Adios, Nueva York

CITY LIMITS’ September/October 2004 issue has a timely article, Adios, Nueva York, about the Puerto Rican exodus from New York City during the last decade. According to the 2000 census, NYC lost 10% of its Puerto Rican population between 1990-2000! While many left for the island, a significant number have headed to surprising destinations like Lawrence, MA and Reading and Allentown, PA, doubling the overall Latino population in each city — 60%, 37% and 24% respectively.

The article itself focuses on Allentown – the metropolitan neighbor of my theoretical oasis, Bethlehem – and the troubles migrating Nuyoricans, primarily from the Bronx, have faced upon their arrival. A frying pan to the fryer scenario in many cases, particularly for those in the lowest income brackets.

One of those interviewed laid part of the blame on some newcomers’ attitudes: “It’s people coming lately from New York. They move here and don’t change their lives. They play their loud music; they sell you-know-what on the corner. I see them coming and I cross the street.” Sadly, this wasn’t some PA native speaking wistfully of Allentown’s long-gone status as an “All-American City.” Instead, she’s an older Latina from Brooklyn who moved there with her husband and three kids in the late ’90s.

For many of the low-income migrants – those represented in the article, at least – it seems the biggest problems come from unrealistic expectations. Lacking a HS diploma or GED is going to make life tough no matter where you go, even more so in places like Allentown with restructuring economies.

Middle-income professionals have always been the best candidates for migrating to smaller cities, the equivalent of suburban flight, leaving the poor to fend for themselves in neighborhoods that quickly become ignored and effectively trapping them in a vicious cycle of poverty. At best, any hope for the future lies with the next generation but, of course, the odds are stacked against them, too.

The dirty side effect of the American Dream being an individual competition instead of a communal act?

7 thoughts on “Adios, Nueva York

  1. I dont mean to sound naive, but what’s wrong with worrying about the well being of your own family and not everyone else in your ‘hood?

    Not everyone in the ghetto ends up staying there and doing nothing with their lives – some get good educations and good jobs and move on, making their adult lives and the lives of their children that much better. The Gonzalez’s and the Rau’s (when we have children) are living proof of this.

    Moving on and possibly into the ‘burbs doesnt necessarily mean ‘fuck all’ to the old haunts, y’know?

  2. First, there’s nothing wrong with looking out for number one. That’s a given. However, none of us live in a vacuum and everything we do, for better or worse, has its consequences. Societal issues are no different from interpersonal ones in that regard.

    Second, speaking specifically for myself, I am “living proof” of my mother’s many sacrifices, positive and negative, as well as the fact that my low-income childhood was in a relatively decent neighborhood. I don’t claim “the streets” or “the hood” or “the ghetto,” and I certainly would never pretend that I lacked opportunities. That said, I also consider my experience an exception for that of most of those I grew with and around.

    Third, you’re right, suburban flight “doesnt necessarily mean ‘fuck all’ to the old haunts,” but more often than not, that’s exactly what it means – if not by intent, certainly by action. How many people stay connected to their old neighborhoods if they’re not still tied to them by family?

    Finally, as I mentioned a couple of days ago, this kind of thing is a highly subjective, individual decision made all the more difficult by the disproportionate ease of one choice over the other. Beyond extreme circumstances where lives are actually in danger every day – ironically, the most likely type of situation where people find themselves without a legitimate choice, as evidenced in the article – it’s always easier to walk away than it is to commit to change.

  3. True dat. I have to admit, I personally dont really enjoy going back to Washington Heights – basically because I feel like its never really DONE anything for me. I was never one of those kids that hung out in the nieghborhood and, for the most part, I went to schools outside of the ‘hood as well. I believe my mother always thought of the place as a means to an end… cheap living to get us somewhere better.

    I had a few friends who went through the Hud Housing program and moved their family to PA (actually, I think it was Bethlehem!) – they had more space and the kids had a few more opportunities however, my friend still ended up working as a Home Attendant to make ends meet. Sure she got more for her buck, but unfortunately she got less bucks overall, so technically she was in the same boat, but with less dealers on the street and more trees. :-/

  4. Reading, PA, from what I remember of my time there about 12 years ago, was very run down and depressed. I used to do some work at a youth home there. Things may have changed since then.

  5. The thing is you never leave your baggage behind. Your mindset always follow you. “You can take the person out of the ghetto, but not the ghetto out of the person,” rings true.

    Only when your mindset improves will your enviornment and quality of life improve. And one should never wait for others when it comes to advancing oneself. You were born alone and will die alone.

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