Author Archives: angmix

The issues from without: the West Side’s image

As an Urban Studies major, I feel as though I have done a decent amount of research of many of the neighborhoods throughout the Twin Cities.  However, I was not as familiar with the West Side of St. Paul as I thought because the images I had of the area are the ones I’m going to preach against today. 

If there has been a driving thesis for the work that my group and I have constructed it is that the West Side of St. Paul is an enlightened neighborhood that understands its cultural significance, and it does not live up to the bad reputation that was thrust upon them. 

The historical background and the fact that it has been an immigrant enclave since it was incorporated by Ramsey Country created this bad reputation.  The tension between immigrant communities and many multi-generational “American” citizens has created a communication problem for many neighborhoods across the country.   The West Side is not an exception to this rhetoric.  An article that we read in class explained how immigrants in the current context are framed as pollutants,

“Images of large, unorganized groups of immigrants mirror the images of stationary pollution from the coverage of Love Canal in their visual framing and content. These visual constructions create an impression of immigrants as both stationary and mobile pollution.”  (Cisneros, 579)

I believe that this metaphor was reigning true for the West Side even before the immigrant “issue” was covered in the mainstream media.  The types of language used framing immigrants as pollutants could explain some of the historical intercultural communication issues that the West Side and the rest of the city has had for going on a century and a half.   Right from the beginning, this neighborhood was deemed as a place for “second class citizens” because it was housing large immigrant populations that could be viewed as “pollutants” to the rest of St. Paul.  They were given the area of the West Side to contain the “pollution” into the rest of the city of St. Paul and hoped to keep them as stationary as possible.

If this harmful imagery had been stopped years before, I believe that the West Side would be more accepted by other neighboring areas.  Unfortunately, many people see immigrants as less intelligent, worthy, or civilized than somebody born within the country. Even today, some of the residents feel the stigma associated with having an immigrant status.  As one of our interviewees, Kelly, explains:

“Most of the people that come here from other countries…they may not speak English but they probably speak five other languages and a lot of them were PhDs or…I mean, have Master’s in their own country and are very high up but then when they come here the degree doesn’t translate because the schooling is different. And so, they essentially have to start all over. Plus they don’t know the language. So a lot of people are like, “You’re stupid because you don’t know English,” when really, just because they don’t know English doesn’t mean that they’re stupid. But people don’t see beyond that. And we’re here to get the basic needs met and to give them a hand to have a better life.”

Kelly’s point about creating resources for the community brings me to another topic regarding this neighborhood which is a pillar.  There is a deep investment from within to make this a highly livable, safe, and respected community.  That almost sounds like a slogan for the Urban Renewal projects that tore up thousands of small communities within the United States in the 1960’s and 1970’s, but this far from that. 

The resources that are readily available to the citizens show a genuine investment in the well-being of the people and the hopes for keeping the authenticity of the neighborhood honest.  Although many of them cannot overcome the historical disinvestment that St. Paul has displayed towards the West Side, it is a huge leap in disabling some of those obstacles.  Such resources include the historic Neighborhood House, (which is where Kelly works), The West Side Community Organization, and the West Side Community Health Services.  

One of those very visible groups, The West Side Community Organization, states this is their mission:

“The West Side Community Organization (WSCO) is an action oriented, neighborhood-based organization empowering our residents to participate in and advocate for solutions to West Side community issues. Growing out of a movement in 1973 to save Humboldt High School, WSCO remains committed to its activist roots, using organizing and community economic development principles as a foundation for all of its work. The organization works to increase the civic participation of residents by initiating organizing campaigns, providing leadership development opportunities for youth and adults and by educating and building the power base of residents to tackle civic issue.”

I believe that the WSCO is trying to craft an empowered community to overcome the way the neighborhood is viewed from the outside world.   There is not enough intercultural communication occurring between the inside and outside worlds of the West Side yet, but I think creating a healthy self-image for the people that live there is one of the first steps towards opening this conversation up. 

Unfortunately, even with inspired organizations doing their best effort towards creating an engaged community, there is still a sense of shame for some based on the reputation of the area.  Rosa, another one of our interviewees, explains:

“When I was younger, I usually stayed in West Side and everyone I knew lived here so I never felt any shame. 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. I am afraid they will judge me as something I am not.”

