Thursday, November 30, 2006

Home

The child’s perception of the house in, The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros, is a very Americanized observation. She believes that a house can only equal a detached building with room for her. She does not view a house as a simple apartment or “flat”. Espranza confuses the structure of a house with the meaning of home intertwined in the vision of the American dream.
Her perception of a house is her determination to accomplish her version of the American Dream. Throughout the novel, Espranza describes the harsh realties of her world through the lens of a child. Her desire for a house represents the desire to get out her improvised world and into a world where she can, “point at her house” (4). She aspires to go beyond the financial stage of her parents and obtain a house of her own.
My experience with Beans and Bread and my conversations with the attendants of Beans and Bread have given me a new insight into the way the people of the city view their houses. They do not perceive a house as a structure that symbolizes their financial state as Espranza does. The people I have interacted with view their houses as simply shelter and protection from Baltimore elements. Their focus is not on the building, but rather the inhabitants of that house which makes it a home.
An elder lady I spoke with described the area she lived in. She said that her house was an apartment near the stadium. It was not a good location, but it was close to her job. She said that she chose to live in that area so that to should could take care of her daughter, who just had a baby. It does not matter where you live as long as you enjoy the company you are keeping.
Ezpranza wanted to go beyond the “company she was keeping”. She wanted something more for herself, and was not focused on what her parents had already provided for her.
As mentioned in Jane Jacobs Death and Life of the American City, city planners do not focus on community and the necessary aspects of a city and community needs to survive. It is not about how the city is laid out to best suit the planners, the planners need to look beyond blue-prints and reach into the heart of humanity and seek how humans survive and thrive, through the support of each other. Cities nurture their inhabitants with each other.

No Speak English

Seeing the powerlessness of her neighbors on Mango Street, Esperanza knows that she can succeed with the art of language. A majority of Esperanza’s friends, family, and neighbors suffer from a lack of knowledge of speaking English. The struggle of language is most apparent in Cisneros’s chapter, “No Speak English.” Mamacita literally becomes a prisoner in her apartment on Mango Street, because she “is afraid of English” and misses her real home in Mexico (Cisneros 77). When her son starts speaking English, she is hysterical and exclaims, “No speak English!” (78).

The barrier between languages creates an even stronger barrier between people and their cultures. More often than not, such a blockade inhibits the communication vital to survive. Esperanza’s parents fall victim to this; Esperanza’s father ate “hamandeggs” for three months because he did not know any other word and her mother, although she speaks some English, it is apparent in the poorly written note that she lacks communication skills to those who only speak English.

I think that Esperanza is completely aware of the problem of communication in her neighborhood and she does not want to be trapped like so many by the barrier of language. By writing about Mango Street, her horrible experiences seem less terrible—and for now—she can temporarily escape such horrors. In effect, her determination to write is her hope to one day, escape from the poor living conditions of Mango Street, with the aid of her writing and strong communication skills. Once Esperanza leaves Mango Street, she will return. She will return by passing along the story of her neighborhood, her roots. She will tell her story will let the world know about her experience and culture, bridging the gap, and breaking the barrier of language. Although Esperanza hopes to escape, she will always be Mango Street—something she will one day realize with pride.

For the ones who cannot out

I think the most important thing that I have learned from this class is the amount of privilege that I have. The idea that I am able to do so many different things if I wanted to, things that others, no matter how much they desired, would not be granted the opportunity to do these things. I am able to live here in Baltimore, three hours away from the neighborhood in which I grew up, and not worry about those left behind. I also have the ability to return whenever I want; I don’t need to accomplish anything for anyone before I return. The opportunities that are presented to me seem so amazing in comparison to the situation in The House on Mango Street.
This idea of opportunity and ability is something comes up very often in The House on Mango Street. From Esperanza’s desire to leave her barrio to the women that are stuck staring out the window of their houses, it seems that there are so many things that Esperanza is able to do that the others or not. And even Esperanza’s opportunities are limited. It seems that all she wants is to leave her little neighborhood; but, even this, she must wait for.
Esperanza works for her freedom. She writes her stories down which, as she mentions in “Born Bad”, is what will keep her free. She also is told that she will get the opportunity to leave her barrio, that she will not be stuck there. She continuously works for her freedom from her entrapment in her neighborhood.
However, even she is not truly trapped. For as is mentioned in “The Three Sisters”, she is able to leave this barrio; she will get the opportunity to escape. But she cannot forget those left behind, those who don’t have the opportunity to escape.
This is of the greatest importance. This is a very clear message that needs to be remembered, not only by Esperanza, but by all who are offered an opportunity. It should have been told to Obi when he left for England. It should have been mentioned to Marco Polo when he left on his journeys. It should have been told to the people on the boat as they floated across the Caribbean Sea in Krik? Krak!. We cannot forget those who do not have the opportunities that we have.
I have the opportunity to go downstairs and get food from Primos. There are men and women confined to their beds that must have people bring their food to them. I have the opportunity to go to a college and receive a very good education. There is a woman my age within less than fifty miles of here that has at least one child and will not get the opportunities that I have received. We must always realize this and never forget “those who cannot out”.

Nombres

Do names matter? Some people may say that they don’t and that names only affect us when we let them, but I disagree, names are an essential part of any human relationship because names like all words carry weight and they do matter. Names can be used as terms of affection/ love (mi amor, sweetheart, baby, carino, etc.) and they can be used for hate (idiot, b*****, h**, bastard, etc.), throughout cultures in the word the mere utterance of a name holds great power and significance. In some cultures saying the name of a loved one who has passed or the name of a newborn child will trap their soul in an endless and empty spiritual world denying them the very essence that makes living worthwhile and human relationships meaningful, it is a curse, names define who you are and what you will become because they are a part of your identity.

Identity, what does that mean for Esperanza, the storyteller in Cisneros’ “The House on Mango Street?” Esperanza, she compares her name to many things, but the most important aspect of her name that she describes is the fate of the person she was named after. Why does that matter, the fate of the person was their own, was it not? It matters because there must have been some reason why you named that child after that person, why would you name a child after a person who had all freedom and joy forcefully taken away from them (this statement is only based on what Esperanza tells us). Esperanza describes to us her inability to escape her name and her determination to escape the fate intricately connected to her name. Her name defines a large part of her identity because no matter where she is she is Esperanza is Esperanza wherever she goes, she is never a “Nenny.”

Baltimore no matter what part of the city people are in, no matter how beautiful the neighborhood Baltimore will always be known, outside of the city and in some parts of it, an incredibly ugly and unsafe city with nothing to offer. Baltimore cannot escape the meaning in its name, no matter what it does; the cities name is an important if not incredibly relevant part of its identity. Why do we name cities and schools? Why do we make distinctions between one block and the next? If all it is, is a method of finding our way around, then why is there pride in a name, why do we “represent” the school we are from or the city we live in? Why does the name of where we are from matter? Names matter because they are essential parts of identity for people and cities alike, they help to define us and connect us, they are important.

It's not what she says, but how she says it.

Through her literary style, which I would describe as choppy, segmented, and scattered, Cisneros has aptly captured one element of the city that is also present in a number of the other works we've encountered this semester.

With quickly paced anecdotes, she introduces a lot of names and stories into a very short space and without a complete picture being developed. This is so effective because it reflects the way in which many, or at least I, encounter the city. One aspect of the city for which many search is its anonimity, or at least the opportunity to remain virtually faceless, as opposed to the small-town phenomenon in which every one knows each other.

This understanding the Cisneros possesses which indicates that the city is too large and cumbersome for one point of view to encase it is also present in Calvino, who posits a myriad of definitions for a city as individual entities, and then later proposes the idea that they are all one city. Danticat also grabs hold of this in the way in which each story revolves around a seemingly separate, seemingly faceless individual or group.

The reason I take this to be so apparent and such a truthful observation is because I have recently been confronted with the realization that each person sees the city in a unique way, and I think this is never more true than on the bus. As buildings race by, I know that I am limited to only one angle, and that that angle is inherently lacking because I can't even see the structures' more important side--the inside. Moreover, as I look into the eyes of my fellow riders, I can see that they see the city differently, but I don't know what they see.

And don't even get me started on what I hear...

