via Moana Walking
Moana, the Disney Hawaiian warrior-princess, is bobbing along the sidewalk.
The mini-person ahead of me, a little girl of about four years old, has no idea that her very act of carrying a Moana umbrella is creating a symphony of joy in her Jewish, can’t-believe-she’s-nearly-a-senior-citizen neighbor. (This senior-citizen thing just cannot be: I’ve never been happier, cuter or more alive. Youth is truly wasted on the young!)
Later this rainy day, I see a Mom and her two daughters walking and she’s carrying her daughter’s Moana backpack.
I ask her if she’s Dominican (she is, very assimilated – with accent-less English) and then ask if Moana has special attraction to island people because she’s native. The mom says, “Yes.” Dominicans own their mixed-race heritage, which includes, next to African and Spanish, native Taino heritage. This never ever occurred to me! After five years of living in a Dominican neighborhood, I’ve just now realized the deep identification of Caribbean islanders with their native ancestry.
I tell people I live in the Dominican Republic. They get all interested and flustered and then I clarify that it just feels like the D.R. Here in Bedford Park, the Bronx, almost everyone speaks Spanish. One day I met a Holocaust survivor, Chana, a few blocks away. I spoke to her in Yiddish. She was from Poland and told me about her beautiful sister who, of course, died. Last I heard, her son was (finally!) moving her down to Florida. She had to be in her mid-90’s. I’m one of the few Jews here. Evergreen Kosher Market in Monsey won’t deliver to me because I don’t live in Riverdale. So, I content myself with Fresh Direct, who have awesome Meal Mart lamb chops!
Here, in the virtual Dominican Republic of Bedford Park, Bronx, NY, I’m considered white. It’s weird. I feel it. It feels like I have a somewhat exalted status. People seem relieved and pleased when I pay attention to them, flattered, even, when I’m kind and friendly. I do speak nearly-fluent Spanish, with a good accent, so that makes conversation easy. I’m not whitey staring at them like aliens, I’m someone asking them a question, or answering one, in their language, sharing a human experience.
I am privileged. English is my native language. It is MUCH easier for me to get along in the U.S. I know it’s beyond that – I “read” as a middle-class, educated person, never mind that what I did for four years in undergrad had little to do with formal education. I hope and pray to make up for that, now.
Also, notwithstanding the Jewish experience of profound rejection and abuse by white neighbors, as well as by our fellow Semites in the Moslem world, I am white. My skin is white.
I was never aware of what it means to walk this world with dark skin. My black friends think in terms of gradations of skin color. To me, black people are black, all of them. I was so surprised when my Dominican colleague referred to an East Indian friend as having “darker skin” than he.
The Afro-Caribbean is Afro-Caribbean to me. The East Indian guy is East Indian. I never think about the color of the skin of an East Indian. I hear from Dominicans that the D.R. is a place of great racism, where citizens with more obvious African ancestry experience disadvantages, just like here. Now, I understand better the hyper-awareness of subtle skin-color differences expressed by my dark-skinned Dominican friend.
It feels strange to be considered “white,” when our white, Christian neighbors in Eastern Europe considered us “other” after over one thousand years of side-by-side living. Why shouldn’t they have? They were indoctrinated since toddlerhood in the calumny of our guilt for the death of their Lord. How could literate people believe that the Roman murder of Jews for sport was caused by the Jews? I will never understand how this obvious disconnect persisted through millennia. The great Pope John XXIII finally drafted an edict (published and watered down in 1965 by Pope Paul VI, apologist for Holocaust-enabling Pope Pius XII) absolving us of the crime, but much of the world still hasn’t gotten the memo.
Talking about anti-Semitism is just too easy. I mean, we’re right and they’re wrong, right? Even the most virulent anti-Zionists say it’s wrong to murder Jews. Well, maybe the Jews’ national liberation movement aka Zionism is the only one in the world considered illegitimate, an epithet in far-leftist circles. But, anti-Semitism? It’s, like, uncool, man.
But it is getting cool again in the U.S. heartland and elsewhere. In October 2016, I was standing by some police near Penn Station during some sort of demonstration for the Republican presidential candidate. A young white man approached us and asked the officers, “Is there anything illegal about shouting that we don’t want homosexuals or Jews to vote for Donald Trump?” The officer assured him it was not and he sprinted away to sing his song of hatred.
