Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Hyphen City: lo mejor de dos mundos.

Sometimes I wonder if Dayton area folks appreciate cultural diversity. Given the recent public discussions around gay rights it’s quite obvious that the local black political leadership (aside from Rhine McLin) doesn’t get that aspect of diversity nor do some of the commentators over at Esrati.

This contrasts with Chicago, where the city and local cultural institutions have officially embraced and included the local GLBT community in the cultural and civic life of the city. Dayton has a ways to go before it is a truly accepting and welcoming place for the GLBT community, beyond the “don’t ask/don’t tell” kind of tolerance.

Another type of cultural diversity is embracing immigration and the immigrant community. Locally, people are further down that path, as one can see Cityfolk doing music and dance programming related to US immigrant communities, and that East End social services group on Xenia Avenue is hosting a folklorico dance group.

Yet one still picks up on a nativist, “100% Amercian” undertow here. I’ve seen this at work, and also online, as I recall a comment at one of the blogs about opposing the concept of the “hyphenated American”.

People complain about hyphenated Americans? They should visit Chicago, the hyphenated city.

Lets visit Pilsen. As you can tell by the name, at one time a Czech area (before that, German), but also including one of Chicago’s oldest Polish parishes, St Adalbert. Pilsen has been a port-of-entry neighborhood for Mexicans since the 1920s and 30s. The main street is 18th Street,

As an example of how the city celebrates cultural diversity is this streetscape treatment, with the sign standards incorporating the Mexican eagle and Aztec art motifs (as well as the Chicago city seal). One can find similar street treatments in the Puerto Rican, Gay, Chinese, and other neighborhoods

Murals are a big part of the scene in some of these neighborhoods: Chicago has a strong urban mural tradition, arising first in the black community (exemplified by the famous Wall of Respect), but then moving to other neighborhoods. Here is one from Pilsen incorporating the image of Emiliano Zapta and a visual reference to an anti-gentrification movement
And a mural from a local bilingual radio station, Radio Arte, 90.3 FM, which is a youth project of the local Mexican arts center

Foreign language radio is pretty common in Chicago, and in Polish and other languages as well as Spanish. One see’s a bit of this in Dayton, with the German and Hungarian programs on 89.5 FM, though there is no Spanish language programming in Dayton, yet.

One this street are various small businesses. One is this coffeehouse, Café Mestsizo, the"cultural urban coffeehouse" :

..which is an example of cross-cultural borrowing, using an anglo-American concept, the bohemian coffeehouse (which itself is a borrowing from Europe), but giving it a latino twist as a venue for art, music and poetry from the Chicago latino community as well as from Mexico (as well as serving Mexican style of chocolate, coffee and food).

An example of how arts cross boundaries is this showing from a local arts collective, exploring: :”…issues of culture, gender, and the mundane”

Another flyer is this one for a theatrical group and play at a cultural center..

One is perhaps reaching out to a bilingual or English speaking audience, the other to Spanish speakers. One is perhaps more hyphenated than the other, which does illustrate an aspect of urban immigrant communities in the USA, which historically have developed into bilingual or hybrid cultures. This was very much the case with the German communities in Dayton and Cincinnati, until the forced assimilation of WWI

Also one sees the movement of cultural production into other media, like film, and a crossing into political work. Here is a documentary film on the immigration marches of 2006, by a Chicago-based latino film team.

Another example of hyphenization is this flyer for a music program. The image of an orchestra in formal dress does have highbrow associations, and this is a program of serious music. But what’s interesting are the donors supporting the program, which includes an heiress of the McCormick fortune, illustrating how local philanthropy supports and encourages cultural diversity in Chicago.

Faith-based community organizing has a long tradition in Chicago. Faith-based organizing dates back at least to the 1930s, when Saul Alinsky worked with local parishes to organize the Back of the Yards, and has been an ongoing feature of the city ever since. Probably the most famous person to come out of the Chicago faith based community organizations is Democratic presidential candidate Barak Obama.

Anyway, in this case one has a bilingual flyer for the Resurrection Project, a coalition of parishes in the larger Latino neighborhoods that are doing community organizing. There seems to be a lot of activism in Chicago, and, as you can see by the URL on the flyer, a lot of it is accessible online, too.

If you follow the link you will see how this initiative, while it deals with social services and education, is also about reinforcing cultural aspects of the immigrant community vs. total assimilation, in this case a Dia de los Muertos procession and celebration.

On a personal note, the reason I feature this stuff is some of the anti-immigration/pro assimilation sentiment I see annoys me. Why? Becuse I'm a 2nd generation American. Having grown up in a bilingual household and a neighborhood comprised mostly of immigrants or their children I have a lot of empathy for this new immigration and see it as a positive thing for urban America.

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