Getting out

With every book that we have read, I have been struck by how each one shows that both the hope that can be found in cities, as well as the sadness that can be found in them. However, The House on Mango Street, there really didnt seem to be a hope in what the city had to offer the the hope seems to be in the belief that they will someday get out of the neighborhood. I was again reminded of my conversations with Tyriek and it is saddening to remember how ironic our situations are. I came here to better my education and he thinks the only way he can be successsful is to get out of Baltimore.
In the specific story Sally, even though it is extremely sad, I was struck out how real it was. There are some boys and St. Ignatius that are known as trouble makers, they listen to no one and their uniforms are always a mess. However, at the end of the afterschool programs they become extremely quiet and slowly begin to put their uniforms back together. You can ask them what is wrong but the answer is always nothing. And maybe it is just that they want to look crisp and professional for their families, but after reading the story of Sally, you really do wonder what their family is like. Also, When Esperanza says how Sally got married so young just to get out, the reader cannot help but wonder how desperate a person can get to get out of a bad situation. Its sadening to think that people may be pushed to such extreme's.
Overall, with this semester the Jesuit way of educating seems to be at the forefront of my mind. And after reading this book I was struck by Kovenbach saying, "When the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change". Granted this is just a book, but Cisneros' way of righting is so vivid that you begin to know that the situations she calls to the forefront do exist. And like everything else we have read this semester, I couldn't help but think "how can be fix this? how can we show these children that they can find ways to succeed here?"

Home Sweet Home

As we discussed in class, structurally, Sandra Cisneros’ novel The House on Mango Street is extremely complex under a deceptively simple surface. As we grow older, we view these details through the jaded lens of an experienced adult. That is perhaps why this book of vignettes is so celebrated; it allows its readers to return to the unassuming, naïve view of a child, and watch how the perceptions of experiences change and evolve over time, as a product of a seasoned and affected adult nature. I was absolutely touched by the exchange of the Esperanza and the beautifully described three old sisters, “when you leave, you must remember to come back for the others. A circle, understand? You will always be Esperanza. You will always be Mango Street. You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget who you are”(105). Concisely and eloquently put, that is the essence of what I have learned in this class this semester through literature, discussion, and experience: the city affects you, just as you affect the city. This includes everyone. The details that shaped the identity of the city for you lie in these little exchanges; a conversation with strangers, a gathering of the community (at the baby’s funeral), a recognition of what “home” means to you. Though Esperanza may be ashamed of the building on Mango Street where her family resides, that does not make it any less her home, or a part of her that has affected and will continue to affect her, just as she has affected it.
At the time Esperanza was told that by the sisters, she has trouble understanding its meaning. She will undoubtedly return to this moment in time again as an adult, and understand its significance as if it were occurring all over again, with an illuminated understanding of what exactly they meant. As Cisneros puts it, “a story is like a Giacometti sculpture; the further you get away from it, the clearer you can see it”. The sisters press her to remember the responsibility she has to her neighborhood. Esperanza was extremely embarrassed of the house on Mango Street, and thus attempted to admonish its importance, and even existence. But the very fact that the stories of her childhood in this novel center on the people she met and the things she saw while living on Mango Street illustrate its significance, rather than the structure that served as her house.
I think that the novel subtly emphasizes the power of the decisions we make, the places we go, the people we meet, and the things we know to shape our existence—without de-emphasizing the power we have within ourselves to affect how those experiences will shape us. The past three years in Baltimore have taught me much more than I think I will ever know; I have grown in ways I am acutely aware of, and ways that I will perhaps never fully realize. Later in life, I’ll reflect on little exchanges, like the one between Esperanza and the three sisters, that I perhaps did not fully grasp at the time, but can come to appreciate. But I do understand the responsibility I have to the city as a product of the knowledge I have gained about it, and I know the importance of remembering this connection, and the implications of an active Jesuit education that will remain with me forever.

Innocence Mixed with Hard Experiences

In Esperanza, Cisneros is able to combine a childlike innocence with a real knowledge of what is going on in her neighborhood. The shift back and forth is rapid and seamless, to the point where the reader must wonder at some junctures whether it is Esperanza or Cisneros speaking. The innocence Esperanza displays with regards to men is relatively normal for a girl her age, especially with regards to her, Lucy and Rachel playing dress-up in high heels. However, the beginning of that vignette’s final paragraph, “We are tired of being beautiful” (42), reveals a serious fear for young women in the city. Looking desirable can be dangerous, if proper precaution is not taken. It is a young age for Esperanza to already be learning that.
The descriptions of the sadness in Esperanza’s life also illuminate this struggle between innocence and hard experiences. When Esperanza speaks of her Aunt Lupe, her characterization of the randomness of life is perfect: “But I think diseases have no eyes. They pick with a dizzy finger, just anyone” (59). The injustice of this life has already dawned on the narrator, further exemplified by her condemnation of Mango Street: “Only thing I can’t understand is why Ruthie is living on Mango Street if she doesn’t have to” (69). Esperanza knows how undesirable her house is, from the two nuns’ characterizations of her area, but to think that no other human being should choose Mango Street further highlights the helplessness of her situation.
While these laments may be originated in the grown-up Cisneros, I was left wondering if these insights were simply the result of extreme experiences at young ages. When pain strikes your life early and often, such descriptions are ways of coping, of searching for words to try to understand the pain. It made me think of how many young men at St. Ignatius are also experiencing such pains. Will these experiences spur them on and make them more brilliant, helping them to change the city? Or will the pain destroy them? It is a tough reality to ponder for these young men with so much potential.

No shame in belonging

In finishing The House on Mango Street I was impressed by how simply, and eloquently Cisneros brings together the themes of home, shame, belonging, and heritage through the evolution of her character, Esperanza. I really felt the book came full circle and I like how Cisneros literarily shows this in repeating some of the first lines that appear in the book. I love the last lines: “They will not know I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out”, because it shows the resolution Esperanza comes up with in struggling between her past and her future. This line also reminds me of Calvino’s book, where certain people are trapped by cities, where others are free to move about and travel from and to different cities.
I think the most important lesson Esperanza learns is not necessarily about what home means, but rather that shame can be a destructive emotion and that she should have pride from where she comes from, simply because it is where she comes from. Esperanza hears her mother say, “Shame is a bad thing, you know. It keeps you down. You want to know why I quit school? Because I didn’t have nice clothes. No clothes, but I had brains. Yup, she says disgusted”. This same lesson is reiterated to Esperanza through the character Alicia and her acceptance for Esperanza’s home on Mango Street. In learning this lesson Esperanza settles the internal conflict she has in her cultural past and her perspective future. I think she becomes comfortable with the idea it’s ok to belong at Mango Street for the time being, and it’s ok to leave it as long as she remembers her history.
By the end of the book her obsession of her very own home comes to symbolize her growing individuality, or her dream as she loses innocence and transforms from child to adult. Her desire for a house no longer stands for Esperanza’s hope for a better family life. It now represents a defining of Esperanza as her own person. On page 108 Esperanza calls a house of her own “a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go”. A house has become Esperanza’s adult goal, not just a childish dream she imposed on her entire family. In this transition Esperanza’s gradual entry into adulthood has been marked. I think she has realized she may never change the lives of her entire family, but she does have control over her own individual future. Esperanza’s mother advises her, “Esperanza, you go to school. Study hard… Got to take care all your own”. I think by the end of the novel Esperanza has come to a deeper understanding of this advice and realizes her place in the family in coexistence with her individuality. I think this understanding is similar to how people around the world define themselves in cities. One must know who they are individually and then understand who they are to the city, or what role they play in existing in a city, or if not a city a neighborhood or smaller community. The search begins internally and moves outward. Structurally Cisneros has mastered this movement back and forth from internal to external viewpoints, as we have discussed in class. Her novel describes this universal search that all humanity experiences no matter what city you live in- the search of where and how an individual belongs.

"Sky" in The House on Mango Street

Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street is told from the unique perspective of a young Puerto Rican girl named Esperanza. In the beginning of the book, Esperanza wants her own house “with trees around it, a great big yard and grass growing without a fence” (Cisneros 4). Esperanza’s family is unable to leave the small red house on Mango Street and near the end of the book Esperanza still yearns for “a house all my own…a space for myself to go” (108). Esperanza desires freedom from the financial burdens that plague her family and from community to which she is confined. She wants a house without a fence and freedom to move from neighborhood to neighborhood instead of being confined to her all-Puerto Rican community. She wants opportunities that are not available in her community.

Esperanza’s desire for freedom is expressed throughout the book with the image of the sky. She says, “You can never have too much sky. You can fall asleep and wake up drunk on sky, and sky can keep you safe when you are sad. Here there is too much sadness and not enough sky” (33). Esperanza seeks liberty that is not granted in her community. She worries about becoming like her grandmother who “looked out of the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow” (11). Esperanza’s grandmother was not blessed with the freedom to do what she wanted and Esperanza does not “want to inherit her place by the window” (11) looking at the sky and world instead of experiencing it. The sky again represents Esperanza’s desire for freedom in a poem she writes: “I want to be like the waves on the sea, like the clouds in the wind…One day I’ll jump out of my skin. I’ll shake the sky like a hundred violins” (61). Her aunt tells her to keep writing because it will keep her free.

