My Grandparents’ Black Community, And Mexican Migration

“What happened to my grandparents neighborhood?”

When I was growing up, I used to visit my grandparents in their downtown Raleigh, North Carolina home.  Their neighbors were much like themselves, working class citizens who had lived in their neighborhood and homes for decades.  My father used to reflect about stories of his youth, living in that very same neighborhood filled with what Southerners sometimes refer to as “shotgun homes” that only set back maybe 10 feet from the street, and less than that from the house next door.  Since my grandfather was skilled at carpentry, their home was a little larger than the rest.  Moreover, due to my grandpa’s additions, you couldn’t actually look through the front door and see through the back door.  My grandparents had 10 kids, so their home warranted the additional space.  When my father was coming up back in the 1950s and 60s, the neighborhood was very much still a viable, old southern area, where many of the women—my grandma included—worked as maids, and most of the men worked as some form of laborer to support their families.  Over the years, things gradually changed.  My grandfather died unexpectedly.  Though he died early around the age of 55, at least he was spared by not having to see the decline and decay of his once proud neighborhood.

With the economic troubles during the late 1970s and the early 80s, along with the proliferation of illegal drugs within American culture, my grandparents’ neighborhood gradually changed into a place where many of those in the younger generation abandoned the values, wisdom and experience of their predecessors.  The young people succumbed to drugs and became victims of their own philosophy of instant gratification, self entitlement, and/or “Me, first!” mentality without regard to their community, or even their family.  Of course it can be argued that many within the white culture developed these same values, and that these beliefs in concert with social and economic neglect were the origins of the downfall within communities like my grandparents’.  Needless to say, the dynamics of all these problems were too much for many communities to bear.  It’s unfortunate, but some of these communities have still yet to recover from the socioeconomic ills that have plagued them since the 1980s.

In 1980 when I was 13, I had a debate with my youngest uncle on my grandparents’ front porch when he said “This is the ghetto.”  Though, I reflected upon what he said with my young mind at the time, I really didn’t believe that my grandparents” neighborhood was the ghetto.  But over the years my uncle’s statement rang all too true, whether it was true at that moment or not.  But for this specific community, at the same time that the neighborhood was stuck within social and economic malaise, a large Mexican migration to America began in earnest.  Well, almost 30 years have passed, and my grandmother has died.  Her home was sold unbeknownst to me to a developer who I suspects wants to gentrify the whole neighborhood to my dismay. But before my grandmother got too sick to live on her own, I used to visit her from time to time.  On that same front porch, I had a conversation with another more mature uncle about the state of the neighborhood.  We discussed how much better their community seemed to be doing now that the Mexicans had “taken over”.  Yeah, there were still quite a sizable portion of s, a few whites and maybe a few other different ethnic groups, but it was the influx of a large population of Mexican immigrants that breathed life into a neighborhood that had long been a victim of social, economic and moral starvation.  The Mexicans have had the greatest positive impact upon this once, drug infested, crime filled five or six blocks of Raleigh.  As you can imagine, there are still many problems.  It is still far from perfect. But with the Mexican migration has come marked improvement.  At that time, my uncle said that the only “problem” that he had with the Mexicans in the neighborhood was their penchant for drinking beer out in front of their homes and listening to loud Latin tunes. But he agreed that this was a far cry from having to deal with the blight that had been there before (and there were really no yards to speak of).

The neighborhood is gradually changing back into a place where working men and women support their young families. It has changed back into a place where people can start to believe in (at least the concept of) the American dream.  In many ways, I feel as though my grandparents” neighborhood is getting a second chance.  Hopefully, this time around, the futures of the Mexican and kids in this neighborhood will be brighter than those of the kids a few decades earlier. Perhaps, this time, the children of back street America will grow up with the same opportunities, goals and aspirations as the children of main street America as the result of the attention from a smarter and more concerned nation, who truly cares about the social and economic conditions of every neighborhood across this country.

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