When a white-hot academic moved to one of the most diverse districts of Chicago, her mothers obsessed for her security. But as pet-groomers replaced local stores, she realised the different regions original inhabitants had more to fear than she did
Shortly when we are wedded, my husband and I moved to a part of Chicago that was once known as No Mans Land. At the turn of the century, this was the sparsely populated place between the towns of Chicago and Evanston, a place where the street were unpaved and unlit.
This neighbourhood is now called Rogers Park, and the city blocks of Chicago, all paved and lighted, move directly into the city blocks of Evanston, with only a graveyard to differentiate the border between the two municipalities. The Chicago instructs end here, and the lines turn back in a giant loop all over the gravel garden, where idle instructs are docked. Seven blocks to the east of the train station is the shore of Lake Michigan, which rolls and accidents past the horizon, reminding us, with its gales and spray, that we are on the edge of something vast. There are a dozen empty storefronts on the boulevard between the pond and the civilize station a closed Chinese eatery, a closed dry cleaners, a closed thrift shop, a closed hot-dog place. There is an open Jamaican restaurant, a Caribbean-American bakery, a liquor store, a shoe store, and several little grocery marketplaces. Women push baby carriages here, little boys devour bags of potato chips in front of the markets, and men smoke outside the civilize station while the instructs rattle the air.
We moved to Chicago because I was hired to teach at the university in Evanston, which is within going interval of Rogers Park. Going to campus along the pond coast for the first time, I passed the graveyard and then a block of brick apartment buildings much like the ones on my block. Then I began to pass houses with gables and turrets and stone walls and copper troughs and massive bay windows and manicured lawns and circular drives. I passed beaches where sailboats were pulled up on the sand, where canoes and kayaks were stacked, I passed fountains, I passed parks with willow trees, I passed through one block that was gated at both ends. I passed signs that read: Private Road, No Access, Police Enforced.
Evanston was still an officially segregated city in 1958 when Martin Luther King spoke there about the Greek hypothesi of agape , desire for the whole of humanity. On my first visit to Evanston, after my job interview, I experienced a moment of anxiety during which I stood with the large-hearted, cool stone builds of the university and its lawns and trees behind me while I called my sister to tell her that I was afraid that this might not be “peoples lives” for me. I was afraid, I told her, that if I became a prof I would be forever cloistered here, insulated from the rest of the world. My sister, who is herself training to be a prof, was not moved. There are worse fates, she reminded me.
Of the 77 official community areas of Chicago, 24 are home to ethnic majorities that account for more than 90% of their population, and only 12 had not yet been ethnic majority. Rogers Park is one of those few. It is celebrated as the most diverse community in a hyper-segregated city. By the time I moved to Rogers Park, quite a few people have really told me about the place. Two of them were peers at the university, who both stirred mention of gangs. Others were near-strangers, like my sisters roommates mother, who asked her daughter to call me on the working day I was packing my moving truck to share her suspicion that I might be moving somewhere dangerous. Then there was my mother, who grew up in a western suburbium of Chicago but has, for almost 20 years now, lived in an old farmhouse in rural New York State. She told me she had heard from person that the community I was moving to might not be safe, that there existed gangs there. Ma, I said to her, what do you know about gangs? And she replied, I know enough I know that theyre out there. Which is about as much as I know, and about as much as most white-hot folks who talk about gangs seem to know, which is to say nothing.
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