Although Esperanza still wishes for the sky at the end of the book, the advice of the three sisters (105) influences her. Esperanza is no longer a “red balloon, a balloon tied to an anchor” (9) waiting to float into the sky. She will instead keep her feet planted firmly on the ground and “march so far away” (110), but she will always return again. She says that she will leave Mango Street, but that her family and neighbors “will not know that I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out” (110). Esperanza recognizes that there is a part of her that belongs to Mango Street and she has a responsibility to the neighborhood she wants to escape. The aunts help Esperanza realize that leaving a neighborhood is not only leaving crowded houses, but also leaving people. Esperanza does not want to leave the people on Mango Street, but the circumstances in which they suffer. Esperanza will leave Mango Street, but she will return to the people whose hair and smells she knows because not everyone is able to escape. Esperanza also seems to realize that her earlier desire for a “house on a hill like the ones with the gardens where Papa works” (86) will not provide the freedom she seeks, but rather it would impose new constraints upon her. Esperanza will need to balance the outside world she seeks with the close-knit community she knows to live fully and experience what the whole city of Chicago has to offer.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Wanting Out

Throughout House on Mango Street Esperenza's need to get out off of Mango Street and have that dream house is a pattern I've seen among the children of Baltimore. Whether it was in Lippman's novel or comments I've heard about the students at St. Ignatius from students in the classroom, or videos in class about Baltimore, Baltimore children do everything in their lives to achieve the goal of getting out of Baltimore. I read an article in the City Paper about a student run organization to over-throw the Maryland Board of Education and one of the students in the program stated he wanted to receive a good education to get out of Baltimore.

I see this pattern with Esperenza as well. She seems to want to escape everything that is Chicago and Mango Street. She doesn't fully accept everything that is part of her life on Mango Street whether it is her house, her family members, her friends, or the actions she takes while living on Mango Street. Her aunt even tells her to keep writing because it would set her free. I couldn't help but think while I was reading that section that the aunt meant that Esperenza's writing could take her to a life outside of Mango Street in Chicago. Because of the narrator's childish narration I couldn't tell whether or not he aunt meant it that way, or that Esperenza took it that way, but it seemed that the aunt thought her talent in writing could take her away from the fate of becoming the adults on Mango Street.

At the end of Mango Street Esperenza is a writer and she no longer lives on Mango Street, so for me it proved that writing did take her away from Mango Street and that was what her aunt meant or at least how Esperenza interpretted it. Esperenza was finally able to get out of Mango Street due to her education and her ability to write, much like the children of Baltimore hope to get a decent education that will give them the opportunity to leave the city if they choose to. Although Esperenza was given the opportunity to leave Mango Street and she had every ability to make her life however she wanted it to be, she still had that connection to Mango Street and the urge to go back to it. I wonder if the children of Baltimore will feel that way too. If they will ultimately leave if given the opportunity but realize their connection when they are not forced to stay in it anymore. In the end the freedom Esperenza aunt was talking about was the freedom to choose where one could live or be from to know whether they choose to stay where they grew up or go somewhere else it was based on their choice, not because they had to.

Writing to Remain Free

In the chapter "Born Bad" of the novel The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Esperanza reads her sick aunt a poem that she wrote, and her aunt responds: "That's nice. That's very good, she said in her tired voice. You just remember to keep writing, Esperanza. You must keep writing. It will keep you free, and I said yes, but at that time I didn't know what she meant." (61). Throughout the novel, Esperanza is digusted by her surroudings, embarassed to live in her family's house on Mango Street. She is constantly seeking a way to grow up and out, to become an independent woman. Without even knowing, she finds that in writing, which comes naturally to her. Her ability to interpret her world and express her insights is the power she needs to live her dream.

The final chapter in Edwidge Danticat's Krik? Krak! is very similar because the narrator, addressing a second person, reveals the power in writing, especially for women. Written expression is a way for women to express power without yielding a club or being too visible; it's a secret, self-satisfying power that can also be therapeutic. "And writing? Writing was as forbidden as dark rouge on the cheeks or a first date before eighteen. It was an act of indolence, something to be done in a corner when you could have been learning to cook." (219). In Esperanza's case, so much is made forbidden to her by her parents and her culture. Everything seems that much more appealing because it is sinful or inappropriate. Writing is a productive way for both characters to rebel against their cultural norms.

At the end of The House on Mango Street, Esperanza finally understands what her aunt meant. "I put it down on paper and then the ghost does not ache so much. I write it down and Mango says goodbye sometimes. She does not hold me with both arms. She sets me free." (110). Esperanza realizes that this power of hers allows her the ability to let go of Mango Street without really letting go of it. By writing about it, she is able to distance herself from it but also commemorate it in a way. With Mango Street, it's a love/hate relationship. A writer always finds it difficult to show writing to close relatives and friends because these people might identify the aspects of the writing that are true to life. These people, "They will not know I have gone away to come back." (110). Esperanza both satisfies her own needs and her need to help her people.

Neighborhoods and Vignettes

Like all of the stories that hold Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street together, the neighborhoods of Baltimore function in the same respect. They bridge the gap between races, sexes, and income. They are an example of how diversity can coexist. Therefore, we can look at the myriad of different neighborhoods as little vignettes, each with a unique story to tell.

In class on Tuesday, one of our classmates, Brittnay, who is in the Real Estate industry, told us an anecdote about her boss' reaction to different zipcodes within the City of Baltimore, even going so far as to describing some of them as being "scary." The reputation of Baltimore is something that needs to be changed; it was given the moniker "Charm City," after all. When I tell people that I go to school in Baltimore, they give me this "are you kidding?" type of look. People who are not from the area, or have not spent prolonged periods of time here fabricate harsh and unfair opinions about the city. In addition to our efforts to forge stronger bonds between Loyola and the City of Baltimore, as part of the Year of the City campaign, we also have the obligation to promote the city in a positive light.

One of the guys that I work with is a couple of years older than me, he is African American, and he has lived in Baltimore his whole life. Today, we started talking about how Baltimore has such a bad reputation, and how unfair it is for people to draw such conclusions. Our conversation touched upon a lot of things: The Wire, of course; the weather here, and how Baltimore actually experiences all four seasons; a friend of his from California who mocks Baltimore at every chance she gets. I felt a sense of pride after this discussion; I was proud to go to school in Baltimore, something I never though possible.

The second half of the book The House on Mango Street really develops the ideas of home and family and heritage that are set up by the characters in the first half. The neighborhood, while in the first half is made up of unique and interesting characters, develops into more of a place of longing or desperation and in some cases hope. Instead of focusing on the makeup of the city, Cisneros brings out the attitudes and emotions of the city through it's people. The primary method of doing so is through the idea of home and the various ways in which it becomes defined.

Cisneros creates characters that think of home in different ways. There is the woman who is brought from Mexico for a better life who spends her days rejecting English and her new "home". She refused to belong and to interact because she sees it as temporary. That apartment can never be home to her. Geraldo is anonymous and we can never know that he had died alone and far from his home. He does not have anyone looking for him here, no family and no home. In the end, Esperanza herself believes that she is without a home because she refuses to embrace the house on Mango Street. She feels that she does not belong there; that she is better than that tiny, sad house. But she learns that she is part of Mango Street and it is up to her to make it a place to which she belongs. By leaving and returning and proving herself to the world, she can help Mango Street in a way that nobody else can and will. In so doing, she can save Mango Street and give other little girls the change to belong to something great.

Finally in the last portion of the book there is a very strong focus on women. These women are strong, weak, and places in between. They are locked in their homes and controlled by abusive and jealous men, and they are silently rebelious. While they may not have the freedom to move they have a stregnth to deny themselves for their children or their parents. In some cases they are just trying to escape and don't know how to do any better. Cisneros is making a very quiet commentary on the lives of poor and abused women. It would be easy to judge her characters as weak and stupid, but by showing how desparate their lives are the reader must ask what else can they do? For these women home is an even more confusing subject because to them, home is a place of oppression and pain.

