FROM COLLARD GREENS TO PUPUSAS:A LONG ISLAND NEIGHBORHOOD IN TRANSITION
· To quote Edward Albee from his play, Zoo Story, “Sometimes a person has to go a very long distance to come back a short way correctly.” This is how my current project began.
· My research was conducted over a seven-month period, and is still not completed. The project grew out of my previously published longitudinal study comparing and contrasting Salvadoran and Italian immigration patterns in Glen Cove, New York; and my work as a country conditions expert for Salvadoran political asylum cases in one of my son’s immigration law firm in Glen Cove
· It is an examination of the ethnic re-composition of America especially the changing dominant racial paradigm—that is from black and white to black and brown.
· It is an examination of a single Glen Cove, New York neighborhood, Back Hill Road – and its housing complex made up of 212 units which includes private homes, low rise apartments and a separate senior housing with 64 units. It is a community/a neighborhood in which African American and Central Americans—almost universally Salvadoran—live side by side, share public recreational space, and to a certain degree a shared sense of collective commonality
· To write this study, I knew I would be crossing boundaries of gender, age, class, education, and race.
· In talking with Spanish-speaking informants, my accent is clearly identifiable to Central Americans as not of that region, but is recognizable as a native hybrid of Caribbean and Castilian Spanish.
· My Spanish-speaking informants were all working class. However, my educated Spanish did not create barriers. While I recognize and can use many elements of Salvadoran Spanish, my obvious unfamiliarity with colloquial and rural lexicon and expressions was the source of much good natured humor and teasing and created an atmosphere of openness and trust.
· Many of the Salvadoran informants were mostly monolingual Spanish speakers and illiterate , having been raised in rural Salvadoran Departments or States where there were no schools. What English they speak is a rudimentary and generally work related, including many invented terms created from Spanish and English.
· In talking with Spanish-language informants, I addressed all interviewees with the formal You. When speaking with adult women and men , I prefaced all names with the honorifics don and doña unless invited to use the informal tu or the Central American vos.
· When speaking with teenagers, code switching between English and Spanish was the preferred means of communication as most were already English-dominant Speakers. I would ask a question in Spanish, and they would answer in English, move to Spanish, and then switch back to English.
· My African American informants were generally older and more educated than the Central Americans. Several had attended college and all the adults had graduated High School; and all teenagers were currently enrolled in Glen Cove High School.
· In speaking with adult African American informants, many of whom were my age or slightly younger, I was able to overcome cultural barriers because of my own urban upbringing in a multiracial neighborhood. We were able to establish a personal rapport based on many common experiences and familiar cultural, political and social themes.
· When speaking with younger African Americans, I was much more of an outsider than with the adults. I could not interact in the same way with them as with the adults. Our conversations were briefer and more businesslike.
· Trust came slowly and was based on my introduction to them of the idea that media and popular culture seem to view the two groups—African American and Hispanic—in terms of conflict with little mention of cooperation and less mention of black brown relations as the future of large urban areas; and that here in tiny 26,000+ person Glen Cove these issues of black/brown relations were in the forefront of the new dynamics of American society.
· When I made my first trip to El Salvador in 1962, hitchhiking there from New York City with three college friends, there were no Salvadorans living in Glen Cove. The country, ruled by one of a series of military dictators, who’d governed the country, since the early 1930s, was still one where foreign civilians were able to move freely and safely around the cities and countryside.
· When Gold Medal boxer, Howard Davis Junior triumphantly returned from the 1976 Montreal Olympics to Glen Cove and the Back Hill neighborhood where he was born and raised, the housing complex and neighborhood were an almost entirely African American enclave with a few Spanish speaking Puerto Rican residents
· When I made my next trip to El Salvador in 1983, it was to a refugee camp for Salvadorans on the Salvador/Honduras border-- a civil war was raging, travel was dangerous even within the capital city. There were still no Salvadorans living in Glen Cove.
