Looking beyond the headlines

I do not think it would be out of the ordinary for a person who has never been to the West Side of St. Paul to know the stereotype associated with the neighborhood.  It’s one of those places where you don’t go at night, or at least not to the highly ethnic areas.  I did a very informal survey amongst a lot of my friends from the suburbs as well as classmates from other courses, and the generalization was all the same.  The West Side is not safe.

This type of thinking is perpetuated by the media or even the by something as simple as Google.  I initially just searched “West Side of St. Paul news” hoping to stumble upon the community newspaper.  This map was the top result:

(Spot Crime)

This map looks scary.  The symbols of fists and intimidating men in black suits would be enough to shoo away anybody interested in the area that is not currently residing there.  The symbols on the map represent vandalism, burglary, assault, and theft.  While the nature of the crimes is not described, many of these may or may not be violent crimes in nature.  Typically, acts of vandalism do not inflict bodily harm.  However, the map would be enough to shoo away and scare anybody away from the area if they’re already feeling uncomfortable.

Other articles that are easily accessible in a simple search included one about gang warfare.   As I have expanded upon earlier in my history of the area (Trying to find the whole history), the West Side is a notorious settlement area for immigrant communities.   I think that headlines entitled “Police counter gang attacks on St. Paul’s West Side” may do nothing but reinforce many stereotypes about the area and about immigrants on the whole that they are more violent than other groups. The article states that “problems climaxed about 6 weeks ago when an 82-year old woman, a pillar of the community, was attacked, kicked, and robbed by several young men as she walked to visit her husband in a nursing home.” (Startribune)  This again is sending non-community members another message.  If the residents aren’t even safe, much less a “pillar of the community”, then nobody is safe.

Other articles continue on this track with headlines.  “In St. Paul, West Side fight, shooting results in six arrests”, a woman’s story regarding an event she witnessed was told as such: “It took 10 minutes to go from fists to shots, and it was happening in her St. Paul neighborhood: 15 to 20 people in the street, two of them fist fighting Wednesday night.”  (Pioneer Press)

Both of these headlines come from major Twin Cities’ publications (The Startribune and Pioneer Press, from Minneapolis and St. Paul respectively, but again, the same story is being painted for all the readers about the West Side and the people who live there.

This is the type of information I had going into the neighborhood visits too.  I actually lived in West Saint Paul for a year, and even I was guilty about making generalizations about the neighborhood down the hill from Robert Street.  I was not innately scared, but I had been criticized before for even living that close to what people I knew pejoratively nicknamed the “Mexican Ghetto.”

I believe a part of why the neighborhood has been so stigmatized is because the good information is only there if you search for it.  I hadn’t heard anything positive about the area until our visit to the Wellstone Center which currently houses the longtime-running Neighborhood House.  The Center is full of employees, services, and a history that tells a different story.

Arguably, the Neighborhood House is one of the defining characters of St. Paul’s West Side.   It declares this in the section regarding their history:

“Over 110 years later, Neighborhood House is a vibrant, thriving organization serving immigrants, refugees and low-income populations in need of a helping hand. Multi-lingual and multi-cultural, the organization serves people from around the world who relocate to Minnesota seeking a better life for themselves and their families.” (Neighborhood House)

While the Neighborhood House is not the only representation of positivity in the community, it is one of the strongest presences available.  I will shamefully admit that I made the overgeneralization while speaking to a front desk employee about the area being a highly concentrated Chicano population, and he shot me a little smirk.  This smirk instantly told me that I was off on my assessment and was spreading the stereotype of the area because the area has evolved a lot in the last few decades.  He corrected me and let me know that only about 30% or so of the area was actually of Mexican descent which was much lower than I had previously thought.

While even I was guilty of thrusting certain image on the neighborhood, the area does it’s best to combat this type of thinking.   La Voz Latina, printed in Spanish, displays what types of issues are central to the neighborhood from their perspective.  Headlines like, “Educacion: la puerta al futuro” (Education: the door/gateway to the future) It showcases the values of the community, and the importance of obtaining an education in the West Side of St. Paul.

(La Voz Latina)

West Side Community Health Services is another very present organization that provides for the community.  Their vision includes, “We envision a community in which all people have access to exceptional, comprehensive health care and are living healthy lives.” (West Side Community Health Services)

What many would take as a given in some neighborhoods are the central focus here.  The West Side strives towards creating a healthy and educated population.  There is no mention of crime from any of the articles that I could see were written by community members.  All of those stereotypes and generalizations about the area seem to be rooting from the outside.  There is some crime inside the neighborhood, as with most urban neighborhoods, but that should not be the focal point.

“In St. Paul, West Side fight, shooting results in six arrests” Pioneer Press. Web. May 31 2012. www.twincities.com/localnews/ci_20027082

“La Voz Latina” St. Paul Publishing Company. Web. May 31 2012. www.stpaulpublishing.com/lavozlatina.html

“Neighborhood House” Neighborhood House. Web. May 31 2012. www.neighb.org/aboutus.aspx

“Police counter gang attacks on St. Paul’s West Side” Startribune. Web. May 31 2012. www.startribune.com/local/stpaul/130395548.html

“West Side Community Health Services” West Side Community Health Services. Web. May 31 2012. www.westsidehs.org/about.php

“West Side, St. Paul, MN Neighborhood Crime Map” Spotcrime.  Web. May 31 2012.       www.spotcrime.com/mn/st.+paul/west+side

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2 responses to “Looking beyond the headlines

  1. Pingback: Originally, I w… | The TC Neighborhood Project

  2. Pingback: Fighting Isolation with Art: The West Side’s Power Dynamics | The TC Neighborhood Project

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