Power and The West Side Reality

      After looking into the historical background and contemporary context of West Side St.Paul, I have been able to gain a wealth of knowledge about the neighborhood. In addition to that information, the interviews my group was able to conduct with local West Sider’s allowed us to get a better idea of the role identity plays in their neighborhood culture and more importantly, how it affects the power dynamic in West Side.

      There are a number of power relationships which affect the neighborhood. Specifically, I think that race and ethnic background are the most influential. As we discussed previously, West Side has a prominent Mexican community, which is represented in District del Sol through the bright landscape and buildings, along with the murals and Spanish-speaking stores. Due to the physical representation of their culture, outsiders many times assume that the neighborhood only consists of Mexicans.

      Unfortunately this could not be farther from the truth. In actuality, the Mexican community accounted for only 33% of the population in the 2000 census.  This misconception has lead to the Mexican community having more power in relation to the other ethnic groups in the area.       

      While there are small power differences within the neighborhood, there is a huge difference when you take the Twin Cities into consideration. Like I discusses in my contemporary context report, West Side has gotten a really bad reputation in the media and has consequently been placed near the bottom of the power distribution.

      One example of this difference in power can be seen in our interview of Rosa, the young West Side local, who talked about how she used to be proud of her neighborhood, “but now that I am working outside West Side and meeting new people, it is hard to be proud. Many times people refer to West Side as the ghetto, where there is a lot of violence and only poor people live. It sometimes makes me not want to tell people where I am from.”

       It is clear that her feelings are similar to many of the other residents of West Side. The presence of negative stories regarding West Side in the media is overwhelming and has caused many residents of the Twin Cities to disregard the neighborhood as just a “ghetto” and not really a place worthy of attention or consideration. Even those who have chosen to pay attention to the area usually observe the diversity and the large amount of immigrants living there, leading them form an impression that the area is like a temporary living space for the poor and therefore not worth paying attention to. The media assigns such little power to West Side, making it appear like a ghetto, which is unfortunate because it has the potential to sprout into a growing and prosperous area.

       This point also touches on the discussion of how culture is tied to power and the context in which the neighborhood is put into. Specifically for West Side, these three concepts are very connected. The neighborhoods’ context within the Twin Cities is the reason it has so little power. That lack of power has lead to the creation and solidification of a powerless culture, which spreads the type of shame and disheartening feelings that Rosa spoke about.

        While this relationship is negative when looked at in comparison to the Twin Cities, I think the relationship between power and culture has been positive within the community. Institutions like the Wellstone Center have helped the residents to become more confident and assimilate into the neighborhood. Within each cultural and ethnic group in West Side, there is a strong sense of identity which corresponds to their personal power. The first interview my group had with Kelly, a worker at the Wellstone Center offered a lot of insight into this, sharing that the residents of this area were very open to sharing their cultures and learning about those around them. She talked about how in their English classes:

“they’re all intermingled and they try to get them to know each other’s cultures well. So they’ll have cooking classes during English class and one week they’ll make Somali food, the next week they’ll make Hmong food, the next week they’ll make Karen food, the next week they’ll make… whatever! And so they each get a taste of each other’s culture.”

 The sharing she described is a great example of how the ethnic groups in West Side take pride in who they are and where they are from.

      This neighborhood celebrates their individuality, allows them to share that uniqueness and empowering each group to celebrate their ethnicities. This sense of acceptance and empowerment among the residents stems back many years to the old West Side. This neighborhood has always been extremely diverse and welcoming to the new immigrants and particularly those who didn’t have much of their own.

       It has been a place of growth, expansion and empowerment. Even though the media can’t see it that way, the locals will always be able to see the power that they have. I believe this is one of the main reasons that so many people still choose to settle here. Although it isn’t the most glamorous or well known areas in the Twin Cities, it is accepting and offers everyone who lives here the chance to feel that individual power and embrace the opportunities available in this West Side neighborhood.

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