Thursday, June 28, 2012

North Side

I grew up in north Minneapolis and I loved it.  It was a thriving, diverse, close knit community where you had the phone numbers to every family on your block and could go out from 8:00am to 8:00pm in the summer without a worry in the world except making sure you had enough money to get into Webber pool.

It's not the same anymore.  Six months ago 3 year old Terrell Mayes was killed when a stray bullet went into his house.  And on Tuesday, 5 year old Nizzel George was killed by a bullet while he slept on the couch in his living room just 3 blocks away from the house I grew up in.  These were not 18 year old gang bangers or even 13 year old kids out causing trouble.  They were babies, in what should have been the safety of their own homes, shot dead.  My heart breaks for the families of these boys.  For the moms who have to let go of the little body of their child for the last time, knowing they will never hug them again, or kiss them goodnight, or smell their hair after a bath... and my heart also breaks for the community that has died.  How can you connect with your neighbors when you don't even feel safe at home? How do you take a proactive, positive role in your community when you are afraid to live there?  How do you stop the mass exodus of good families when crime is so high that people cannot afford to live there anymore?  My mom finally moved out of our old house when I was away at college because she was broken into multiple times over a 3 week period and had everything of value, that could be easily lifted, stolen- in broad daylight! Not a single neighbor said they saw anything.  That wouldn't have happened in the neighborhood of my youth.  Someone couldn't drive down our block too fast without someone seeing and yelling at them to slow down.  As my childhood friend said about the recent shooting, "Can you believe what our old neighborhood has turned into? We use to be able to run free as a bird and let the neighborhood raise us, now babies cannot even sleep on their grandmothers couch... I am hurt!"

I believe with all my heart that growing up where I did was pivotal in who I am today.  With best friends all within a few blocks that we're Hmong, Native American, African American, Latino and white, I feel that I grew up learning the value of a person as a person.  I also learned how different families operate and things like you don't say no to roasted duck at a Hmong home, even if it 110% grosses you out. Or you do not sass back to a black mom or she will spank you, even if you're not her child. Or that Dia de los Muertos is not just something you learn about in 3rd grade social studies class; it is, in fact, a big deal in Hispanic homes.  All of these interactions and more formed my weltanschauung and I'm eternally grateful for it.  Yet eternally sad, as I know I won't be able to give Eva the same experience.  Gone are the diverse, safe neighborhoods where a normal family can afford to live and raise a family.  The city is overrun with crime and the suburbs are overrun with monocultural, sterile interactions.

So which do I choose? Do I risk my child's safety in the hope she'll grow up as eclectically as I did?  Do I chance her being shot by a stray bullet so that she too learns how to act in a Hmong or Sioux home?  Do I move back into my old neighborhood and pray she doesn't end up a statistic on the Minneapolis Police Department spreadsheet? It's just not a risk I'm willing to take.  So I do what so many others have done; I leave for the safety of the suburbs.  I move away from any semblance of diversity, not out of desire, but out of fear.  And it breaks my heart.  I know the northside will only be saved when families like mine move back in and take a stand and say we won't hide in our homes.  That we will be active and vigilant and if you commit a crime, someone will see you and will call the police and you will be caught.  I know what needs to happen, I'm just too afraid to be the one of the families who does it.  Shame on me and my cowardly heart, but the thought of losing Eva is too much to bear.

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