Cisneros Embraces Her Heritage

In the House on Mango Street, Esperanza is indeed a sign of hope for the community of Mango Street. She is an ambitious character who strives to achieve more than her ancestors or neighbors. Through her, Cisneros delivers a powerful message to her community, which is a message of love and respect for one’s heritage, in my opinion. When Esperanza speaks of Sally, she declares, “She says she is in love, but I think she did it to escape” (102). Esperanza notices that the people in her life, particularly women, allow their own individuality and dreams to be taken away without much resistance on their part, or they may try to accomplish their dreams in the wrong way. These women submit to their husbands or give up their desires without acknowledging what they want out of life. In reference to Sally’s submission to her husband, Esperanza says, “she sits at home because she is afraid to go outside without permission” (102). Esperanza’s witnesses this hopeless attitude in her own mother. Her mother says, “‘I could’ve been somebody, you know?’...She has lived in this city her whole life.” (90). Esperanza’s mother reminds her to keep going to school so that she can achieve more than she was able. It is almost as if the women on Mango Street realize that they could have achieved more, but that they just do not care enough to take that extra leap that would allow them to break free of the restrictions that Mango Street seems to have. Or maybe is it just that they did not have the opportunities that Esperanza’s generation does.

Eventually, Esperanza realizes that she has to take action in order to avoid a life of unfulfilled dreams like the people around her. She says, “I am tired of looking at what we can’t have…One day I’ll have my own house, but I won’t forget who I am or where I came from” (87). Even if Esperanza does break free of the cycle present in The House on Mango Street, she will never forget her roots, which is a very powerful statement on her behalf. The aunts tell Esperanza, “When you leave you must remember to come back for the others. A circle, you understand? You will always be Esperanza, you will always be Mango Street. You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget what you are.” (105). Clearly, remembering one’s heritage is valued and lessons can only be learned from the past. In order to start anew, we must acknowledge where we originate from.

In regards to our class discussion yesterday concerning criticism of Sandra Cisneros, I firmly believe that any criticism directed towards the author is wrong and that Cisnero’s work embraces her own culture to the highest degree. She values tradition and memory, yet she insists on pursuing an improved culture with better living conditions, fulfilled dreams, and healthy family life for all, among other things. Cisneros wants her culture, in my opinion, to be the happy and comfortable, not longing for more. She wants her generation to take advantage of the opportunities that are before them-opportunities that older generations may not have had. Therefore, she is not turning her back on her heritage. She is embracing it and calling it to improve itself, so that everyone can be healthier and happier with the general condition of their lives. She, like Naylor in The Women of Brewster Place, wants to urge her community to strive for better. She wants that dream deferred that Langston Hughes speaks so of so profoundly to come to fruition. The truth is that these people deserve it; they owe it to themselves for being such a powerful community, rich in diversity, with so much to offer. This, to me, is a message of sincere, unconditional love for a community and does not constitute rejection at all. Cisneros returned to aid her heritage with her talents, when she could have abandoned it as a successful author. She, like Esperanza, acknowledges where she came from. Cisneros used these talents in order to reach her highest potential, and in turn wrote many works that should inspire others like young Esperanza to reach higher and accomplish all that they are capable of achieving (which is certainly not a bad thing). After all, Cisneros was once in the shoes of these young Hispanic women. In my opinion, she is an example to these of women of what they can become if they are determined. I would like to ask Cisneros’ critics why they feel this is such a negative thing to aspire to.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Cisneros and Lippman - the importance of home

Although many people move from their original cities in order to make fresh starts in other locations, they must realize that they will always carry with them a piece of their past. No one is able to completely forget what has previously occurred. Past experiences shape a person’s life, even if this individual wishes to escape the environment in which they took place. Both Laura Lippman and Sandra Cisneros delve into this attempt to flee one’s surroundings in order to shake off one’s encounters, illustrating that one is never able to ignore the past forever.


In Laura Lippman’s Butchers Hill, she presents the reader with Jackie Weir, a woman who has attempted to forget her past but finds that she is haunted by its absence. Jackie has been avoiding her past since her youth, stating that she was ashamed because of her economic circumstances, her giving birth at a young age, and her residence in Baltimore. Jackie states,

Mama wanted me to keep the baby, so she could raise it, get a little extra AFDC money and food stamps every month. I almost went for it, too. But you know, I had finished high school and I had this nothing job, and I suddenly saw my future. I told myself, ‘This is it, girl. You’ve still got a chance to make something of yourself, but not if you keep this baby…And when I got a scholarship to Penn, I decided to change my name legally, sort of a symbol of my new life. In the back of my mind, I think I didn’t want my baby to come looking for me one day. You see, I figured I was going to be somebody real famous, real successful, and I didn’t want any tabloid trash reunion in my future. Lippman 80-81

Jackie only thought about herself and her future plans, instead of thinking about the impact that her actions could have had on her daughter. Jackie wanted to do anything in order to evade being associated with a child born out of wedlock to a man who “wasn’t interested in being a father” (Lippman 81). Jackie believed that the only way to ensure her success was to completely alienate herself from her past life in order to begin a fresh, new life without any visible stains, even though she adamantly states, “I don’t want to hide. I’m not ashamed of my past” (Lippman 81). She contradicts herself in that she did everything to put her past at a distance, yet assures Tess that she does not regret it. Jackie viewed her pregnancy as a blemish on her life that could haunt her in the future, and did not consider that it would haunt her because she missed her child’s presence in her life: “Once [my mother] was gone, I waited to feel bereft. Instead, I felt haunted, as if someone were following me. I found myself blowing off appointments, driving around Pigtown and looking at the young girls there. I kept thinking, Are you out there? What became of you? Do you hate me?’” (Lippman 82). Jackie soon realized that she could not forget her past and her proper home with her child because it resulted in her not having an identity: “Her mother was dead, her daughter was someone else’s daughter. Jackie Weir was about as alone as anyone could be in this world” (Lippman 163). Jackie’s attempts to distance herself from her family by changing her name, moving away, and creating a new life for herself resulted in her returning back to the child that she had abandoned. She was drawn back to the life that she had scorned because she had taken a piece of her past with her. One cannot avoid the past, even though one may try as many ways as possible.


One can see the same desire to move away from one’s present circumstances in Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, in which Esperanza wishes to leave her community because she finds it to be unacceptable. Cisneros begins the novel with Esperanza’s stating, “I knew then that I had to have a house. A real house. One I could point to. But this isn’t it. The house on Mango Street isn’t it. For the time being, Mama says. Temporary, says Papa. But I know how those things go” (Cisneros 5). From the outset, Esperanza expresses her dissatisfaction with her house and her desire to escape it. She cannot accept the current conditions in which her family lives because they do not live up to the vision that she has created in her dreams. Esperanza does not want to continue with the way that her family has lived in the past, in houses that she deems as deplorable because she is not proud to point them out to those who ask about her residence. Esperanza’s family has an outing of driving along roads and looking at houses, which the little girl does not find to be proper. She states, “I don’t tell them I am ashamed—all of us staring out the window like the hungry. I am tired of looking at what we can’t have” (Cisneros 86). Esperanza believes that her humble beginnings will lead to a future of want, in which she will never be satisfied with what she has. Like Jackie, Esperanza believes that her current conditions will lead to her inability to ever escape them in order to create a new life for herself. Thus, the little girl “[begins her] own quiet war. Simple. Sure” (Cisneros 89) because she “[has] decided not to grow up tame like the others who lay their necks on the threshold waiting for the ball and chain to come” (Cisneros 88). Like Jackie, Esperanza believes that she is the only one on whom she can rely in order to ensure that she changes her situation. And yet, unlike Jackie, Esperanza knows from the outset that she can never completely forget her past because it has formed the way that she has grown up: “One day I’ll own my own house, but I won’t forget who I am or where I came from. Passing bums will ask, Can I come in? I’ll offer them the attic, ask them to stay, because I know how it is to be without a house” (Cisneros 87). Instead of totally rejecting her past, Esperanza plans to use it as a spring-board for the future, yet still keeping in mind that she believes that her past situation hindered her life. She refuses to follow in the footsteps of those who came before her, who she believes did not live fruitful lives. Esperanza prepares to leave Mango Street, but will keep in mind what others have told her countless times, “When you leave you must remember to come back for the others. A circle, understand? You will always be Esperanza. You will always be Mango Street. You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget who you are…You must remember to come back. For the ones who cannot leave as easily as you” (Cisneros 105), and, “No, this isn’t my house I say and shake my head as if shaking could undo the year I’ve lived here. I don’t belong. I don’t ever want to come from here. You have a home, Alicia, and one day you’ll go there, to a town you remember, but me I never had a house, not even a photograph…only one I dream of. No, Alicia says. Like it or not you are Mango Street, and one day you’ll come back too” (Cisneros 106-107). Although Esperanza attempts to deny her living on Mango Street and coming from a particular past, she know that she will never leave it behind because she has to return to those who live in similar situations. She knows that she must provide a link between the outside world and Mango Street. Just as Jackie returned to visit her child, so must Esperanza come back to visit her street and her neighbors.


I hope that the youth of Baltimore recognize the need to better their lives, but not at the cost of forgetting from where they come. One needs to grow and explore in order to create a new chapter in one’s life, but this does not mean that one needs to rewrite one’s own book of experiences. One cannot forget the past because it is this past that shapes how people have matured.


