Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Most Dangerous Neighborhood In Phoenix

When we moved back downtown
the questions flew like confederate flags
from the lips of -ists
take your pick, they all exist
in the most dangerous neighborhoods
in Phoenix
elitist, segregationist
racist, classist
the -isms flow freely
like trash
on a river
along with the questions
that pretend to be polite
but never really are

"So, what made you decide
to move down there?"

"Wow, isn't that sort of a...
rough neighborhood?"

"Oh. My. Couldn't you find
anything further North?"

And I dodged and deflected
for as long as I could
because me?
I find it incredibly rude to insult
someone's home
but the -ists?
they know plenty about etiquette
and nothing of manners

Saturday evening
early Summer
sky still light
and my twelve-year
old daughter
picked up
by her friend's mother
sleepover
in suburbia
the streets were full
cars and people
music from open windows
Mariachi
rap
jazz
gospel from the choir
practicing across the street
people visiting
family
people hanging out
with friends
people
walking to restaurants
and bars
and coffee shops
and grocery stores
people
living their lives

but somehow
what that girl's
mother saw was

DANGER


and without a second thought
she flung that shit
in my daughter's direction
her thoughtless
linguistic shrapnel cutting
her down
in seconds flat
nowhere to duck and cover
in the backseat of
a mini-van

"This is a bad neighborhood.
I was scared to have you wait
outside.
I was scared to circle the block
again when I couldn't find
the address the first time around.
I was scared to drive down here
at night."

And I wasn't in the car
so I got the information
second hand
from my daughter's mouth
from the pain and confusion
in her eyes
from the anger in her stance
and the set of her jaw
that was strong enough
to keep tears at bay

I won't dodge those questions
ever again
I may be a pacifist
but this is a war zone
and my children
will not be your casualties
in the name
of keeping the peace

What made me decide
to move down here?
Couldn't I find
something further North?
Well. Since you asked...

I mean, I hope you don't
take this the wrong way,
no offense
I am sure you have your
reasons for living where
you do
and, I mean, if it was just me
I could live anywhere
but being that you're a mother
too
I am sure you will understand
when I say that I had to think
about my children
when choosing a neighborhood

Your neighborhood scares me.
I think it is dangerous.
My daughters are still intact
they know when you drive
"down here"
and say that it doesn't seem
very safe
that what you actually mean
is that it doesn't seem
very white
and it isn't cute when
you survey a group of
children
and say that it looks like
we have our own little
United Nations Meeting
in progress
it is insulting
and it is false, because
they were all born
in the United States
so around here, we just
say that it looks like we
have a lot of friends
over

and because I would
much rather live
in a neighborhood
where some of the houses
have
bars on the windows
than in one
in which the residents
have bars on their hearts

you will not have opportunity
to gate code
my daughters' souls
to install security systems
that ring false alarms
silencing
their still, small voices
called instinct
that feeling
deep in the gut
that tells them when
to cross
the street to avoid
the white guy
in an $80,000
car
because they will
not be programmed
to assume
security based on
skin color
or threat
by socioeconomic
status

Your neighborhood
feels dangerous to me
because
I am raising white teenage
girls
and they need to know
that
the men who will pose
the greatest threats
to them
throughout the course
of their lives
are rich, white, older
and have titles
in front of their names
like
Senator
Representative
Governor
Sheriff
Officer

and because they need
to know that
statistically
they
are much more likely
to be molested
raped
stalked
beaten
or otherwise
assaulted
by someone
of their
own
race
by someone
they know
than by some
stranger on the street
by someone
in a position of power
and trust

and no HOA
with their measuring
sticks
to make sure your lawn
is socially acceptable
and
outrageous fees
for parking on the
wrong side
of the street
will
ever create enough
of
a veneer
to protect from
fear
cloaked
in functional alcoholism
and
prescription drug
addiction
and working
yourself
into an early grave
because
you can't stand to come
home
to your unhappy marriage
and your
spoiled kids
who gauge their friendships
on the price
of each other's jeans
while
you turn away in disgust
from the
man passed out
in the gutter
from
corner store hooch
and gauge
the quality of your
peers
by the degrees they
hold

Why did I move down here?
Couldn't I find anything
further North?
Simple.
I had to think about my daughters.
It was a matter
of
Safety.




43 comments:

  1. That took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. Good, great, honest, beautiful words. We lived in one of "those" neighborhoods in Mesa, and I felt safer than I ever had because I actually KNEW my neighbors and we all looked out for each other. And you are so right about the REAL threats to young women. Thank you so much for sharing.

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    1. Really classy response.

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    3. Not sure why I showed up as "Unknown" the first time but...Um, thanks.
      If that was meant sarcastically you obviously don't know either one of us.

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  3. :) yes...will definitely have to hear this read out loud. xo

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    1. I am reading it at a fundraiser in late June, but if you don't want to wait, I will do it for you any time.

