DCentric » Shaw http://dcentric.wamu.org Race, Class, The District. Wed, 16 May 2012 20:20:35 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.2.1 Copyright © WAMU What To Call Gentrification By Non-Whites: Does Race Matter? http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/02/what-to-call-gentrification-by-non-whites-does-race-matter/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/02/what-to-call-gentrification-by-non-whites-does-race-matter/#comments Fri, 03 Feb 2012 19:27:04 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=13949 Continue reading ]]> Gentrification takes place when middle and upper-income people move into low-income communities, which ushers in economic change, reinvestment and development. Jumping back a few weeks ago, a discussion took place on DCentric when we pondered a more specific kind of gentrification: gentefication, which is when low-income, immigrant Latino neighborhoods are gentrified by second-generation, well-to-do Latinos.

So we wondered: is gentrification much different when gentrifiers aren’t white, so much so that it requires its own term?

Alex Baca tweeted that having a separate word for this kind of gentrification is unnecessary:

It's class-based. Don't need fancy names. RT @ On gentrification & rhetoric when non-whites are gentrifiers http://t.co/IrO6Et65

But others argued that gentrification by non-whites does have different implications for neighborhoods. Commenter Gente Negra, wrote:

I have witnesses this phenomena in Orlando, and Miami, in which upper class and affluent African Americans are revitalizing [sp] formerly blighted areas which were once Historically African American communities. In the Orlando Parramore district they have relocated FAMU (an HBCU) Law School, renovated an African American history Museum, built a mixed income housing complex, and relocated the Orlando Magic stadium. Unlike the case when city developers destroyed the Parramore in Orlando, and Overtown in Miami, with I-4 and I-95 respectively. This new form of gentrification and [African American] led gentrification seems to be more sensitive to the preservation of the historical nature of the surrounding areas.

In D.C., gentrification by whites hasn’t necessarily come at the cost of completely wiping out a neighborhood’s history. In some instances, the renewed investment has helped to preserve it. For example, the historic Howard Theatre in Shaw is being renovated at the same time the neighborhood is being gentrified. Honoring a neighborhood’s history can also come with smaller gestures; on H Street NE, restauranteur Joe Englert named one of his restaurants Granville Moore’s as a nod to the building’s former occupant, a renowned African American doctor in the 1950s. Englert told the Washington Post that knowing the building’s history gives “the neighborhood a depth and it shows that these main streets didn’t just spring from the head of Zeus.”

But what kind of impact does paying such homage to the past have on longtime residents, some of whom may be getting priced out of their neighborhoods? Another DCentric commenter wrote:

From my understanding, gentrification is simply the revitalization of a neighborhood by newcomers. Displacement refers to outpricing and removal of formerly entrenched communities. Thus, I don’t consider supposed gentrification in Anacostia to be of the same, much hated ilk as that in other parts of the city. Sure, wealthier blacks are moving in, but has business followed? Where is the redevelopment? Who is being “kicked out” because of their presence? Exclusionary gentrification is associated with whites because its businesses cater solely to white people, unfortunately. Anacostia is not a gentrified neighborhood. I would agree that “gentrification” by blacks and Latinos requires its own terminology.
Commenter monkeyrotica took issue with that thought, writing that, by-and-large, new businesses in gentrifying neighborhoods are frequented by people of similar incomes, regardless of race:
Are middle class businesses [SP] geared towards whites that much different from middle class businesses geared towards African Americans? Sure, they each tend to go to different nightclubs, barbershops, and hair salons, but they both go to the same upscale eateries, grocery shops, and clothing stores that underclass residents have been priced out of.

What’s your take: what does gentrification by non-whites look like? Is gentrification all the same, no matter the race of the gentrifier?

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Touring Shaw’s Gentrification http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/07/touring-shaws-gentrification/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/07/touring-shaws-gentrification/#comments Tue, 05 Jul 2011 16:00:32 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=8473 Continue reading ]]>

Daniel Lobo / Flickr

D.C. is a city full of tours, from riding around on Segways to learning about ghosts. But it’s also a city divided over issues of race and class — and whether what’s happening is gentrification or revitalization — so why not have some tours on that, too?

Enter ONE DC “Shaw Gentrification & Resistance Tour,” which takes place at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday. Participants will walk around Shaw and learn about the neighborhood’s history. They will also hear the organization’s perspective on D.C.’s changes: that development has negatively impacted longtime residents. The self-described progressive group aims to address the “structural causes of poverty and injustice” with a “deep analysis of race, power, and the economic, political, and social forces at work in Shaw and the District.” Anyone wanting to participate in the tour is asked to contribute $10, with the proceeds going to the Asian/Pacific-Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project.

This isn’t the first such tour on gentrification in D.C. Does anyone know of a revitalization tour focused on the flip side?

