Power & culture: Two identities tightly tied to such a degree that my previous post on identity proves to be a near-perfect parallel to power relationships involving the West Side of St. Paul. To be true, historical, economic, and geographic aspects act as ongoing constraints keeping this neighborhood from having a fully-realized influence. However, these barriers are born from an undeniable diversity of cultures at the core of this district’s contested power dynamics.
A downtrodden history paved the way for the present power problems pertaining to the West Side. The geographic separation from the greater city of St. Paul marks the origins of still-seen societal oppression, and past widespread poverty among the area’s residents continues to affect outside perspectives. Prevalent populations of various immigrant groups only add to the perceptions of the West Side as being an “other,” some foreign land to fear and avoid.
Separated by more than a river
Modern media representations of the region seek to strip its citizens of personal power. As I state in my struggle to search for even a singular news story painting the West Side in a positive light, it is almost impossible to discover anything but derogatory details dealing with the neighborhood from every major network. When crime is all they see, it’s easy for outsiders to extrapolate these isolated and incidental behaviors to the entire population. Rosa, a young West Side lifer with invaluable insight into this issue, reflects in her own words:
“The news only talks about the negative stories, the violence and the poverty. No one hears about the Cinco de Mayo celebration or the welcoming residents that live here…[N]ow 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. I am afraid they will judge me as something I am not.”
As a direct consequence to these unfortunate feelings of punctured pride for one’s own community, motivations to take action in support of the area are minimized. More so, migrant groups are often at odds with the English language. Described to deeper depths in my identity piece, a local employee explains common Minnesotans can be quick to judge individuals with poor speaking skills. With unfavorable presumptions already in place and an inability to communicate a rallying cry against injustice, West Side residents could be a people without any power at all.
Could be, if not for the incredible institutions and progressive politicians dedicated to fighting for the subtly persecuted West Side.
With a significant Spanish-speaking minority, the West Side is well-represented by two Latino men in positions of power (as outlined by the Twin Cities Daily Planet). Filling a seat on Minnesota’s House of Representatives for more than 20 years, Carlos Mariani is mindful of protecting underprivileged minority populations statewide. What’s more, his presidential status within the Education Committee further focuses his extraordinary efforts on enhancing educational programs. Similar to Mr. Mariani, Rafael Ortega is also of Latino descent and acts as the 5th district Commissioner for Ramsey County, an area inclusive of the West Side. Cited by the Daily Planet as being, “one of the most power(ful) political positions in the state,” Commissioner Ortega is able to appropriate considerable funding as he sees fit. As the very first minority on Minnesota’s County Board, Ortega surely ensures his West Side constituents receive the appropriate attention.
Ignoring misunderstandings from the Twin Cities at large, the West Side’s internal power is in line with my last analysis on cultural identity. Disheartening depictions do not exist within the tight internal neighborhood community. Cultural exhibitions are embedded into the very environment, providing a sense of place and repairing pride lost to less-than-positive opinions from the outside. A conversation with a West Side worker at Neighborhood House examined the importance of the institution as a beacon, with the power to attract ambitious immigrants and build broken self-esteem by boosting essential understandings of the English language. The previously mentioned Community Plan and organizations like the Riverview Economic Development Association do wonders for the West Side, empowering residents with a variety of assistance and encouraging individual actions for change.
Capitol protest against immigration injustice
Drastic differences between internal and external positions and perceptions of power mimic the West Side’s identity to a “T.” Like culture, these relationships are actively affected by media representations, yet are additionally offset by a strong sense of inner community. In the end, power depends on and speaks to the societal structure of the Twin Cities, and (I imagine) much of the United States. We need to approach oppression with an open mind. We need to experience an environment for ourselves before blanketing a stereotype to everyone within its boundaries. We need more transparency, more truth, and more tolerance.
We need intercultural communication.
McDonough, S. (2010, April 21). Latino leaders: A new political force in Minnesota. Retrieved from http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/news/2010/04/20/latino-leaders-new-political-force-minnesota
Riverview Economic Development Association. (2012). About reda. Retrieved from http://www.districtdelsol.com/about/about-reda.html