Preserving a Culture with Neighborhood Care

Many parallels exist between Cisneros The House on Mango Street and Danticat’s Krik?Krak! They shared the same structure, using vignettes to tell their stories. In these vignettes they rely tremendously on characters to tell the story of a place. They both use the stories to pass on their respective cultures. Cisneros, as a Mexican American herself, she understands how important it is to keep your heritage with you in America. She uses Esperanza to briefly illustrate some of the daily struggles of being Mexican in America, such as the examples where Esperanza wants to change her name, or when she brings a rice sandwich to school. Danticat describes the stages of Haitian people on their move to the U.S. as well as those Haitian people stuck in Haiti. She uses the last few stories about the family in New York as a way to convey her belief that it is so imperative to keep your culture alive.

Cisneros, on the very last pages, illustrates the importance of holding onto your culture but also stepping ahead into the future. Danticat and Cisneros understand that as a progressive people we cannot just sit there and continually stew in our past. Rather, we must move ahead into the future while we hold onto our past. The steps our ancestors took in the past mold our steps in the future. The chapter The Three Sisters depicts this importance of holding on while moving on. They tell Esperanza her name is beautiful and so special, while she believed it was an awful name. They also go into the fact that she is one of the special children that will have the chance to go onward, off of Mango Street. They tell her that she cannot forget to help the others who are just like her, living on Mango Street. It is her responsibility, not only because they share the same culture but also because they are neighbors.

Danticat doesn’t really address the responsibility we have for each other as neighbors. She stayed close to just the theme of keeping the culture alive in the future. Cisneros believes that part of keeping your culture alive is taking care of your neighbors. She takes the stance that a community is only as strong as their weakest member. A culture will only be able to flourish with the support of a community.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Define Diversity

Diversity? Why is that important in a city? It is clear from our past stories that diversity is important in the development of our stories and our characters. When we read Naylor’s stories we learned that diversity aka the women of Brewster Place were not going to be ignored. We learned that no wall is going to remove diversity from the city. We learn that diversity is a living breathing part of a city and without the diversity in a city the city begins to decay.
Defining diversity becomes difficult and I think Jacobs addresses that issue because for many people the word diversity is directly related to the word race. Race is not the synonym of diversity and Jacob makes it clear that although a city needs that type of diversity as well, it needs diversity in its entirety. Cities need diversity in their age population, their overall population, diversity in buildings and institutions and diversity in their businesses. Most importantly cities need a “high population” of people because as human beings we are, no mater how much it may not seen like the case, very different from one another, we are unique.
Baltimore is its own unique city and what makes Baltimore enjoyable and exciting for me is the diversity that you can find within it. I still think that there are many places that need more diversity, because many of the areas are homogeneous and it is in these areas that we see a large amount of decay. The lack of diversity in our population hinders the city and Jacobs is right in the statement that we are the ones held responsible. Even within Loyola we lack diversity and as much as we focus on city we should also focus on our campus. Because cities that ignore diversity begin to slowly decay, can’t the same be said of “campus cities”?

Agree and Disagree with Jane Jacobs

In reading Jane Jacob’s sections “The self- destruction of diversity” and “The curse of border vacuums” I strongly agreed with her on some points, and also disagreed with her on other ideas, sometimes within the very same paragraph. Many of her insights were things that directly coincided with my personal experiences, and then in several examples she gave to support an idea I had an example proving the exact opposite.
Beginning with her very first paragraph I strongly agree with her that “we need all kinds of diversity, intricately mingled in mutual support” (pg 241). I think she does a very good job of reiterating how important diversity is, but I found her reasons for why diversity is so important somewhat vague. She does go into detail that a flourishing part of a city is functional because of the diverse elements of business and enterprises that appeal to so many different kinds of people. But I think she does not get to the core of diversity and how it can bring different kinds of people together, to educate them about similarities and differences, while uniting them in human interaction. While I agree with her in some areas the repetition of the same business can destroy diversity I also think that one area of the city can be a functional unit in one specific interest and still attract different groups of people. I say this because of a street I know, called Chippewa Street in Buffalo, New York. Chippewa Street is a strip of bars, night-clubs, and restaurants. Although the buildings are the same and the same business duplicated, it draws so many different people and age groups to mingle and socialize, both at nighttime and daytime. Although the area has the same enterprises, each unit or place is different enough that people are free to choose from the different atmospheres of each building, cultivating diversity and bringing people together.
I disagreed with Jacob’s general conclusion that often times waterfronts serve as a border vacuum, simply because being a part of Baltimore, and seeing how successful the Inner Harbor is, my experience is opposite to her observations. Although I agreed with Jacob’s when she said “It is curious, too, how frequently the immediate neighborhoods surrounding big-city university campuses… are extraordinarily blight-prone” (258). I agreed with her because I witness everyday the economic, cultural, and structural differences of Loyola’s pristine campus and the rundown areas of York Road. In reading more of Jacob’s I realized it was impossible to separate her view of city planning and my personal experiences with cities. Yet I think this interpretative reading is positive because it engaged me more in the text, and made me think of ways we can improve our surrounding city. For example I agreed very much with her when she writes, “Street by street, as you move away from the project borders, a little more life is to be found, progressively a little more brightness, but it takes many streets before the gradual increase of economic activity and movement of people become strong”. I have seen this in visiting Beans and Bread, and before reading this chapter I have written about this issue in my journal entries. I concur with Jacobs that borders can certainly exist as barriers, but that it is not impossible to break these barriers and create positive ties between the different city borders and districts. I think we are on are way in breaking barriers through our service learning and volunteer work in the city of Baltimore. Through reaching out and creating ties in service we are not diminishing borders, but we are creating ties between different areas. When Jacobs speaks about the separateness of campuses I agreed with her it can be a disadvantage, and I think Loyola College, especially through the “Year of he City” has created a compelling push for students to unite with other areas of the city they belong to.

Don't Fence Me In

Jacobs, in discussing the nature of physical borders in cities, notes, "Often borders are thought of as passive objects, or matter-of-factly just as edges. However, a border exerts an active influence."(257) In Naylor's, "The Women of Brewster Place", a wall had been erected by the city council that separated the buildings of Brewster Place from the propserous street that it was adjacent to. The wall not only served as a physical reminder to the residents of the community that they were "walled-off" from the city, or in other words not considered an integral concern by the city council or its citizens; the wall actually led Brewster Place's residents to believe the sentiment that they were not worthy of the same respect or concern as the citizens of the more economically successful areas of the city, illustarting the power of the influence of such borders.
Jacobs says that the process of phasing a street out from the main-stream of the action in the city is a gradual process, "Consequently, the street that adjoins a border is a terminus of generalized use. If this street, which is the end of the line for people in the area of the ordinary city, also get little or no use from people inside the single-use, border-framing territory, it is bound to be a deadened place, with scant users. This deadness can have further reprecussions."(259) Naylor described the community of Brewster Place as an originally ambitious project. However, as it fell into disrepair, and was consequently separated from the city by a large brick wall, the sentiment of the community changed as well; its own members regarded certain alleys as "trouble-spots", and avoided them rather than confronting them. These alleys, left untouched, became the breeding ground for the "hoodlums" of the area. It took a horrific event, the raping of an innocent woman, then subsequently the death of innocent man, to awaken the people of the community from their lulled succession to the treatment they had been enduring (or perhaps lack of treatment, as they had been effectively ignored by their own city).
The women of Brewster Place had a psuedo-spiritual awakening and literally tore down the wall, brick by brick, with their bare hands. The removal of the physical barrier that had been placed between them and, essentially, the rest of the world (or so I imagined it would feel to anyone who was walled-off like that), was a visible denial of the succlusion they had been placed in, and for many years, simply accepted. What Naylor and Jacobs are saying, as well as what we have frequently discussed in class, is that you cannot ever separate yourself from the city. In the case of the women of Brewster Place, it may take a catastrophic event to make that abundantly clear, but whether it be a significant event, or a gradual occurrence, the city will break through the barrier, because it is inherently connected to its citizens as a living entity, and we are connected to the city,

Loyola: A City College?

I felt as if much of the reading of Jane Jacobs’s, The Death and Life of Great American Cities is directly related to Baltimore City. Her commentary of diversity and borders in the city, are specifically insightful. These genius observations by Jane Jacobs relating to the city effectively help explain the destructive and progressive aspects of the city and its people. After reading, I now consider that much of the responsibility of the death of parts of a city relates to the physical downfalls and errors in the planning process of the buildings and institutions throughout the city. This downfall is not completely contributed solely to the preliminary planning stage, but to the new stages of additional development and renovation, specifically with physical and unintentional borders created by establishments throughout the city. Jane Jacobs discusses the barriers and borders created by universities in the city.

