Category Archives: Background Report #2 — Contemporary Contexts

Becoming a Minority: Getting to Know the Real West Side

I have already characterized my identity as a Christian white American man living in Minnesota, but last Friday I became a minority. Tasked to explore St. Paul’s West Side neighborhood for a better understanding of the community, I arrived on location earlier than my partner and proceeded to take a quick cruise around the immediate environment. Though technically still in the same city as my current residence, it was as if I’d walked right into a different world altogether. Save for my classmate upon her eventual arrival, I never saw another white person strolling the streets.

This observed sense of diversity perfectly reflects the unique makeup of the West Side. As described in my related historical report, this area’s rich origins made the mixed cultural climate that exists today. And yet, I might have never known the true feeling of the neighborhood without Friday’s fateful visit. Despite a history of ethnic pride and relentless resilience to adversity, popular modern news publications often miss the seemingly-obvious components of the community.

Handle with care

A straight-forward search of “West Side St. Paul” through the city’s own Pioneer Press generates a series of severely negative outlooks. Grandiose stories of gunfights and gang violence rise to the top of the most “relevant” search results. Another article tells the tale of an emotionally broken small business owner and his legacy of food stamp fraud (a newsbreak that immediately identifies the individual as an Iraqi immigrant, as if that fact should hold any bearing on the criminal context at hand). Every story ignores the defined attributes that make this neighborhood the remarkable area that it is. Instead, news coverage depicts the district as anything but an attractive place to live.

Favorable content concerning the West Side does exist to some degree, though the brevity of these blurbs seems to be an almost active avoidance of portraying a neighborhood worth visiting. Unlike the down-and-dirty details narrating the negative news as if they came from an action-thriller novel, the Pioneer Press informs its readers about the Cinco de Mayo festival in a by-the-books (and admittedly boring) fashion. Disregarding the importance of this event to the area’s sizable Hispanic population, article author Frederick Melo begins with, “For Cinco de Mayo, it’s the same parade, different organizer.” Be sure to notify me if you see even the smallest strain of enthusiasm buried beneath that bland introduction.

Emotionally interested need not apply

If you’re wondering why my West Side research is so focused on the Pioneer Press, know that the larger Star Tribune commits an arguably graver crime by treating the neighborhood as if it didn’t exist outright. Nothing but the occasion obituary appears worthy of spreading to the greater Twin Cities area, and this apathetic attitude leaves any outsider with a perspective of ignorance or insignificance.

These unsavory illustrations stray far from the joyous energy and charm I perceived during my short spell walking the West Side. I was a minority, to be sure, although I never once detected any discomfort. On the contrary, my West Side experience is best relayed through the uplifting communications within local area news reports.

The St. Paul Voice is a prime example of a true representation of the West Side. June’s issue in particular shares only the utmost positivity with cover-to-cover coverage of all subject matter that actually affects the community. From upstanding religious leaders to upcoming local events, The Voice runs through issues that neighborhood residents genuinely care about. Absent are the isolated instances of the same crimes that crop up in any community across America, and the paper does away with “police report” journalism in favor of a focus on the local people.

A real face of the West Side

A community plan in progress from the West Side Community Organization emphasizes the ideals and desires of the neighborhood’s citizens. In full support of the topics touched on in the latest issue of The St. Paul Voice, the Community Vision created by some 120 West-Siders to direct the shape of the aforementioned plan brought about the same subjects of value. Gathering input from “a diverse sample of Westside communities, including homeowners and renters, members of ethnic and cultural communities, and established as well as recent arrivals to the neighborhood,” open conversations with the locals collected common themes like economic development and civic engagement as areas of personal importance. Not surprisingly, nearly every single sought-after section in the Community Vision suggesting characteristics of an ideal neighborhood is reflected in the current issue of The St. Paul Voice (and always with the air of cheery gusto, I might add).

Take a peek at the front page of your Sunday newspaper or start your day with a dose of televised local news, and what is it you see? Because of the twisted tastes of too many desensitized audiences, city-wide exposure is most likely limited to depressing statistics and criminal activities. As is evident with this neighborhood analysis, typical tellings of St. Paul’s West Side are no different. Now blessed with the truth, though, I challenge you to do more. Rejecting a reliance on eye-catching reporting, I challenge you to immerse yourself in another environment, if only for a few hours. Passing the people and seeing the sights, you’ll undoubtedly realize the talked-about terrors of foreign neighborhoods are completely nonexistent. I never would have known about the wonders of the West Side, but then I became a minority.

And never looked back.

References

Gottfried, M. H. (2012, March 16). St. Paul man charged in drive-by shooting. Pioneer Press. Retrieved from http://www.twincities.com/localnews/ci_20191014/st-paul-man-charged-drive-by-shooting

Gottfried, M. H., & Gervais, B. (2012, February 23). In St. Paul, West Side fight, shooting results in six arrests. Pioneer Press. Retrieved from http://www.twincities.com/localnews/ci_20027082

Hanners, D. (2012, May 8). St. Paul grocer’s food stamp fraud nets 3 years, 5 months; he must repay $2.4m. Pioneer Press. Retrieved from http://www.twincities.com/localnews/ci_20576921/st-paul-grocers-food-stamp-fraud-nets-3

Melo, F. (2012, May 2). St. Paul: Cinco de Mayo festival Saturday. Pioneer Press. Retrieved from http://www.twincities.com/stpaul/ci_20534873/st-paul-cinco-de-mayo-festival-saturday

The St. Paul Voice (2012, June). Retrieved from http://issuu.com/stpaulpublishing/docs/spv-june-2012

West Side Community Organization (2011, December 7). Community Plan. Retrieved from http://wsco.org/?page_id=343

West Side Community Organization (2011). Community Vision. Retrieved from http://wsco.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Boards_120111-1.pdf

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