I was there. I sooooo regretted that I didn’t catch that young man’s eye and say, “Hey, I’m a Jew! I’m pretty awesome, right?” I wanted to use my super-power of being female to cause his poisonous thoughts to short-circuit to his you-know-what and spurt their way out. I know, hindsight — especially of someone who was unfortunately about 99% hind. Not by birth, mind you. Just by training, poor wuss. Poor, world-changing wuss, whose vote, along with enough votes from his Neanderthal brethren and sisteren, dwarfed the stagnant power of one hundred million voters who stayed home on November 8, 2016. And don’t get me started about elites who voted for third-party candidates.
Back in my Bedford Park vecindario (neighborhood), despite having heavy accents and sometimes limited-to-no English, my neighbors here own cars and pay rents and clothe themselves and their children, educating the latter in private parochial schools. Native-speaking Americans with bad grammar and spelling also have these things and own homes and have jobs with great benefits.
I, with my excellent grammar and spelling, am just now building a life. But that’s OK. If you knew where I came from, you’d celebrate my life with me! Let’s!
I guess, that’s what this blog is about. It’s called, “Diary of Time in the Corridor” because I am aware that I am in the corridor, financially and professionally. That is because I’m a bit of a late bloomer.
And the funny thing is, I’m pretty sure I will attain not just middle-class financial wellbeing, but actual wealth. The goods and services I provide are worthwhile. If I keep developing them and don’t keep them the secrets they currently basically are, things should work out fine.
Living here in the Dominican Republic is a true emotional roller-coaster. I’m told there are other neighborhoods where people don’t pick up after their dogs, and I did once have to squelch a shrieking fit in Washington Heights where the same apathy was evident. How surprised was I to hear from someone who fled the Upper West Side that her neighbors of my Jewish ethnic group were just as thoughtless and ignorant. One of my congregants told me that when she lived in Riverdale, she had the same problem: Riverdale!!
I am angry with people who don’t pick up after their dogs. I am angrier at the parents who don’t know to teach their children to be good neighbors that way. That’s why I keep nattering on about starting a project involving our Bronx borough president, Ruben Diaz, to teach children in school about how cooooool it is to be a great neighbor, and then have them go home and rub their new knowledge in their parents’ faces (so to speak).
So, that’s the one main low, but here are some of the highs here, in Bedford Park, the Bronx, New York:
There is a pair of twin girls of about eight or nine in my building. I’ve known them for five years. Whenever they see me, without a word, they just hug me. They probably do this to everyone else, but I like to think I have a special energy that invites goodness. I’m in remission from my primary addiction, now, for almost eleven years (2/3/08), but once, during a relapse, I passed a parked car with children and a dog in the back seat and they all snarled at me. They did. I know there is energetic communication.
Anyway, these gorgeous Puerto Rican girls hug me and drop a smoke bomb of love into my life every time they do.
There are almost no Puerto Ricans left in this neighborhood. We’re mostly Dominican, with some Albanians, here. Most of the other white people are old Irish women or toothless, obese smoker-alcoholics. It’s depressing. This is where I live. I live here because I can barely pay the rents which are considered to be outrageous bargains in NYC. Over $1,000 per month for a huge one bedroom with wood floors. I know. But you have to make $50K to comfortably pay $1,000+ per month. And that’s net. The net of a $50K income is probably $32K after taxes, if you’re lucky — since non-millionaires pay 30% of their income to taxes and millionaires pay none. What the bleep? How is this neighborhood considered “working class”? You have to have serious scratch to live here!
Sometimes, I’m so charmed by living here I could burst. When I go to the supermarket, the guy who takes my packages for safekeeping calls me “Mi Reina.” That means “My Queen!!” This is de rigeur here, from women and men. “Mi Reina, Mami, Doña (Madame), Mi Amor (My Love), Preciosa (Precious), Mi Vida (My Life – yes!)” – from utter strangers who get that The Family of Man is a real family.
When I had bed bugs in October, I went to our 24-hour supermarket at 3 AM to buy rubbing alcohol to spray on the f-ers till the exterminator could come for his appointment. There were no spray bottles for sale in the store. The manager combed the store and found one they were using, washed it out, gave it to me and refused money for it. Typical. Typical Bedford Park Little D.R. He probably referred to me as “Doña” when he did it.
I’m in love with my life. Thank you for having a look at it with me. I want people to be with me in the corridor, so that when and as the doors open – and they are opening – you can also see how G-d was with me every second, bringing glorious people and experiences into my world, at the same time as holding me when stuff got hard. I want you to know that that neighbor who’s fallen on hard times may just scrape herself up, stand tall and be a living example that tides turn and people rise.