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Changing D.C: Shaw Highlighted http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/05/changing-d-c-shaw-highlighted/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/05/changing-d-c-shaw-highlighted/#comments Mon, 02 May 2011 15:00:52 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=6330 Continue reading ]]> The Shaw neighborhood gave birth to Black Broadway said Rebecca Sheir in her exploration of Shaw’s past as a hub of black culture and history on Metro Connection. Sheir spoke with Alex Padro, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, who said:

The neighborhood from its earliest days was very strongly African-American, as a result of a number of Union army camps that were located here to accommodate what were called “contraband,” or escaped slaves, or former slaves that had managed to make their way to the District of Columbia.

… We had schools, churches, hospitals, a university, all established and constructed in close proximity to be able to serve that large African-American population.

Courtesy of: Rebecca Sheir

This historic building in Shaw is among many that are being renovated and reconstructed in the neighborhood.

Listen to the entire segment, as Padro and others explain what happened to Shaw after housing laws changed, the 1968 riots and the new convention center was built where parking lots and dilapidated buildings once sat. In the latest Census, the U Street corridor reported no longer having a majority black population, and Shaw now has a number of luxury housing options.

Now add this to the mix: a major development at 9th and O Streets, NW just cleared a major hurdle. The Department of Housing and Urban Development recently approved a $117 million loan for CityMarket at O, a major retail and housing project featuring a Giant, luxury and market rate housing and a Wolfgang Puck restaurant.

How much more will Shaw change?

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Welcome, United Negro College Fund http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/02/welcome-united-negro-college-fund/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/02/welcome-united-negro-college-fund/#comments Mon, 07 Feb 2011 22:15:29 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=4030 Continue reading ]]>

Flickr: crazysanman.history

Historical marker for the UNCF in Virginia.

Look who’s moving to D.C., and when I say D.C., I mean it and not a suburb:

Seeking to expand its support of education for Americans of color, UNCF (the United Negro College Fund) will move its national headquarters from Fairfax, Virginia into Washington, D.C. in 2012. UNCF, the nation’s largest and most effective minority education organization has begun construction on a 50,000 square-foot office at Progression Place, located at 1805 7th Street, NW, in D.C.’s surging Shaw neighborhood…

“UNCF has become one of the country’s most prominent advocates for the importance of students getting the preschool-through-high school education they need to succeed in college, and Washington is the hub of the national conversation about how to make sure they get that preparation for college,” said Michael L. Lomax, Ph.D., UNCF president and CEO. “UNCF also wants to be able to provide college-focused information and services directly to DC-area students and the hundreds of thousands of students who visit DC each year. To be an effective advocate for education reform, and to help children of color prepare for college UNCF has to be in D.C.

Nonsensical but potentially entertaining aside, because it’s after 5pm: many, many years before Glee would waste their coveted, post-Super Bowl slot on Zombies, my high school friends would amuse each other by ominously murmuring the United Negro College Fund’s famous slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”®…and then saying, “Mmmm, brains.”

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Shaw, Gentrification and Youth Violence, via People’s District http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/01/shaw-gentrification-and-youth-violence-via-peoples-district/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/01/shaw-gentrification-and-youth-violence-via-peoples-district/#comments Tue, 18 Jan 2011 17:37:33 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=3456 Continue reading ]]>

Flickr: Justin DC

Rainbow over Shaw.

I’ve mentioned People’s District on DCentric before, but I want to point you towards that excellent project again, because of their Friday post, from a D.C. citizen named Willette, who lives in Shaw:

“My eyes have seen so many changes in the neighborhood. All of the buildings and people done changed. Now, they make us think that Shaw is going to be the next Georgetown. I guess that means that a lot of us will be pushed out. That may help the neighborhood, but it won’t really help all of kids on the corners who don’t have nothing. Don’t matter it they are in Shaw or you move ‘em somewhere else, they are still going to be hanging out on the corner with no opportunities.

“Because I work, live, and raise my kids in this community, I see this stuff everyday. Kids should feel like they can do anything in the world, but many of these kids can’t read or write. Some kids will only get one meal a day at school. Some kids get caught up and become offenders. Then, they find themselves on the street as teenagers and no one wants to give them a chance. All the time, kids be coming to me saying, ‘Ms. Willette, I just want a chance.’ Many of them won’t get it because of a mistake.

“When we talk about violence in our communities, a lot of it comes from these kids with no hope or opportunities…Some people here want to just give up and let that stuff take over. Seniors will stay in the house and parents won’t let their kids out to play. That is not a way to live. We can’t let violence destroy our communities. I decided to give back in my own way by organizing a project called Safe Streets. I took some of the kids in the community and gave them a back pack, notebook, school uniform, and a pair of shoes. Many of these kids had nothing and no one to take care of them. Giving them these little things gave them some hope. I did it three times, and got people like the mayor and police chief involved. It was really successful and I want to keep doing it because people in the community keep asking me to.

“I realize that some people are lazy and feel like this cycle of poverty and violence is never going to end. But, there are so many people who have hope and just need a chance. Obama is down the street, but he can’t do everything. A lot of these kids are ex-offenders and they don’t get no chance. That means that we need to take care of ourselves and make our own situation better.