Rosa’s insights prove that there are some identity issues between the avowed and ascribed roles.  The community sees itself as a vibrant, healthy, engaged area while the rest of the city has turned a cold shoulder to them and has written them off as “dangerous.”  This is a perspective that St. Paul, Minneapolis, and the surrounding suburbs perpetuate in their media coverage throughout.  Headlines such as “Uptick in Crime Brings St. Paul Police to City’s West Side” (KSTP) are part of the reason that many people view Rosa’s neighborhood as the “ghetto.” 

I found it interesting that the only time I was able to find positive headlines was when I really searched for them.  They were not readily available to me as I was researching.  If I had to dig for the positive articles, then how would anybody that wasn’t digging below the surface ever find out the good side?  It seems as though the identity issue is not an “issue” from the inside.  But rather, it is an issue that outsiders have with those from the community.  

The West Side has a lot of cityscape that makes it different.  It screams that it has an ethnic and cultural identity that it is proud of having and will not be silenced into forgetting where many of their families had come from.

I believe that this pride, although not intentionally, has created some obstacles towards intercultural communication.  I’ve stumbled upon this idea of using the art and cityscape as a form of protest.  This idea revolves around using creative work that shows a pride in one’s culture to show their oppressors that they cannot be silenced into submission.  I think this idea makes some people uncomfortable because it forces them to stop and analyze as to who the community members from the West Side protesting against.

 When people from other neighborhoods, cultural backgrounds, or ethnic identities look at this question, they may not like the answer.  Because of this, I think the conversation between the greater Twin Cities and the West Side may stay closed for quite some time.   These are the critical conversations that must occur if the ascribed and avowed roles are ever going to be remedied.   

With this, I urge anyone who has not gone to the West Side to do so.  The streets are beautiful, the people are welcoming, and the investment in community is evident.  The historical context has led to this terrible reputation that the West Side has not been able to shake.  I believe that if more people were willing to open their minds and cross into another culture, then maybe they’ll be able to exist without the negative image and the burden of having to prove themselves as a livable community.  It already is, and hopefully more people will see that in the future. 

Cisneros, David. “Contaminated Communities: The Metaphor of “Immigrants as Pollutants” in Media Representations of Immigrations.”  Rhetoric and Public Affairs.

Unknown, Rosa.  (5 June 2012). Personal Interview

Unknown, Kelly.  (25 May 2012). Personal Interview

“Uptick in Crime Brings St. Paul Police to City’s West Side.” KSTP.  Web 10 June 2012. http://kstp.com/news/stories/s2307030.shtml

“West Side Community Organization.” WSCO. Web 10 June 2012. http://wsco.org/?page_id=233

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Fighting Isolation with Art: The West Side’s Power Dynamics

There is something to be said about the physical geography of the West Side, and how that relates to power.

Geographer Tony Cassidy explains, “Geography is important, because it opens our eyes; a landscape is no longer a static feature, but a complex battleground of physical and human interactions.” (Stanwell)

To me, this quote explains how the West Side’s history and geography are constantly evolving, but the power struggle remains constant.  There is a distinct isolation in landscape between the West Side and the rest of St. Paul.  A river quite literally divides the two of them, and leaves an impression on travelers.  The West Side is technically within the borders of St. Paul, but it does not belong.   It is stuck in this quasi-limbo area between Dakota County and Ramsey County.  If you drive up the hill, you’d enter the city of West St. Paul.  If you drive over a bridge, you’d enter the business district of St. Paul.   There is no other area surrounding it on the neither same physical level nor socioeconomic background for it to grow into.

Much of this isolation stems from the way in which St. Paul originally acquired the West Side.  Since it did not belong to Ramsey County until it was annexed in 1878  from the Dakota people (Historic St. Paul), the isolation may have been purposeful.

The proximity to the river and the amount of industrial jobs made this area a hotspot for an immigrant community.  I believe that the annexation of the West Side was purposeful to increase the tax base, but to keep the immigrants secluded.  The West Side has nearly been pigeon-holed into being a spot for immigrants for the entire time it has been part of Ramsey County.  In my opinion, this was incredibly intentional.  The power struggle with the geography is to keep those who may not be “desirable” out of sight and out of mind.

I do want to mention that there is a strange exception to this view of the West Side.  Harriet Island is within the borders of this neighborhood, but it somehow does not fit in with the rest of the neighborhood.  It has a reputation for being a nice, riverside, urban park that draws that is very attractive to many.  It does not carry the stigma of being just for immigrants as District Del Sol does.  The fact that is can speak for itself as a reputable park without being bogged down by this unfair fear of immigrants is a form of power in itself.  It does not have the same burden to prove itself as a nice area like the rest of the West Side.

