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Postcard from the End of America: Point Breeze

By       Message Linh Dinh       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment

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Southerner Fred Reed writes about Yankee hypocrisy, "You've heard about white flight. In nearly about every city in the North, white people streak for the suburbs so's not to be near black people, and then they talk about how bad Southerners are for doing the same thing ["] Fact is, you can see more social, comfortable integration in a catfish house in Louisiana than you can in probably all of Washington."

As of 2010, Philly was 41% white, 43.4% black and 6.3% Asian, and I would guess there are more whites and Asians now, thanks to obvious gentrification in several neighborhoods. See what I just did there, equating gentrification with fewer blacks? But that's just how it is in contemporary America, where fewer blacks in any neighborhood means fewer crimes, better schools and rising house prices. Even Spike Lee can't refute this.

I live in Passyunk Square, a white, Asian and Hispanic neighborhood that's adjacent to Point Breeze, a gentrifying ghetto. Broad Street is the dividing line, and for the longest time, it would not be wise to cross into Point Breeze, unless you were begging for a mugging. I know one white guy who was relieved of his wallet, a gunpoint, and a white woman who was punched and kicked by a bunch of black teens, just for the fun of it.

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Just before Christmas, a black acquaintance had his apartment burglarized, with the thief breaking in by taking out the air conditioner from a window. He took that, plus the television and a Michael Kor watch. "It's weird he knew where it was. I kept it in a drawer. I think he's a friend," or a lover of this gay man. With 24,137 people, Point Breeze had 112 burglaries in 2017.

With its cheap rent and proximity to Center City, Point Breeze has lured many non-blacks over the years, however, and the first group to move in were poor Asian immigrants. In 1984, I visited an overcrowded house that had people sleeping in the living room. I remember a tiny pregnant woman, lying on the floor. By 2000, there were 900 Vietnamese in Point Breeze, or 12% of the population. Now, Point Breeze has Indonesian groceries and restaurants, an Indonesian storefront mosque, a Chinese Buddhist temple, and a Laotian one. At St. Thomas Aquinas, a magnificent church founded by Italian immigrants in 1885, there are Vietnamese and Indonesian services each Sunday.

Rocky marries Adrian in this church. From its website, "St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Community, through our cultural diversity, united in our expressions of faith, lives the Gospel message in our neighborhood through worship, education, service, and advocacy." Inside, there's a beautiful shrine to the Vietnamese Catholic martyrs of the 18th and 19th centuries. For following the Western religion and, in many cases, supporting the invading French, at least 130,000 were tortured and killed by Vietnamese authorities.

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I know all you lovers of diversity can't wait to move into Point Breeze now, for it has every color in the rainbow, but by the time you get here, there won't be too many African-Americans left, I'm afraid, so let me give you a quick tour of black Point Breeze. Our first stop is Scotty's Bar, famous for its Obama shrine. Our handsome, half-white 44th president is seen smiling inside an oval, blue background frame, with tinsel and colored string lights all around him.

Other black men are honored throughout Point Breeze for, well, being shot. Walk around and you'll run into their wall portraits, such as that of "FAT CAT." Seen holding his daughter, he was killed in 2005 at age 23. In the bay window of a well-kept middle-class home, there are two colorful banners with purple stars and red roses. Under the message "ALWAYS AND FOREVER" is the face of a young soldier in uniform.

Nearby, there's a framed print of a black Jesus.

Since it's just around the corner, let's stop in Sit on It, my favorite black bar in Point Breeze, and it's dirt cheap too. Here, the bartenders are Miss Cynthia, Miss Mary and Miss Rose, all old ladies. Fifty-four, Rose is divorced and has four grown kids, "They're doing OK, except my boy. He's giving me a bit of trouble."

Rose works three days a week, and is also a home nurse. Although Rose lives five miles away in West Philly, she still comes here to drink on her days off.

"You don't get sick of looking at the same people?"

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"No, no, I love the people here. I'm a people person!" She certainly is. Rose remembers every name and is always cheerful.

"Yours is easy. I just think of Ding a Ling!"

"That's right!" I laughed.

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Linh Dinh's Postcards from the End of America has just been published by Seven Stories Press. Tracking our deteriorating socialscape, he maintains a photo blog.

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