I grew up in one of those rapidly gentrifying New York Neighborhoods. You know the ones that no one ever imagined would be hot spots for college students and tourists. My former working class Latino neighborhood now re-christened with a trendy new name is often written about in New York Magazine and gets droves of visitors who never would have set foot here when I grew up. Many of my neighbors have been forced out; all of the bodegas have been closed and replaced with boutiques with prices so foul as to be insulting. But I am writing today about an often unseen consequence of gentrification. The daily insults often unintended and almost always unnoticed by gentrifyers. There are many ways that these wealthy new comers tell us every day that they are more important than we are. For example my brother who has lived here for 30 years was stopped in the hallway by our new neighbor and asked why he was so late with her food delivery, the fact that he had no bags in his hand and no uniform did not seem to matter. In her mind the equation was Latino male=food delivery. The fact that each block has several bars makes it so that each night walking home I have the same interaction where I say excuse me several times to a smoking bar patron whose oblivious that people live here finally when they have not heard my fourth or fifth excuse me I must physically move them causing them always to get angry and huff their breath and give me the "what are you doing here anyway?" look. This sometimes happens not once but several times a night. The psychic toll is not small believe me. One of these days someone should research gentrification depression a condition afflicting residents of "up and coming" neighborhoods.
Wealthy and mostly white newcomers have a different value system than ours they obsess about things like having two locked front doors and private rooftop access. They seem to believe that rules are there for their own good. This causes many a misunderstanding in the playground when newcomers insist that gates be locked at all times, ignorant to the fact that as kids we never kept those gates locked and went in and out as we pleased. No one died from this practice. We probably got a healthy dose of independence. Just recently in a local playground a man went ballistic because I did not close the gate on a play area that is ensconced within another gated area. He was outraged calling me foul names and screaming wild eyed "When your child runs out onto the street I'm gonna laugh!" Then there are the new neighbors who would rather die than hold the door for those not like them; instead they give you a furtive look and dash up the stairs to safety.
Maybe this is understandable they have been sold the illusion that they can live here now because of the "safety" measures put into place by Giuliani and continued by Bloomberg. They have been sold the illusion that it is ok for them to pay $3000 a month for an apartment that used to go for $400 because a few cosmetic improvements and private rooftop access make it that much more valuable. They hold this illusion dear because it is central to their identity. They often talk of the "bad old days" even though they never lived here then and imagine a wild land of black and Latino people ruling the earth and victimized whites cowering at home watching Charles Bronson movies. But I actually lived here and I think of it as the great 70's and 80's when people respected each other, did not look to police to solve minute conflicts between people and I didn't feel like a stranger in my own neighborhood.