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  4. Awesome Mani! I couldn't have said it better myself. I've lived in Central Phoenix all my life and, though I haven't always been happy with the changes I have seen I haven't been able to bring myself to live in suburbia. I'm sure there are some great neighborhods and great people out there but I have also experienced what lies just under the veneer in some parts of town, particularly more affluent areas. It is a cluelessness and a racism that is more of an unconscious bias.

    Some people don't even realize the racist world view they have. It is hidden under polite banter and whispered among friends in watered down language that makes them feel they are righteous in their indignation but certainly not bigoted. Some of these people are very nice folks in other ways and don't even see the glasses they are looking through until someone as eloquent as you points it out. For them there is hope. For others, well, I guess we'll just have to wait for another generation and hope their kids can educate them.

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  5. YEAH!!! Woohoo!! I love it. And I love living in south central Phoenix.

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    1. I also chose to live in South Central Phoenix when I lived in Arizona. For all those reasons and more. I never had 1 bad thing happen to any of my 5 children. They grew up culturally diverse and know much about the real things that matter in this life. Our quality of life was amazing for not having to shell out all our money on a huge fancy new house mortgage. And I did it all as a single mom. :D <3 Downtown

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  6. jeez louise and now i exhale. damn fabulous & wonderful & oh my goodness, but
    and because I would
    much rather live
    in a neighborhood
    where some of the houses
    have
    bars on the windows
    than in one
    in which the residents
    have bars on their hearts

    just knocked my socks off.

    yep.

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    Replies
    1. Those lines blew me away too.
      Brava! LOVE this!

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    2. Yeah. That part. Whew! So good.

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  7. That was amazing! It's funny how you hit upon some of the things I've actually been thinking and wondering about recently. A few weeks ago I took my youngest daughter for a ride on the metro. She'd never been on it so we parked downtown, bought an all day pass, and hopped on. We had a great time and even met an older woman in a wheel chair who we struck up a conversation with. Along the way I noticed a restaurant called the Old Spaghetti Factory (or something like that) off of Central. We stopped, had a great meal, and checked out the 5 story library acroos the street...it was amazing! Then we got back on the metro. We kind of got lost on the way back and ended up getting off a few stops past our car. We had fun just walking around downtown and I thought how cool it would be to live downtown with all it's shops and things to do. The only thing that scared me a bit was having several homeless people ask for money. I gave what I had to the first man and woman but hurried past the second guy. That did make be feel a little nervous. So, how is it living Downtown? In some ways it seems like it would be amazing, especially with the metro to take you where you want and so many people actually walking around. I liked the sense of community it had. I was actually wondering in my mind if I would ever consider moving there...what do you say?

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    1. I love living downtown. In the eight years I have lived in the valley, I have lived all over the place, from Anthem to Chandler, but I always end up back in downtown. And now that I have experienced living in several neighborhoods, I know that I will stay put in downtown until the time comes for me to move to another state. It is where I feel the safest, where I experience the strongest sense of community with my neighbors, where I can walk live in a diverse environment, which is incredibly important to me, I could go on and on. Consider it! And yes, people will regularly ask you for money. I give it when I can spare it, and decline with apologies when I cannot, and have never felt threatened.

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  8. wow !!!
    well said
    my family and I live 'down here' too.

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  9. that was just awesome. i was talking about this the other day. just awesome.

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  10. Replies
    1. Thank you! Everyone is, once they realize it.

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  11. That was very cool. I can appreciate it, and I know my sister and her family can too. Well done! Publish that ASAP.

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  12. You captured everything I miss about living in the city. Maybe it's time we all made better choices, choices free from fears. Thanks for the words.

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  13. wow. your children are very lucky to have a mom looking out for their true safety.

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  14. Beautiful, truthful, and real. We moved from central Phoenix to "the north" 9 years ago next month--and still long to be back down where people know and talk to each other, where we all shared something besides a neatly edged and tidy street and dark sunscreens that blank out the faces of otherwise lively houses and shout "stay away". Lord, do I know where you're coming from. You're a real person!! There aren't too many of those left in our tract-house "neighborhoods". Good for you!!

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  15. Thank you so much for this - I've actually been having this conversation with someone important to me for the last couple of weeks.. I've lived in the suburbs and always felt like I could breathe again when I went into the city (where I moved back to as soon as possible and have stayed ever since). As a disabled low-income person, sometimes I wonder where I would fare better, but I always end up realizing that I would be even more isolated there. One of the best things about my neighborhood is that we all know each other; the people in my building, the store clerks, the mail carriers, the homeless person who sells the paper on the corner, the buskers who regularly play their music under my window - it's alive and messy and a real community. My mom, while visiting once, said, "I get why you love it, it's like a small town in the middle of the city". Almost, Mom...

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  16. Wow. That was amazing, potent, beautiful. Thanks.