· When I returned to the United States in the Fall of 1992 after a year’s sabbatical in Andean Ecuador, I thought nothing of the men walking south on the shoulder of the Glen Cove Road Bypass in the early morning as I drove to Eisenhower Park for a 5km race. My eyes, still accustomed to other men walking to work in the early morning frost and fog of Ibarra, Ecuador, saw this pedestrian traffic as normal.
· As I shed my Andean skin and resumed my former Long Island, New York routines, the presence of those men no longer seemed normal. I would learn from interviewing them that they were walking from Glen Cove to jobs in Albertson, Mineola, Hempstead, and Williston Park, a not inconsiderable distance for most of us, but for these Salvadorans not much further than the distance traveled in their early morning walks from their villages to their milpas(corn fields) they tended in their native El Salvador.
· When in 2009, the City of Glen Cove honored its native son, Howard Davis Jr. by renaming the Back Hill neighborhood’s main roadway, Howard Davis Way, the community was, according to the Housing Complex Director Eric Wingate, almost 80 percent Hispanic, the overwhelming majority Salvadorans; and 20 percent African American and now a small percentage of Caucasians.
· This is the long distance I traveled to come back a short way correctly.
· Glen Cove was chosen as the locus of this study because it has experienced two movements of immigrant peoples in ways more urban than suburban. The massive migrations from rural southern Italy at the end of the nineteenth century beginning of the twentieth century, the consequence of extreme poverty sent Italians to the country, to Glen Cove; and the wave of migrations during the last two decades of the twentieth century and beginning of the twenty-first century as civil wars convulsed El Salvador and sent rural Salvadoreans al norte(Up North) to seek refuge and new lives in Glen Cove.
· During the 1990s, the first decade of large scale Salvadoran arrival in Glen Cove, unlike the Italian immigration, there was no Little El Salvador. Where Italians had settled in a former apple orchard. The Italian American community was simply called the Orchard.
· Salvadorans were dispersed throughout Glen Cove, settling in multiple neighborhoods; at first mostly men living in converted in one-family houses converted, legally or illegally into multiple dwelling residences.
· Glen Cove’s African American community had historically lived on the Hill, the locally named Back Hill Road which borders the Town of Sea Cliff. Back Hill was an enclave—an ethnic and cultural African American urban village of shared informal and cooperative networks within the City of Glen Cove.
· The first Salvadoran resident of the Back Hill Community were received by the local population as one of the older residents told me as simply outsiders. She would say that the fact they were not African American and could not speak English well was not what bothered many on the Hill. They were outsiders to their community.
· I would be told by Mr. Wingate, the current complex Director, who is African American, that he too was regarded as an outsider. He was not from Glen Cove as previous Directors had been; and like the Salvadorans he did not appear to share values, beliefs, nor have, like the Salvadorans personal ties to the community.
· As interpersonal and group problems emerged between the locals and the newcomers during the transition from an African American enclave to a shared African American and Salvadoran enclave and now to a Salvadoran dominated community—according to interviewees like Jermaine and Bonifacio, the problems had little or nothing to do with race, and everything to do with specific personal problems—dating across ethnic lines, sports conflicts, parking spaces, etc.
· Conflict then in the Back Hill Neighborhood as described by the interviewees--African Americans and the Salvadorans-- was episodic and not endemic.
· Older African Americans were much more apt to express negative and sometimes stereotypical attitudes about the Hispanics—poor English and taking jobs from African Americans.
· My research to date shows that the overwhelming majority of both groups--more than 75% of the 36 African American interviewees held favorable views of the Salvadorans; and a slightly larger number of Salvadorans, 77% of the 44 Salvadoran interviewees held favorable views of the African Americans.
· Despite the relatively short time African Americans and Salvadorans have interacted, cultural borrowings—in music, food, sports, and shared concerns—education, housing conditions and the environment—have begun to give the two groups a framework for and a growing sense of collective Back Hill identity. Given both groups similar histories of struggle against injustice, new commonalities suggest modes of multiethnic action which should help to avoid conflict in favor of the development of collective identity based on neighborhood. From the Back Hill to the world beyond.