Many of Jane Jacob’s elements of the creation of physical borders are demonstrated at Loyola. When driving along the surrounding streets of Loyola, there is literally no view of the beautiful campus. Driving on Coldspring Lane, the view of Loyola College is the back of our buildings. It seems as if Loyola deliberately has constructed a completely physical wall around the campus, separating us from the surroundings. The Cold Spring entrances of Newman Towers, which actually face the street, have been sealed off. All of Loyola’s buildings face inward—not outward—creating the illusion that we are separate from our neighborhood and the city around us. When you do not have the view of the back of a building, large sprawling and towering bushes and hedges obscure the view of Loyola, when driving at a moderate pace, only quick glimpses can be seen. When thinking about it, the only exception I could find at Loyola is the location of the Fitness and Aquatic Center, an establishment for which we are notoriously known. Even the FAC has a wrought iron and brick fence along the sidewalk, but at least the landscape can be seen from the street. Maybe the Fitness and Aquatic Center, one of the newer buildings of Loyola, was an attempt to break the physical barriers so steeped in Loyola’s history.

Bringing Down Borders

Jane Jacob’s assessment on borders seems to be quite valid for any city. She writes, “Often borders are thought of as passive objects, or matter-of-factly just as edges. However, a border exerts an active influence” (157). Jacob’s assessment of borders is a reality, and it is true that the results will be rewarding if we try to eliminate these borders, whether they are physical or not.

Jacobs writes, “The true trouble with borders, as city neighbors, is that they are apt to form dead ends for most users of city streets. They represent, for most people, most of the time, barriers” (259). In The Women of Brewster Place, the wall is a symbol of limitations, which leads to the women’s decision to tear it down at the end of the novel. When they tear down this wall, they are declaring that they will not allow barriers in their city. They crave interaction with the rest of the city, as well as respect. The tearing down of the wall shows the determination of these women to change their reputation with the surrounding communities. They wish to end the cycle that they have always been a part of. They understand that borders are inhibiting. Jacobs mentions that borders do not allow “continuous mingling of people, present because of different purposes”. Borders prevent streets from interconnecting, thus preventing the entire city from association altogether. Sadly, “ [the border is the] only device that encourages districts to form a place of fragmented, self-isolated neighborhoods or backwaters” (259). People erect borders within their city because they want to be surrounded by what is familiar to them. They want to close off the outside world, so that they can live an isolated life. In Krik? Krak!, the boy and the girl are able to exchange letters to each other regardless of the distance that separates them. Clearly, borders are not an issue for them. They transcend the brokenness of their homeland of Haiti, which is very divided by borders. Likewise, Danticat is trying to disintegrate the borders we erect by calling out to a universal audience. She is trying to connect with us by yelling Krik!, in hopes that we will display our attention by replying Krak!. She wants to connect with her audience without anything prohibiting this-race, class, etc, so that we can understand her message. Marco Polo sees a similarity with every city he visits in Invisible Cities, which shows his ability to transcend the borders that may be in place within and outside of each city. Following this pattern, Kolvenbach’s mission for the entire Jesuit community is centered on interaction with the city, which is aimed at eliminating or somewhat breaking the borders of cities. In No Longer at Ease, Obi attempts to transcend the borders his village creates, but they do not allow him to do so. Clearly, borders are an inevitable part of cities. Whether these borders are physical, racial, economic, or cultural, they do exist. However, accepting these borders does not have to be a part of our interaction with the city. We must strive to overcome them.

When we do our service, we are challenging the borders that are within our city. If we leave the popular areas of Baltimore and traverse to the less populated edges of town, we are making use of that wasted space that Jacobs despises so greatly. If borders are rendered useless by sections, it seems as though the only solution would be to join everything within the city, so that there are no more borders whatsoever. Is this really possible? Perhaps it is not. However, it is possible to remove some of the barriers that are present within the city. Blurring, if not eliminating the lines that divide our cities inside and out, seems to be the ultimate way to aid in their survival.

A More Diverse and Integrated Baltimore

When I read the chapters on borders and diversity, I couldn't help but think about Baltimore, mostly because I don't know any other city better and I think Baltimore sets an example for most of the theories Jane Jacobs discusses. If Baltimore does fit into the mold that Jacobs describes about diversity, then Baltimore is in fact destroying itself. I notice it when I drive through the city to go to a doctor's appointment, pick up my brother from the train station, go to dinner with friends, or traveling to and from my internship. The city has its sections, its neighborhoods if you will and each one is more different than the next and each one is treated like its own little entity. In order for the city to thrive and have enough diversity to actually be successful, it needs to merge all these neighborhoods and each place has to rely on the one next to it to fulfill its needs.

Earlier this morning I was walking down St. Paul street south of the Washington Monument trying desperately to find an ATM to pay my parking fee in the Mercy Hospital garage. While I was walking on the street I saw business men and women, bus drivers, newspaper salesmen, random pedestrians, homeless people and a group of protestors chanting about low wages for carpenters and construction workers, all mingling together and existing on the same street, the same block and a half of sidewalk. It was miraculous, something I had never seen in Baltimore. It also lead to a feeling of complete safety. I never once had to worry that someone was following me, or looking at me funny, or wondering what I was doing. After reading the Jacobs I consider that section of Baltimore the epitome of a diversified city. It has banks, businesses, restaurants, groceries, stores, etc. making the section of downtown very safe and constantly populated with a wide variety of different people with different purposes.

The other idea that got me thinking about Baltimore in particular was the idea of merging and opening up the institutions of the city to the city. In class someone had mentioned the fact that Loyola's campus is closed off to the city, it's all inward, no one can see in and we can barely see out. This may be a reason why there is so much hostility regarding Loyola students, we are not accepting the city, we close it off and act as if it doesn't exist; I wouldn't like us much either. Again, while I was driving down St. Paul Street this morning I was watching the bussle around the new Barnes & Noble built for the John's Hopkins campus. The sidewalk is very large and has a multitude of benches in front of it. I saw so many different people sitting on those benches, standing on the sidewalks together, people that didn't all look like students, a mixing of several city people. This made me think of Jacobs when she said that the institutions of the city should open up their campus to the public, integrate itself so it can take place in the diversity and help the city as well. I thought the bookstore was a perfect example of something that is aiding in the diversifying and integrating of the city

Lenses

Can the cities be united?

Throughout this semester, we have seen so many different cities. From the many varying cities of Calvino to the focused view of our own city, Baltimore, we have analyzed, defined and discussed several different characteristics about each city. And when thinking about all of the cities that we have seen thus far, what is something that unites them all? There is only one thing I can think of, and that is us. That we have seen each of these cities through these different authors’ lenses and developed opinions on each city and discussed it to a certain length, questioning and commenting on so many different parts of each city.
And in some ways this is very good. Because we do get to open our eyes, our lenses some might say, to take in all of these different cities. However, the thing that is the most important in this is that there still is a lens. No matter in how many ways one views the city or in how many books one reads about the city, there is always a lens, sometimes a false one, sometimes a stereotypical one. However, there doesn’t seem to be a way to break that lens.
While I was walking down Charles Street, waiting for the Walters Museum to open, it dawned on me that I had driven by these shops and cafes several times previously but had never seen them in this light, expanding the lens that I had about that specific area of Charles Street. However, had I seen all of that area of Charles Street? I later on realized no, because as I was looking for the bus stop that would take me back to Loyola, I passed by the same shops again, not realizing that I was retracing steps that I had made only hours previously. So, again the lens was expanded. And even if I had seen this part of Charles Street in every light imaginable, this was only a narrow block of the entire city of Baltimore, how would I be able to see Baltimore, as the city that it is, not through any lenses, if this one small part of it had taken so long for me to see?
Is it possible to break these lenses that we see our own city through? This is even more true for cities that we haven’t seen with our own eyes. I have never seen Port-au-Prince; but, now, I have a lens to see it through. The only way that I would be able to expand on the lens is by going to Port-au-Prince or hearing someone else’s view on it. But even then, I or the other person I am reading have/has made choices to see certain things in a certain way.
Is there a way to remove the lens in order to see the city as the city? Or must we continuously strive to expand our lenses but never be able to see it as it truly is? Is there even such a thing? Or is everything in our world only seen through our lenses?

Social Implications of Borders and Diversity

Borders are not solely dangerous physical limitations but also very dangerous social limitations. Jacobs, for very good reasons, chose not to address these social boundaries that exist within cities, but implicitly hinted at their effects. I found it quite interesting how well the two chapters concerning diversity and borders fit together. A point Jacobs doesn’t explicitly make but I felt was a strong notion was that fact that this lack and presence of diversity depend on the borders that the city creates.