Although I’ve been talking a lot of the power struggles within this neighborhood, I do want to talk about the power triumphs as well.  The West Side historically has not been portrayed in the media in a positive light as I’ve described in my contemporary context blog (Looking Beyond the Headlines ). Even with these harsh viewpoints being blasted through the media, I feel the cityscape is a protest to this portrayal.

If you were to travel to the West Side, you would find one of the largest displays of public art in the Twin Cities. (The Line)  The public art includes huge, vibrant murals to wooden statues/sculptures that narrate a sense of power in the local community and the pride in one’s ethnicity.

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The above picture was taken by me on one of my neighborhood visits.

Engraved into this sculpture are phrases like “viva la causa” (live for the cause) and “si se puede” (yes we can.)  Both of these phrases reference the following:

“Viva La Causa focuses on one of the seminal events in the march for human rights – the grape strike and boycott led by César Chávez and Dolores Huerta in the 1960s. Viva la Causa will show how thousands of people from across the nation joined in a struggle for justice for the most exploited people in our country – the workers who put food on our tables.” (Teaching Tolerance)

This type of art to me is a form of protest.  When there is an oppressor, the best way to protest that mistreatment is through pride in one’s culture.  The xenophobic behaviors would never be more agitated than when the culture they fear is positively portrayed, and it is vastly more effective than a violent method.

There are other pieces of art throughout the community as well that do not necessarily revolve around this movement, but they too are a sign of power to me.  They show a historical and ethnically driven pride in the community even after the cityscape was wiped clean in the 1960’s with the Urban Renewal Projects.  The gentrification of the neighborhood was not as successful as many of the other neighborhoods in the city because the community did not cooperate.  They rebuilt the area to fit their cultural context, and it restored a lot of the character and power back to the people.

Historic Saint Paul.” Tour Saint Paul: West Side. 01 June 2006. Web 5 June 2012. http://www.historicsaintpaul.org/newsroom/publications/west_side

“Viva La Causa” Teaching Tolerance.  Web 5 June 2012. www.tolerance.org/viva

“West Side” The Line. Web 5 June 2012. www.thelinemedia.com/cities/westside/default.aspx

“Why Geography?” Stanwell. Web 5 2012. http://www.stanwell.org/geography/what-is-geography/

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Body and Heart: The West Side’s Struggle

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.

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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

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by | June 4, 2012 · 10:54 pm

A new kind of dialogue regarding issues of race

I used to consider myself as raceless.  Not in the sense that I have no ethnic lineage-I know my family came from Germany- but rather in the terms that my race was not an identifier of me. I did not grow up celebrating any of my ancestry, but I obviously always knew I was white physically.  I didn’t understand the social meaning of that though, or why I felt that way.

In Beverly Daniel Tatum’s book, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” she discusses how some Whites have experienced similar thinking as I once did.  She states:

“There is a lot of silence about race in White communities, and as a consequence Whites tend to think of racial identity as something that other people have, not something that is salient for them.”

This exact quote pinpoints why I’ve never considered my race.  Part of not considering my own race has obviously made talking about race, other than in an academic setting, a very uncomfortable experience for me.  I almost don’t feel entitled to discuss it because I feel like an intruder; it was like the idea of race isn’t for Whites because we have historically oppressed other races.  I did not want my ascribed role to conflict with my avowed roles.  In my head, I am somebody that would strive for equality.  If I speak about it, I feel like I would be described as a yuppie or an undercover racist.

I never once had to think about how I fit into the world either.  Tatum again states that Black adolescents ask themselves questions such as: “What does it mean to be a young Black person? How should I act?  What should I do?” (Tatum, page 60)  I believe the understanding I had as a White was that I would not be criticized for my behaviors based on race, so I did not have to define what it meant for me to be White.  If it was not the focus of the outside world, I did not have to internalize it either much of the time.

In the community in which I grew up, race was the big elephant in the room.  We all knew it wouldn’t be polite to speak about race.  It was one of those hugely tabooed subjects.  But coming from a town that was almost an exclusively White town, it was like a covert mission to keep the prejudice behavior hidden behind closed doors.  I would hear murmurs and rumors whenever somebody who looked different entered the community; I didn’t hear anybody directly speaking about race with the new person in a respectful way though.  Not even our educators could bring it up as a healthy conversation.

