Open City: Blogging Urban Change
By Peggy Lee


I live in Sunset Park.  I buy my weekly produce, tofu, and eggs on 8th Avenue; indulge once in a while on the best hot dog scallion bun you will ever have at Doe Bakery on 4th Ave near the 59th St. train station.  When the health nut inside surfaces, I jog to the park to look at the New York City skyline on clear days, and on sultry days, watch families sprawl out on the lawns, fanning themselves while drinking cooled Jarritos or jugs of water.  I make sure to kick or hand back any wayward balls from sporting games played by the young and old.  I like seeing the same group of boys skateboarding and pulling tricks near the playground.  I’m convinced there’s a lot of knowledge in those wheels.  On the street, I’m always surprised to see a white face among the yellow and brown ones.  They seem to materialize around the lonely looking Polish market situated in a basement that is close by, and the famed tragic, dive-bar called Irish Haven where The Departed starring Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed.  The first time my Indian roommate and I went in to have a beer, an old white man who did several tours through Asia accosted us with stories of Thai prostitutes and other “Oriental beauties.”  The last time I went there, the bartender was studying hard for her naturalization test, every once in a while repeating president names out loud, sounding bulky with her Irish accent.

My knowledge of this place is daily and intimate.  I moved here in the summer of 2009 from Oakland, California in order to temporarily try on the heavily caffeinated or heavily drunk, nose-in-book graduate student costume.  But unlike Halloween, I found this wasn’t as fun, at all.  When I first came to Sunset Park, Brooklyn to see my future home, I was infatuated with the trees, the proximity to decent Mexican food, a Chinatown; actually, I lie, Brooklyn had me at her bridge.  While crossing the Manhattan Bridge on the N for the first time, I felt my shoulders relax, as if she came up behind me and kissed me on my neck.

I live on the first level of an apartment that was originally a two story home with basement.  Tony the landlord, a cute, demure bespectacled Chinese man in his 50’s, noted he only wanted students living in his apartment.  I was suspicious at this request, but was enticed by the affordable rent.  I politely inquired about the number of rental units he had in the area.  He replied, just one, this one.  Contained, I thought.

The g-word.  Often, it’s brought up as an apocalyptic force, something that is inevitable, bound to happen when the mobile artistic class shows up with their education and weird ideas, which can turn into poisonous yuppy-fication.  You know, the Starbucks kind of neighborhood, where interactions among people are tightly scripted/colored, and the environment is too sterilized for the kinds of daily intimacies I shared with you.  And like many people who say yuppy, hipster, and Starbucks in the same breath when commenting on gentrification, this line of thought usually goes nowhere except maybe a really satisfying angry dance in your head.  So, where to?

I want to go home.  At the end of the day, that’s all you and I can really do, whether home is in Park Slope or Flushing.  And this isn’t the “I give up,” or “I’m tired, I want to go home;” but, it’s an interrogation of home: Is my sense of home defined by four walls and a ceiling?  Where am I coming from?  How do I come home?  Who am I with?  How well do I know my home?  What am I doing for home?  What is my history with “home?”

So, where to?

2 Responses to Home

  1. Ron Tedwater says:

    Really nice post,thank you

  2. glad to be one of many visitors on this amazing website : D.

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About Open City
Open City: Blogging Urban Change is an interdisciplinary neighborhood blog and community project coordinated by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Five commissioned writers, called Organizing Fellows, are working with community organizations and neighborhood folks in Manhattan’s Chinatown/Lower East Side (LES), Flushing, Queens, and Sunset Park, Brooklyn to collect oral histories and interviews, offer commentary about gentrification, neighborhood change, and produce new creative work around these themes. Read more.
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Featured Profile
CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities was formed in 1986 (formerly known as the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence) as a response to an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes both in New York City and around the country (which included violence by police officers against Asians).
They have two offices – one in Manhattan’s Chinatown (which houses the Chinatown Tenants Union, and the new Asian Youth in Action organizing project) and the Youth Leadership Project office in the Bronx – and have members from all over the city. Over the years, CAAAV’s main campaigns have focused on community-based organizing work rooted in Asian immigrant and refugee communities. Although their advocacy and organizing work is focused mainly in Manhattan’s Chinatown and the northwest Bronx, CAAAV’s work also touches upon larger issues (such as affordable housing, war, and immigration) shaping communities all over the world: “Our work is primarily centered around issues facing New Yorkers, but always with a global analysis.”
CAAAV’s mission is to organize and build the power of working-class Asian immigrants, refugees, and youth to change concrete conditions and participate in a broader social justice movement. In the past, CAAAV’s work included organizing South Asian taxi drivers, Korean women workers, and Filipina domestic workers. Several of these organizing projects have gone on to become their own organizations, such as the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and Domestic Workers United. CAAAV’s current work focus on three different program areas: Read more.

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Community Announcements
Manhattan CB3 Land Use, Zoning, Public & Private Housing Committee
Monday, May 2 at 6:30 pm -- Rutgers Community Center, Gymnasium - 200 Madison Street (btwn Rutgers & Pike Sts)

Brooklyn CB7, Land Use/Landmarks Committee Regular meeting
Continued discussion on potential 8th Avenue rezoning

Manhattan CB3 Economic Development Committee Tuesday, May 3 at 6:30pm -- Community Board 3 Office - 59 East 4th Street (btwn 2nd Ave & Bowery)

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