Jacobs speaks of businesses moving to where the most profit occurs at a particular time and location in the city. With this grand relocation they destroy the physical diversity that once thrived. These thriving portions of the city always rely on location. These locations depend on the borders that surround them. Like Jacobs stated, the borders are hardly places where diversity could ever thrive, in fact, hardly any citizens of the city inhabit these borders. These borders many times mark the position where certain districts in the city begin and where they end.

Naylor spoke of the wall that served as a border between Brewster Place and the more upscale portions of the city. The wall is a not only a constant reminder of the physical barrier that separates Brewster Place but it also serves as a social reminder of their lower class status. Jacobs mentions that she will not discuss the social aspect of borders in cities but I believe that is a very important factor. The physical borders Jacobs so accurately describes has an unbelievable effect on the people affected by those borders.

Examples of the social impact due to borders are the statements people make when they talk about the projects. As Chris Rock once said, “Black people don’t want to live in the ghetto either.” Different bordered communities have stereotypes that the people that live there feel more comfortable that those people that enter in without living there. The mayor of Newark, NJ, although black, and living in the projects, probably does not feel welcome there for a number of other reasons. As we get farther into this class I begin to notice that most of the social borders put up between people are ones concerning class, rather than race. I am not trying to say that racism is not a problem, but when I think of problems facing prejudices, I believe that people within their own race judge one another based on class. Borders and the desire to get into certain locations in the city cause these class issues.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

City as a Commodity

For the past several months working as a Real Estate, I have come to realize how important the home can be to a family or individual. It is not only shelter, but also a definition of that person considering its architectural characteristics and especially its location. My company focuses on the satisfaction of the customer’s want and/or need. Most of the time customers demand that location become a part of their equation when finding their dream house. This concept of residential “location” has been turned into a commodity as pointed out by Jane Jacobs in her book, The Death and Life of the Great American Cities.
The focus of many architects or city designers in not based on the needs of the already established population. Their goals have turned toward the needs and wants of a new wealthier consumer population moving into the cities. As Jacobs explain the streets and areas of the city have become “successful”. She states, “ We are accustomed to thinking of streets, or neighborhoods of streets as divided into functional uses—entertainment, offices, residents, shopping or the like. And so they are, but only to a degree if they maintain their success” (245). There is no focus on improving on the people who live there now. It is on the focus in on the new improvements coming into the city. The city has turned into a commodity to become successful in the arena of the new population.
By turning the city into a commodity and attracting a different class of people to the city, it only creates more problems, and it is not a cure. The commodity is very harmful to established people in the city. The people of Baltimore can be easily placed aside to make room for bigger and better apartments, shopping, and entertainment for the new population moving. The city of Baltimore should first focus on its own internal problems before electing new populations in.

Waterfront Property

For an assignment at my internship, I had the unique opportunity this morning to meet with an architect and an interior designer in Canton for a walk-through of a condominium they had renovated. Driving into Canton, I suddenly felt like I was no longer in Baltimore anymore; rather, I could have been at the Jersey "shore" or in southern California because the sunlight was brightly glistening off the water and everything seemed to draw attention to the waterfront. The homeowners had probably paid a fortune to give up their two-story house in suburban Washington D.C. to live in this tiny condominium, well-designed but remarkable mostly for its waterfront view. I learned that Canton used to be a center of industry in Baltimore and that most of the waterfront properties coveted by real estate seekers today were actually warehouses that manufactured goods like tin boxes. The working class people of Baltimore used to make their livings here, and I suspect one of the only things they could look forward to in the morning was the breathtaking view of the harbor that people pay huge sums of money for today.

Jacobs writes: "...the relatively few city residential districts that do become outstandingly magnetic and successful at generating diversity and vitality are subjected ultimately to the same forces of self-destruction as downtowns. In this case, so many people want to live in the locality that it becomes profitable to build, in excessive and devastating quantity, for those who can pay the most. These are usually childless people, and today they are not simply people who can pay the most in general, but people who can or will pay the most for the smallest space." (249). It's strange to think that much of the character and charm of a neighborhood that draws wealthy people to Canton was built on the sweat and toil of working class people who never found anything glamorous about their 9-5 and their warehouses. But now it's chic to live in a converted warehouse. It's like displaying the fact that you have enough money to sleep peacefully in a bed you make on the workbench that a blue collar worker used to make your goods.

Then again, I would love to live in Canton Cove or any other waterfront property; it's one of my dreams, actually. And honestly, I guess I wouldn't think too much of the gentrification if it didn't effect me personally. This doesn't really have to do with Baltimore but another city, Wildwood, NJ. Most people probably wouldn't find Wildwood, on the southernmost tip of NJ to be the most classiest place, but it's particularly special to me because my parents used to take me there every summer as a child for at least a week, and it's where I first fell in love with the beach and beach culture. I still make it a point to visit now, even though my parents don't understand why I refuse to try other summer destinations. Every time I visit Wildwood, more and more of the DooWop (1950s) style motels are demolished for luxury condominiums. This doesn't make any sense to me and is a cause for sadness. Wildwood is not ready to sustain these people with higher incomes because a lot of the city, especially in the northern end, is not in great shape. The city's reputation is its ability to draw families, especially those with lower incomes. The beach is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen, remains free (a rarity of NJ beaches) and shouldn't be restricted to only those people who can afford ridiculously high waterfront property prices. I guess wherever there's water and a view, the same thing occurs.

Borders

The second half of the Jacob's novel contains an extensive analysis of the borders surrounding the city. While not literal, the single use buildings literally keep the city (or parts of the city) in while making a subtle statement to the outside world to steer clear. She considers these boundaries to be dangerous and unhealthy for the life of a city, as the residents feel trapped on all sides and there is no free flow of movement. In short, it creates a dead end in a supposedly vital area.

This reminded me specifically of the wall in Brewster Place. The building had be thriving and full of life and culture and families before the wall went up. After, the people became depressed and defeated and Brewster Place quickly went into a decline. The women, it's new lifesource, felt the effects and began to give up. Maddie moves to Brewster place because she has no other choice. For her and most of the women in the building, Brester really is a dead end both literally and figuratively. The wall not only kept the women in and the world out, but it began to keep them down as well. This physical separation had distastrous consequences and had to be violently removed for the women to be able to breathe.

I was also reminded of a more mental border, but a border no less in Tess' world in Butchers Hill. She describes the supposed hierarchy of the neighborhoods in Baltimore and how the residents are able to feel superior to others based on their location, although only bounded by a name. Certain older residents, she says, will even ask you what side of the water tower you lived on in a specific neighborhood. This is essentially the same thing as the age old question of the railroad tracks to which Jacobs refers. Whether a physical building or wall or a mental boundary and the prejudices of the 'tracks', cities are both bounded from the outside and divided within and as we learn from Naylor's novel, things walled up too long eventually explode.

The Naturalness of the City

Jane Jacobs discusses the sentimentalizing of nature in the closing to her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Jacobs asserts, “It is neither love for nature nor respect for nature that leads to this schizophrenic attitude. Instead, it is a sentimental desire to toy…with some insipid, standardized, suburbanized shadow of nature…And so, each day, several thousand more acres of our countryside are eaten by the bulldozers, covered by pavement, dotted with suburbanites who have killed the thing they thought they came to find” (Jacobs 445). The naturalness of the city is spurned for a vague, idealized notion of nature that people convince themselves is real. The real nature is destroyed as people seek to commune with their idealized nature and the naturalness of the city is forgotten. For the past decade Baltimoreans have fled the city in search of better education, nicer housing, and more “nature” and space in the suburbs. Catonsville, Columbia, and other areas around Baltimore continue to grow at an alarming rate, the trees and open space of Howard County, Baltimore County, and Anne Arundel County giving way to identical “McMansions.” Those who cannot afford to leave the city remain as the schools and houses that were left behind fall into disrepair. The city is neglected as people who see “only disorder in the life of city streets” (Jacobs 447) flee to the suburbs.

In her book, Jacobs describes the desecration of a park by “improvers on nature” (446). Instead of allowing the natural wonders of the park to flourish, developers demolished a slope of muddy clay on a strip of beach in order to make room for a retaining wall that extended that park’s lawns. This example is interesting for me to consider because my neighbors “improved” their property in the exact same way. They moved in next door a few years ago and tore down the original beach cottage that had served as the previous residents’ home for over fifty years. They built an enormous pier and razed the bamboo growing on a hill to make room for a retaining wall. The retaining wall also covered the natural deposit of clay that my brother and I collected as children, and that my mother and her cousins collected over thirty years ago. In their effort to enjoy nature, my neighbors destroyed the natural wonders that were already there. It is not entirely fair for me to criticize my neighbors because my family did essentially the same thing. My great-great-grandfather did not build a pier, but he did construct a retaining wall to keep the hill that he built his house on from sliding into the river. He fled the city and my grandparents and mother fled their row house in Dundalk every summer for the suburban house. Eventually they stayed in the suburbs year-round.