My background of coming from a town that never spoke about race makes me realize that it is a conversation I wish I could have had in high school.  I do not know how many of my classmates made it out of that environment without extreme prejudices, and I feel lucky that college has allowed me to discuss it.  I believe that the discussion of race should go beyond the walls of the college classrooms.

Most importantly, I believe children need to feel comfortable talking about it.  Rather than hushing them when they ask questions, there should be an open dialogue about the issues.

As a nation in general, I agree with Mychal Denzel Smith’s article, “Why Conversations of Race Usually Fail” which criticizes the way America talks about race.  He explains that this conversation is not one that should be opened and closed whenever an issue of race pops up in the media, but rather, should be a continual topic discussed, especially among the youth, until something changes.

He states, “Instead, the killing of Trayvon Martin has become another opportunity for some to deny the existence of racism and distort the history of race.  And once again, we have a national conversation on race in which everyone talks past one another and nothing gets resolved.

I wish I could say that racism is something that I see going away in my lifetime, but I feel slightly pessimistic about it even looking at my history.  Speaking about race is not something that should make me uncomfortable.  With these articles, I am learning that it need not be.  I can’t change that I used to feel awkward about it, but I can vow towards creating a more open environment for my children one day.

Tatum, Beverly Daniel.  Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?  New York: Basic    Books, 1997

Mychal Denzel Smith. (2012). http://www.theroot.com. “Why Conversations on Race Usually Fail”. Retrieved May 31 2012, from http://www.theroot.com/print/61728.

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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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Trying to find the whole history

Can you honestly remember when history stopped being about just what you were taught in school as a child?   I learned at an older-than-I’d-care to admit age that most of what I learned in school was just part of what occurred.  What had been taught to me was through one specific lens; it was not a collective narrative.

 It was especially unheard of to speak from the voice of the oppressed or discriminated upon.  The somewhat simple path of discovering that history was just a break of “his story” is clichéd at the very least, but I believe it is critical for future generation to learn think critically about history at a younger age than some of us did before harsh biases settle in for good.

In chapter four of our text book, the author describes a phenomenon that I had never pondered before: absent history.  I’m sure many of you have heard the stories surrounding Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even the Fourth of July. When hearing about those histories, it was often a common experience that you would only heard about the victories and feats from the mainstream cultures while there is no mention as to what the other side of the story may look like.  What I never heard about was the absent history.

  “Absent history, of course, does not mean the people did not exist, their experiences do not matter, or their history has no bearing on us today.  To consider such absent histories requires that we think in more complex ways about the past and the ways it influences the present and the future.” (Martin and Nakayama, 124)

I, of course, bring up the issue of absent history because I believe it is still a present day issue.  The film, Precious Knowledge, displays a modern day attempt to make a certain aspect of history go absent

In Tucson, Arizona, there was an Ethnic Studies department created to help bridge the gap between Mexican-American students and the alienation they felt from their school.  These classes helped engage many students of Mexican heritage by connecting them with information that was relevant to their lives and identities.  They learned about Mexican accomplishments in history, literature, art, music, and just about every other subject.

Many of these students have never seen somebody that they could identify with being portrayed in a positive light.  It empowered the students and made them enthusiastic about learning. 

Then, somebody who did not understand that there can be a positive portrayal of more than one culture let fear take over and proposed to erase the program.  The argument behind eliminating the Ethnic Studies department steamed from the fear of creating indoctrinated children with anti-American sentiments.  They believed the program was creating racist thoughts towards “white” culture, and I believe they feared a rebellion.  While the proof behind the benefits of the programs was heavily supported through student testimonies, test scores, and graduation rates, there was a fear surrounding exposing Mexican-Americans to histories other than that of the Founding Fathers.

However, this brings up questions again about what is “true” history.  Why would it not be considered acceptable to teach children from the southwest corners of the country about Mexican-American history?  After all, this area has historically seen a large population of Mexicans settling here.  Is the idea of expanding “American” history to include Mexican-American, African-American, Native-American, Asian-American, and many other groups that identify both culturally and geographically within America, that terrifying?   I think this idea of creating a history that only revolves around the east and the ideas in which the Forefathers believed in is a dangerous path to continue down.  It creates an alienated population by allowing their history to remain absent. 

