. There are two gangs that fight back and forth, the schools in our neighborhood are not great , homes are often not safe spaces for youth to go home to when the day is over.
It’s hard. When I meet other Chicagoans in a context outside of our home and work and we talk about where I live I try to describe our neighborhood with its positives. I often get a look of amazement, “Where is this neighborhood? I’ve never heard of it!” When I describe the location or give the name I see the recognition come across their face. “Oh, I would never go to that neighborhood. I can’t believe you live there.” Is often the response I get. Or, once, “Isn’t that neighborhood really shady?”
So this is my struggle. How do I share both sides with you, without allowing the negatives to cast such large shadows over the positives but also realistically show the challenges the neighborhood faces? I’m not sure.
I also struggle with my perspective. I see and hear a lot. I’m allowed into very sacred spaces of people’s homes and lives. I also am white, I didn’t grow up here, and have access to many resources those around me do not. I try my hardest to understand and sit in a spot of humility and listening, realizing I’m an outsider.
I hope though as I write you give me grace. Grace as I find the words to explain things, grace as I share my perspective on topics. I do not think I’m better than those around me, that I have all sorts of answers and solutions, nor do I want to be toted as this person sacrificing so much by living here.
Right now my husband and I are in this neighborhood, we are here to love and work and learn and raise our family here. I am always learning though, always growing. I hope you will learn and grow along with me.