Friday, February 4, 2011

What Growing Up In Canarsie Taught Me

I spent the first 19 years of my life in Canarsie, a neighborhood in Brooklyn. A place, I found both boring and interesting at the same time. Canarsie's named for the Native Americans of the same name with a spelling variation Canarsee. This what made the place interesting and that much of the area once had standing one room school houses, farmland, an old burial ground and lots of back alleys of houses centuries old. Rumor has it a pirate even buried his stolen treasure in the backyard of my father and aunt.

Then over the years, the population grew it's newer residents were German, Italian and those who practiced forms of Judaism. I am Polish and Italian American. Not to say, European-American history is boring but it never captured my interest until much later in life when I learned about Polish history--an area left out of history books with a few exceptions besides sadly wars and The Holocaust. Interestingly, I only recently learned Tadeusz Kosciusko helped in the cause for this country to end slavery which make me feel honored and proud to know not all of my ancestry believed what my neighbors did: people of color did not belong in my neighborhood. I could never understand or accept why G-d loving people protested the busing of mostly black and hispanic students to attend our schools, why new homeowners had their houses firebombed or why these long time residents would give up their homes--something they probably worked hard at attaining. Or maybe they didn't and that's why it was easy to let them go. I think however, it was greed and racist attitudes that guided their choices. I responded by writing and getting a letter to the editor published in the Canarsie Courier criticizing the fire bombers and welcoming The Phillip Family to our neighborhood-which incidentally, their piece of the American Dream was located near the Native American burial found.

When I left, I entered a whole new world and faced a discrimination from some family members on both sides who disapproved of my then-marriage to a Puerto Rican American, as well as some neighbors in The Bronx neighborhoods I resided in. Nevertheless, I embraced the "culture shock" by reveling in Hispanic, Latin Caribbean ways peoples by sampling cuisines that satisfied my then dormant taste buds, putting years of Spanish classes to use, trying but never quite mastering Salsa, celebrating Kwanzaa and Three Kings Day and learning to appreciate musical styles that have been influenced by Africa. Where in the 1980s and 1990s Canarsie, had not much of anything similar. Well there was a the time, I had volunteered at a Passover Seder Dinner for senior citizens. It was also when the group including myself danced with then House of Representative Member Charles Schumer.

So as we honor both Black History Month and The 2011 Lunar New Year which celebrates The Year of the Rabbit remember to keep an open min, embrace peace and harmony amongst others because you just never know what delightful surprises may come out of it.

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