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  17. You have no idea how much I love this and feel this. My family is of mixed races. I'm Californian of Mexican descent, he's white and from the South. We live on the edge of gang territory, downtown in the barrio. We've never been so happy. :) we get to keep chickens and see people riding horses on the weekends. We get to see lowriders cruising on warm nights a d we get to see some not to great stuff. But, we are happy.

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  18. Wow, that was powerful! I live in what is considered "Old" Chandler. Our houses actually have backyards. Most of our neighbors have lived in their homes for 15 - 25 years, and yes we all know each other. We wave, congregate in the middle of the street as we get home from work, borrow each other's tools. We bake cookies for each other at holidays and yes I feel comfortible enough to borrow a stick of butter, a few eggs or a cup of milk instead of going to the store when I need it. My neighborhood is extremely diverse and for outsiders looking in they may think "poor souls, living in a house that was built in the 70's," but when I look at my neighborhood I see family.

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  19. I can't tell you how much I love this. I live in the "ghetto" as I was told recently when I thought I lived somewhere that wasn't at all ghetto by any means. I once had the mindset that I had to live in the "white" part of Phoenix so that people would accept me. Turns out I was the only one who needed to accept me. Not a single friend lives near me and that's okay with me. My two year old has been able to try a ridiculous diversity of foods and be amongst people that appreciate what they have and what they do not. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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  20. I am glad you are happy with where you live, but I didn't care for the article. :( It makes you sound racist yourself and assume that everyone who doesn't live in your neighborhood is racist or chose not to live there for racist reasons.

    We all choose our neighborhoods for different reasons-usually where you work plays a huge factor and you circle out from there. People look at school districts, crime rates and whatever else might be important to them.

    Factors important to me in Arizona: close enough not to have an hour commute for my husband's job, no cow or farm smell and I needed a pool. Of course, our budget played the biggest factor and my husband's need for a 3 car garage narrowed down the available homes considerably.

    I'm not saying your argument is not valid because there are many people out there who are closed minded and share the thoughts you wrote about. Color, ethnicity, religious preference, etc. doesn't make someone safe and it's important to teach our children that. As I read the article, I felt as much animosity from you for not choosing to live in that neighborhood as you probably have received from the people you wrote about.

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    1. I am curious as to what part you found to be racist? I find it curious if you are insinuating that I am racist towards white people (I am white) for choosing a racially diverse neighborhood. Was it the part about my daughters being statistically more likely to be assaulted by a member of their own race? That isn't racist, that is fact. Most violent crimes/sex crimes do occur within the same race. Not all, of course, but the majority. I have lived in a few of the neighborhoods that I said scared me, and it was not skin color, but prevailing attitude, which, I would say, was strongly fueled by white privilege and a sense of superiority to people considered "other." I make no apologies for not wanting my daughters to grow up with that.

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    2. Who NEEDS a pool and a 3 car garage? Those sound much more like "wants".
      Mani, please ignore criticism from someone who can't tell the difference between wants and needs.

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    3. I think Bum Luxury has a point: ranting aside, it isn't pleasant to be grouped in with "racists" simply because one lives on the affluent side of town. I think reading all of Bum's post, (not just the first sentence), would make that clear.

      But, Bum, she wasn't ranting against you! she was ranting against the people who judge her for living where she lives.

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  21. Oh My!! I read this right after I watched the video of STRIVE. It was PERFECT!!! A powerful truth spoken by a fierce and beautiful goddess. Every time I read you or Jeanette it makes my insides ache for Arizona. Amazing, Mani. Simply AMAZING.

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  22. I wonder if you have any rooms for rent? I'd live next to you in a heartbeat :)

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  23. ("I am raising white teenage girls and they need to know that the men who will pose the greatest threats
    to them
    throughout the course of their lives are rich, white, older and have titles in front of their names like
    Senator Representative Governor Sheriff Officer")
    Amen sista!! As a single mom to a teenage girl who lives in a sketchy small town in Canada...I've never read anything more candid, more honest, more courageous!
    LOVE your blog!!!

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  24. I love you! When we moved to Flag, I instinctively a chose this neighbor and I am constantly put down for that decision. It turns out I moved to the "ghetto". It also turns out I love my neighbors, the smells, the sounds, the looking out for each other. I live that my children are growing up with children on other cultures, language and backgrounds. <3

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  25. I remember being embarrassed about the home I lived in for many years in Tucson, with my mom and brother (and eventually my mom, brother, sister-in-law, and two nephews). I loved the house when I was 12, but when I was 18 I found out that there were people in the world like the mom you wrote about. I was afraid of what people would think about where I lived way more than I was about actually living there.

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  26. This is absolutely amazing. And the kind of poetry I hope I will get a chance to teach to my students to open and broaden their minds when I begin teaching in a year.

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  27. Mani, seriously awesome read! Thank you...

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  28. Mani, I never see you anymore but you inspire me from afar. You grace and beauty shine though everything you so and your strength through every word you wrote. Lovely...and thank you.

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