This past Sunday, I went to Jamaica Plain (JP) with my classmate, Hope Garcia, to complete a neighborhood profile assignment for my Urban Studies and Policy class taught by Sociology Professor Peggy Levitt. Having been to JP previously, I had some idea of what I would come across in the town, but I was not prepared for the racial and ethnic stratification of the neighborhood or the grossly disparate levels of economic investment between the Latin Quarter of JP and the upscale areas closer to Jamaica Pond.
Hope and I began our journey at the Heath Street stop at the end of the E branch of the green line. When we emerged from the station, we were met by a fairly large veteran’s hospital and a row of nice, fair-sized homes I imagine are single-occupancy residences. As we continued down the road, we came across a building I had recognized from a previous visit to JP, so we decided to take a turn to explore the area and were greeted by Centre Street, a street I had previously been to, but not explored.
Centre Street is one of the more prominent streets in JP and represents gentrification in the highest form. It is divided into two sections by a circle that separates two communities. On one side of the circle you will find Miami Restaurant, a location Hope and I stopped at to get a strong Cuban coffee; Revolution Bicycle Repair, with an “Immigration is the American Way” sign in its windows; an array of Latinx markets with rows of Goya products; travel agencies; hair salons; signs in both Spanish and English and a number of restaurants with foods from Latin America and the Caribbean. This side is known as the Latin Quarter. Hope and I stopped in Latino Restaurant for lunch, a restaurant with a deep sense of Latin pride (bachata music, telenovelas, a menu in Spanish and English). Latino Restaurant’s personality made it widely appealing to members of the community, and it seemed that many of the clientele knew the people who worked at the restaurant closely in addition to other customers who entered. In addition to these businesses, the Latin Quarter was lined with murals representing people of color and migration.
On the other side of the circle, the sense of Latin influence seemed to have disappeared almost completely, with the following exceptions: the mural on the Whole Foods, which replaced a Latinx community market in the late 2000s; El Mundo Newspaper; Acapulco Mexican Restaurant and tiles with the Puerto Rican flag outside of the Pondview Apartments, an assisted living Section 8 housing complex. These facilities were intermixed with many buildings that had no essence of ethnic identity. In place of the authentic Latinx restaurants in the Latin Quarter, decipherable by their names, clientele and menus, I began to see restaurants with names that were ethnically ambiguous and indicative of bourgeois living, like FoMu Premium Alternative Ice Cream and Cafe, Streetcar Wine & Beer, Blue Frog Bakery and Canary Square. In place of the Latinx people gathering along the streets of the Latin Quarter and servicing its businesses, I saw many families, runners and white people, and I wondered if any of them felt uncomfortable, disturbed or dismayed. I wondered if any of them had ever made their way to the other side of the circle or recognized the weight their consumerism had on JP’s Latinx community. I wondered if any of them questioned why the aisle in the Whole Foods labeled Goya products was lined with a variety of Latinx products made by Frontera, 365, Eden and San Marcos, all non-Latinx food suppliers, and a mere two bags of Goya’s Great Northern beans. I wondered if they questioned why people of color were servicing them behind the counter and sweeping the floors. I wondered if any of these runners or parents questioned what community meant in the context of the “Your Community Market” slogan on that Whole Foods’ door.
The sprinkling of Latinx businesses within the gentrified areas of JP troubled me as it drew to mind questions of what this community was like 10 years ago and what it will be in another 10 years. It made me question if the Latinx community will be kept safe from the effects of gentrification or if more businesses like Tails, a full-service dog walking, grooming, boarding and supply facility location on the Latin Quarter side of the Centre Street circle, will begin to appear in the Latin Quarter. Most importantly, it made me question who decides if a community’s heritage is worth preserving and why they have the right to do so.
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