Originally, I was convinced that the West Side of St. Paul was suffering from an identity crisis of sorts. From this, I mean that the way an outsider would view the West Side is much different than how the residents and employees view this area. I feel as though the body of the West Side, visible for all those to see, does not match up with the heart.
In my research of the area, I learned that the media does not portray the neighborhood in a constructive light. There are headlines after headlines listed in (contemporary context) that display this negative effect. I found that the only way I was able to get a positive vibe from the area was to either walk through it directly and see that it does not fit the stereotype of being controlled by gang violence, and that it actually is a vibrant neighborhood. It just serves a certain community that has been historically discriminated against: immigrants. For me, this idea that it is only for immigrants, largely of Mexican descent, is the superficial body. Quotes such as the following show what kind of statistics is supporting this idea:
“Our participants are immigrants, refugees, and long-time residents facing challenging situations. Of the approximately 14,000 people we serve each year, more than 90% live at or below the poverty level, over 90% are minority, and roughly 75% speak a native language other than English at home. (Neighborhood House)
The history of the area ultimately leads to the main identifier for most people since it is widely known for having a large Latino population. It does have a hugely diverse community, and it does serve a large amount of immigrants from other countries.
The landscape shows an intense Latino (especially Chicano presence) pride, but it neglects to tell the complete story. In one of our interviews by Kelly, a worker at the Wellstone Community Center, says the following:
“And so I think people obviously like to be accepted, and that we have many cultures here. And the most recent ethnicity to come is the Karen. They’re of Asian descent but they’re their own ethnicity.”
The current landscape does not yet display that a new group of immigrants are starting to call the West Side of St. Paul “home.” It also does not reflect who it used to serve before a largely Chicano population moved in to the neighborhood in the later part of the 20th century.
This neighborhood originally served as an enclave for Eastern European immigrants, but that is not a widely known history. There is no evidence for that based on how the scenery looks today. With the erasing of some parts of the history, I believe that it loses some of the character that would separate it from the reputation of only serving Latino descendants.
However, since that history is gone, a contemporary one has replaced it. A new identity has emerged on the landscape through the use of murals and the prevalence of Spanish. This identity that I speak of is not the same one that I spoke of earlier from the perspective of outsiders. This identity that I am talking about is one that shows a pride in the Chicano population especially during the 1970’s and 1980’s.
This above mural (photo taken by me) is just one that you will find throughout the highly publicized District Del Sol. The purpose of the murals like the above has been stated as:
”REDA (Riverview Economic Development Agency) has led efforts in partnership with other West Side community groups to celebrate the West Side neighborhood through public art installation since the 1980’s. Recent successes include the installation of a wooden sculpture commemorating Cesar Chavez, creation of the Wabasha Retaining Wall, and a mural celebrating the Canto al Pueblo movement. Currently the program is exploring resources to salvage and reinvigorate existing public art installations throughout the West Side neighborhood’s commercial corridors.” (District Del Sol REDA)
There has been great strides made towards making this area not only more aesthetically pleasing with the art work, but there has also been a sense of pride placed in the community members. The geography alone isolates the area from the rest of St. Paul, but the murals defeats any sense of placelessness it could have encountered from this separation.
I would argue that the sense of community established within the neighborhood that is typically overlooked would be the heart of the West Side of St. Paul. Its identity goes beyond just the ethnicity of those with an address on the West Side. This is what I consider the heart of the area; the pride in the community. This is what I consider its true identity known only to those who have taken the time to appreciate the West Side. The identity crisis I had once perceived is not truly there for anybody except to outsiders.
“District Del Sol” District Del Sol. Web. 4 June 2012. http://www.districtdelsol.com/REDA
“Neighborhood House” Neighborhood House. Web. 4 June 2012. www.neighb.org
Unknown, Kelly. (25 May 2012). Personal Interview