“Recognizing a person’s history and its links to his or her identity in communication is a first step in establishing intercultural relationships.  It is also important to be aware of your own historical blinders and assumptions.” (Martin and Nakayama, 152) 

This quote was especially intriguing to me.  I can’t recall if I’ve exposed this fact about myself yet, but I am like many of my classmates in the fact that my hometown is not exactly what you could call diverse.  With that in place, I came to college with no idea about what other people went through and how their cultural experiences shaped much of their identity.   Had I been more exposed to the fact that not everybody has the same back story, the transition may not have been so shocking when my classmates questioned the history I had been taught since elementary school.

The current climate towards creating a larger narrative for history is one that I find encouraging.   I am not alone in hoping that more and more people will question and teach their children to question the history they are taught.  While the history most of us learned through the “white lens” may have some validity behind it, it is important to question the absent history as well as other biases.  

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Getting to Know the West Side of St. Paul

The West Side of St. Paul is a community that is always ever-changing.  From the geographic borders to the cultures within, the evolution of the neighborhood is one that is evident. Although it lies south of downtown St. Paul, it actually is called West Side of St. Paul since it lies on the west bank of the Mississippi River.  This area has always been an attractive place for many immigrant groups to settle due largely to the proximity to the river.  (Historic St. Paul)  Known for areas like Harriet Island, District del Sol, and Cesar Chaves Blvd, this vibrant community of today looks much different than it did a century and a half ago.

Many people would not immediately think of the Dakota people being the first inhabitants of the West Side of Saint Paul, but until a treaty was signed in 1851, all of the land west of the Mississippi belonged to them.  (Historic St. Paul)  St. Paul worked to annex the West Side for nearly two decades when it was finally successful in 1878 making it officially apart of Ramsey County and no longer part of Dakota County. (RCHS)  The area was already being settled by French-Canadians, Irish, and German immigrants when it began to attract industrious interests due to the limestone river bluffs. (RCHS)

This attraction was mainly through 2 brewing companies: The Yoerg Brewing Company and Bruggeman’s Brewery. (RCHS) Followed by them were other companies with manufacturing plants and quarries.  With the creation of jobs came the working class.  During 1880’s-1890’s, the West Side of St. Paul saw a large influx of Eastern European and Russian Jews fleeing from persecution from their native lands. The Neighborhood House was a settlement house that provided basic needs for a largely immigrant population such as English courses, cooking classes, or even food at the simplest level.  These types of services could arguably be one of the reasons immigrant communities have chosen to relocate to the West Side of St. Paul.  By the 1920’s, many of them had moved out towards other neighborhoods throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul.  (RCHS)

With the space opening, came a new wave of immigrants from Mexico.   For the last decade, this has been a significant cultural group living in the West Side of St. Paul attributing to more than 33% of the current population.  (Community Data Works)

By the mid 1980’s, the area known as District Del Sol became prominent in the business corridor of the West Side. Celebrating Latino heritage is just a part of their goals; they also aim to make it an urban commercial district that is full of vibrancy along with supporting a safe environment for all.  (District Del Sol)   These goals also extend out to the Stryker George area, Westside Flats, and Smith Avenue; all within the West Side.

The Latino presence in the West Side is very strong along much of the businesses corridors now, but there is not as much evidence of previous populations due to the Urban Renewal initiatives of the 1960’s.  The flats that used to stand there are now where this business region calls home.  (Historic St. Paul)  Evidence of the past mostly lies in the luxurious homes on the bluffs known as Prospect Park.  In an interview that we conducted earlier today, we learned that the landscape will probably adjust again in the future towards serving more than just a Latino community.

For those who have never been to the West Side, I would highly recommend it.  The view of the Mississippi along with the downtown St. Paul skyline from Harriet Island is truly stunning.  The area has a complex history full of socio-economic issues, large waves of immigration from many different cultures, and impressive social services.  It truly has been a haven for many groups of people and will likely remain that way due to its impressive history and notoriety among many communities.

“District Del Sol” District Del Sol. Web. 25 May 2012.http://www.districtdelsol.com/

 

“Historic Saint Paul.” Tour Saint Paul: West Side. 01 June 2006. Web. 25 May 2012. http://www.historicsaintpaul.org/newsroom/publications/west_side

 

“Wilder Research Census Information West Side, St. Paul” –Community Data Works. Web. 25 May 2012. http://www.communitydataworks.org/StPaul/data/stpaul/nhood/dist3/profile.pdf

 

“RCHS.” Profile of Saint Paul’s Historic West Side Neighborhood. Ramsey County Historical Society. Web. 25 May 2012.http://www.rchs.com/neighborhoods/westside.htm .

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