Jacobs notes that “Vital cities have marvelous innate abilities for understanding, communicating, contriving and inventing what is required to combat their difficulties” (Jacobs 447). It is time for us to stop fleeing the problems of our sick cities; we need to stay and make our cities vital so that they are able to combat their difficulties. Dundalk and other areas are suffering because the people who are able to make changes and contribute to the economy and life of the city are leaving.

Encountering a city in relation to Jacobs' analysis

Encountering a city means that one experiences both the good and the bad that the area has to offer. No city is perfect. Jane Jacobs, in her The Death and Life of Great American Cities, repeats numerous times that one must prevent a city from failure, as the city will thus become undesirable. I believe, on the other hand, that this cycle of life and death of a city is crucial to its development and to its history. As one delves into the reasons for a city’s failure, one learns about the potential that the area once had and the opportunities that could arise there in the future.

Jacobs, in her analysis of cities, gives many descriptions of the deaths that a city could encounter, highlighting in the second half of the book the lack of diversity that results from success. Jacobs states that each successful city eventually decays due to replication and to the lack of diversity that occurs: “Thus, from this process, one or few dominating uses finally emerge triumphant…From this point on, the locality will gradually be deserted by people using it for purposes other than those that emerged triumphant from the competition—because the other purposes are no longer there…In time, a place that was once so successful and once the object of such ardent competition, wanes and becomes marginal” (Jacobs 243). As people recognize the economic opportunities that are available in a certain area, they build their own versions of the desired establishments, thus leading to increasing competition and to a need to relocate, which further leads to desolation in the sections as the residents do not see the novelty that the first business once had. There is no remaining diversity in the area because there are only duplications of the existing organizations. According to Jacobs, this lack of diversity then leads to “pockets of nothing much at all, places which the most intensive new combinations of diversity have by-passed or over which they have leapfrogged…There is space here, but nothing to catalyze uses for it” (Jacobs 248). Instead of having these sections of constant replications, Jacobs states, there needs to be an incentive to move these businesses to other areas which might have a need for their purposes: “The problem is to hamper excess duplications at one place, and divert them instead to other places in which they will not be excess duplications, but healthy additions…They must be places where the use concerned will have an excellent opportunity for sustained success” (Jacobs 252). Only if establishments place themselves in unique locations will they be able to prosper because they will be the only providers of a service that benefits a community. Jacobs highlights the trend that duplicating businesses leads to degradation in an area because the residents will not see the novelty that the organizations bring and thus will leave the section to die from competition.

Jacobs’ error lies in her inability to notice that a city’s failures in the past form an important part of the area’s history and can be an indicator of the possibilities that could uplift the city. Jacobs never delves into the history surrounding the cities’ businesses, only stating that they arrived, they multiplied, they destroyed diversity, and they died – there is no analysis as to why these particular organizations decided to found themselves in that certain area. For example, a bookstore may have chosen its location because it was close to a prosperous elementary school. Thus, other bookstores decided to take advantage of the advantageous location and built their establishments there. Jacobs only focuses on the second part of this example, where the stores duplicate themselves, instead of focusing on the fact that there was a particular school in the area that needed their services. The crucial point of this history lies in the school – the center of the city’s future in that it provides an education to the children who will shape the city in the years to come. One needs to research this failure of the bookstores in order to understand that area of the city. Failure is part of a city’s history. Encountering a city lies in encountering both its prosperous and its decaying sections. One needs to delve deeper in an area in order to unearth its past, even if this past includes failure. The study of history is based on success and on failure. One can learn from both of these. Moreover, this cycle of life and death is necessary in order to ensure that progress and maturity occur in the area. If a city remains the same, there is no guarantee that it will survive. It is this constant state of change that garners people’s attention. Furthermore, nowhere does Jacobs state that these businesses that were once crowded-out could return to the open pocket in order to once again cause the area to strive. She just assumes that they will lay in decay forever. She demonstrates no hope for the ability of the residents to come to the deserted section with a new idea that may alleviate its current situation. In addition to negating the value of a decaying area, Jacobs also ignores the possibilities of rebirth and of re-growth that could result from destruction.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Is Baltimore's Diversity Good or Destructive?

Something that makes Baltimore unique from any other city in America and any other city in the world, for that matter, is its diversity. Not restricted to the citizens, Baltimore's diversity is something that is very tangible and is illustrated via the numerous neighborhoods. In Laura Lippman's novel, Butcher's Hill, her main character, Tess Monaghan, gives the reader a little insight to all of these different areas: "Roland Park looked down on Tuxedo Park, which felt itself superior to Evergreen, where people fretted they would be mistaken for Hampden-ites, whose feelings were hurt by the suggestion that they lived in Remington, where people sneered at Pigtown (Lippman, 187)." The term "checker-board city," has come up many times in our class discussion about Baltimore. One minute, you could be driving through Mt. Vernon or Charles Village and the next, your doors will be locked, and windows rolled up as you pass through Govans. Such diversity is what gives Baltimore its charm. Let's face it, the city would be completely different if it were comprised solely of the Inner Harbor and Fell's Point.

However, it is this diversity that Jane Jacobs warns us about in her novel, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. As we have learned from her novel thus far, cities go through different periods of growth. At times they progress, at others they retrogress. Jacobs discusses her theory of the "self-destruction of diversity," which can be defined as a city's ability to destroy itself as a result of the various levels of success a city enjoys based on its diversity within. This occurs when a particular neighborhood undergoes a period of re-growth, attracting a large number to it, while it establishes itself as a population center. "This is a force that creates has-been districts, and is responsible for much inner-city stagnation and decay (Jacobs, 242)." Baltimore has been praised in recent years for the revitalization of the Inner Harbor. Well, that's all fine and great, but what about the blocks upon blocks of condemned row houses? This is the perfect example of Baltimore destroying itself.

Jacobs goes on to assert that, "A diversified mixture of uses at some place in the city becomes outstandingly popular and successful as a whole. Because of the locations success, which is incurably based on flourishing and magnetic diversity, ardent competition for space in this locality develops. It is taken up in what amounts to the economic equivalent of a fad (Jacobs, 243)" Again, this theory manifests itself in Baltimore. How many new Marriots are going up in the Inner Harbor? On the water in Federal Hill, the Ritz-Carlton is building "luxury condos," starting at one mill. These areas are experiencing an economic boost, while areas like Govans and Butcher's Hill are riddled with pot-holes and gangs.

I think that what Jacobs is trying to show us, is that diversity is an important aspect of what makes a city great, and that we should not forego this diversity for the sake of the neighborhood. If the city undergoes revitalization on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis, it can never really progress, as some parts will be unequal to others.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Eat a little and think you know Baltimore

Laura Lippman describes her character Tess in the novel Butcher Hill as a very strong and confident young woman . In the novel, Tess moves to a new area in Baltimore and becomes a partner in a detective agency in Butcher Hill. She appears to be extremely intelligent and very aware of her surroundings; however Tess is unable to mentally and emotionally connect to the city of Baltimore.
The novel begins with Tess walking her dog through the city of Baltimore. She describes the beautiful arrangement of the city. She depicts the parks, the streets, and the weather. She states, “ But this was a perfect day. Spring had started out cool and wet in Baltimore this year, then settled into a pattern of eerily exquisite days(19). Tess appears to understand the city. She explains the checkered pattern of the city with it poor areas and its neighboring wealthy developments. Tess continues to walk and explore Baltimore. She stops and even purchases “Berger” cookies to eat on her walk. The Berger cookie is the cookie of Baltimore. Tess is actually consuming Baltimore. Lippman presents Tess’s understanding of Baltimore as a very shallow comprehension. Yes, Tess can observe the city and judge the city and it inhabitants. She can even claim to be physically a part of the city, but she does not connect to the city. Tess emerges herself in the city, and even engulfs the city, yet she is not fully a part of the city . Tess cannot completely understand or connect with Baltimore. Through the novel Tess believes she knows everything about the city and everyone. She has preconceived notions of her clients and the areas she investigates.
Tess’s view on Baltimore reminds me of the simple view Loyola students have on the city. Loyola students might think they understand the lay out of Baltimore, its museums, its inhabitants, and even its food. But this does not necessarily mean that students can cannot and truly comprehend the true nature of Baltimore.