Wednesday, June 28, 2006

On 'Blight' & Beauty

It wasn’t like summer after monsoon rain when the hundred year old cottonwoods sway in clean sky after months of still air.

It wasn’t like the etymology of “blight” which I can’t find. It wasn’t like the words spoken by college-bound, supposed “leaders’” were informed by the living history of our people, only some out-of-town perceptions that speak of this city lazily and thus people, abstractly, in clichés--"lazy" or "dirty" the young man cited. It isn't like the young leaders were truly concerned about poverty beyond 'let's get barrio residents into better housing, out of the neighborhood we want to demolish then develop for our playground and become known as a great city."

It isn’t like sharing half an enchilada plate would make others think we are struggling financially, but I felt like that today. It isn't quite like when I was a pre-teen and a new friend (gal from the new public middle school on the other side of town) and her mother drove me home once under my careful direction--the long way--to bypass any potential “ugliness” I thought I saw through their eyes. They lived in a small condo, and I lived in a house, but still I worried they never had reason to visit my neighborhood before and it was likely not up to their standards. I remember pointing to a big yellow house and saying, "Isn't that a pretty house?" and reality was they weren't that interested either way. I understand the complex reasons behind such inferiority complexes, but then again, when it’s time to grow up it’s time to grow up and look much more deeply at a community.

Those who cite shame for out-of-town perceptions about a barrio do not make a compelling argument in support of destroying a living neighborhood (especially since they do not live there). Cosmetics might fix some people’s self-esteem but not eradicate poverty or the people living in poverty once they are completely removed from a neighborhood. So this is about appearances not deep change or understanding. I wish some young leaders would own up to all the reasons surrounding their shame and stop blaming it on some vague out-of-town perceptions of a barrio or pretend they care about the root causes of poverty. And the seasoned puppet masters leading the young leaders encourage these lines of thinking if the end result is the same. Meanwhile, many barrio residents do not have air-conditioning because the city codes have not been adequately updated.

New shopping experiences = deep social change and progress?

It isn’t like breeding mosquitoes are on anyone's mind. It isn’t like the recent rain puddles lasted long enough for the spadefoot toads to dig up and start their bleating and breeding in the mud.

It’s not like many juvenile delinquents I've met fear the complexity of their heritage. In fact, just the opposite of many so-called "young, bright leaders.” I wish I had more time in class to share examples throughout history, how others embraced the pride in themselves and continued to resist assimilation, how this acknowledgement of anger with due cause and its positive transfer manifested itself in seeking justice for themselves and others in their communities rather than destroying themselves in self-destructive behaviors.

I'm finding it's often a class thing around here if youth identify as "Chicana/o" or "Hispanic."

I used to say "Mexican American" at their age.

I am trying to have more empathy for the college-bound "young bright leaders" because I can imagine their struggle is the result of poor education about their history. I can relate to that but not their lack of empathy. Some say that "yes, we will need to make sacrifices" to make this "revitalization" plan work but in reality I can't imagine they will have to make any if they live outside of the demolition zone.

Presently my empathy gravitates towards the young bright juvenile delinquents. "Bright" and "blight" in the eye of the beholder. Life experience a wisdom. How they use it, express it, or deal with it is another wisdom, destruction, or numbing.

It isn’t like the complacency many of us grew (and grow) up with is by design but rather funded by publicity campaigns to encourage consumerism designed to encourage complacency as it breeds complacency in decision-making. If the best of the best tell us it's good then by god let's buy it.

It’s more like the two year old child who squeals in delight after tearing open a Christmas present and immediately recognizes Sponge-Bob on his t-shirt and then has no reaction to the 2nd gift, a t-shirt with the picture of a realistic bear straight outta nature on it.

Maybe many of our elders thought if we provided the appearance of assimilation others would automatically treat us better. Some bought into assimilation as the cure-all for survival with minimal struggle and in the process rejected some basic beauties about themselves and their children. And I can't blame those elders who grew up in extreme poverty and endured extreme racism. It's when years down the road and they are no longer poor and assimilation becomes the preferred way of life that I begin to worry about them and especially their children. The comfortable life often seeks more comfort, sometimes at the expense of people who become symbols of their previous discomfort.

It wasn’t like the encyclopedia definition of “blight” could provide insight except help me see that the people who define the word in relation to our living, Mexican history in this city are the bacterium.

It isn’t like many of these proponents of destruction were social activists or environmentalists prior to any of this.

It wasn’t like guilt crept in for more than 10 minutes then disappeared when the goal was lots of $$$ and entertainment.

It isn’t like cosmetic surgery. It’s more like cloning perceived “beauty” from other cities.

It wasn’t like the definition of beautiful came to us in a dream.

It wasn’t like the definition of beautiful came from all the people.

It wasn’t like the definition of beauty was separate from buying and selling.

Last night I dreamt the feral occasional neighborhood cats walked under a few-feet-deep irrigated yard and surfaced from the water every several minutes like calm dolphins for bits of air.

I once dreamt that my overweight housecat was inside a big, three dimensional square of water on my living room coffee table and once in awhile she stuck her paw out to me through the waves of water.

It wasn’t like the definition of starving equaled destruction.

It wasn’t like starving oneself for beauty. More like destroying oneself to attain perceived beauty.

It isn’t like there’s an abundance of oxygen in the thin attitudes that destroy creativity.

Blight as noun, blight as verb, chestnut blight, fire blight, late blight, potato blight. Urban "blight" (and subsequent removal through eminent domain and destruction) is defined and decided by those who either don't know or clearly know the people living inside.


Suzanne said...




Thank you, Emmy, thank you for this, you've knocked my socks off.

Emmy said...

Dear Susanne: Thank you so much for your generosity and for reading the entry.

gina said...


Write these essays. Write this book.

(I'm not crossing El Paso this summer, but maybe in December?)

Wow is right.


Emmy said...

Dear Gina: Thank you for the encouragement. Your blog and others like Suzanne's, Sheryl's, litbyfire's, and many more continue to encourage me. It's a blessing to read your books-in-progress online.

I hope to be in El Paso around Christmas-time or right after, so let's definitely keep in touch about your passing through.

Thanks again,

Lee Herrick said...

I found your blog via Sheryl Luna's, and I really, really like what's here. Onward.

Emmy said...

Thanks, Lee (and Sheryl for the link here)!