“I pray for a day when me and my kids won’t have to be around violence all the time. My goal is to one day open up a center of my own to help teens. We have kids with no food, no place to go, and no opportunities. I would hope that someone would do that for my kids if I needed it, so I want to do it to help theirs.

If you aren’t reading People’s District already, I hope you consider adding it to your bookmarks or reader. What Danny Harris is trying to do is very powerful. If we hear these stories, then our neighbors become real; if our neighbors become real people instead of abstract annoyances, then we are more likely to respond to them with compassion than frustration.

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Five More Questions for Bread for the City’s George Jones http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/01/five-more-questions-for-bread-for-the-citys-george-jones/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/01/five-more-questions-for-bread-for-the-citys-george-jones/#comments Thu, 13 Jan 2011 15:30:03 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=3393 Continue reading ]]>


Yesterday, I published a slideshow from Bread for the City’s January 7 grand opening. I also posted the first part of an interview with the non-profit’s Executive Director, George A. Jones. More of my conversation with Jones is below; in it, he discusses how the expansion of the group’s Shaw location will facilitate an expansion in their services–as well as how you can help.

What if people want to get involved?

There are two major ways: volunteer or give. We accept cash contributions and in-kind contributions of donated food and clothing. When it comes to people’s cash donations 90% of every dollar goes to our five core services.

A lot of people like to have tangible connections to our programs so we encourage them to do food drives. We have 5-10 volunteers on a given day; there are scores of people looking to do community service, including kids or teens for school. They can develop food drives right at their schools or boys club, girl scouts…I encourage parents to have their children do these food drives remotely and bring the food to us. We give kids a menu to try and generate certain foods, including items that are low in sodium, vegetables or non-perishable stuff, because we provide supplemental groceries designed to last three days to families whose incomes are very low–less than $7,000. They may not be on food stamps, even if they run a great risk of running out of food.

These are families who are food insecure, who are at the risk of running out before the end of the month. Our food pantry was designed to support such people.

Are more people receiving assistance?

We just finished our holiday drive, where our goal was to feed 8,000 people. We actually served 10,000 a turkey and traditional holiday trimmings like cranberries, stuffing and vegetables. Most of our contributions came as cash but some people did food drives and came in with boxes of food. People ask me, do you want cash or should we host a food drive…there is efficiency with cash because we have systems set up so we can buy food at wholesale prices, but when people want to do something, we welcome that– coat drives, food drives…when you bring those things in, we get them in the hands of the low-income families we serve.

Our big challenge right now is paying for food…our ability to get contributions to our food pantry is always a challenge. We just finished the holiday season when people give generously, but we’ll have 4,000 families every month for the other ten months of the year to provide groceries to. A third of the people in those families are children. We are serving a lot of children. There are 35,000 children at risk for hunger during the course of a year, and at Bread for the City, over a 1,000 kids benefit from food in our pantry. And 400 kids are in our pediatric practice.

Tell me more about your clients.

The typical Bread for the City client is usually distressed in one of the areas we cover…for example, they may be at risk of losing housing, so they see an attorney to get assistance. People walk through our door and tell the receptionist, “I heard Bread for the City can help me see a doctor”. We have two means tests: they need to be a D.C. resident, and they need to be low-income. We take them in to a counseling room and do an intake…it’s never the case that people have only one issue, it’s never isolated like that. During our intake assessment, we ask potential clients to talk more about what’s going on with them in a private setting. The average person we see makes less than $7,000 a year, so the income question is usually not an issue at all.

We ask a battery of questions, starting with housing, medical, jobs…we try to find out what their status is, what’s happening mentally/socially/medically on their end. If a person asks about a doctor, we may also find out that they’ve run out of food so we might have them work with a social worker for a food stamp application.

What new services will you be offering in your expanded facility?

Two medical services we have not provided historically are dental care and a vision clinic. There are so many people who come in with chronic illnesses like diabetes, which is often coupled with vision problems. One of the challenges with a non-profit clinic like ours is that our salaries are fairly modest, so finding qualified and competent providers like Primary care providers or Optometrists is harder. It can take a while to find someone for whom working in a non-profit clinic is consistent with what their career goals are, who can afford to take a modest salary…they may have families of their own, student loans.

Anything else?

One of the things we really think is important is that it isn’t just a matter of providing these services…Bread for the City has figured out that an important part of our formula is to serve our clients with dignity and respect. That is one of the critical ways we form relationships with the people we serve. We don’t just provide free groceries or free legal services or medical care; We do it in an atmosphere of dignity and respect that is the hallmark of the last 30 years. That atmosphere is part of the magic formula; it makes all the difference with the services we provide.

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Interview: Bread for the City’s George A. Jones http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/01/interview-bread-for-the-citys-george-a-jones/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/01/interview-bread-for-the-citys-george-a-jones/#comments Thu, 13 Jan 2011 00:30:51 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=3367 Continue reading ]]>


Earlier, I posted a slideshow filled with pictures taken on Friday, when local nonprofit Bread for the City celebrated the grand opening of their new building in Shaw. The expansion doesn’t just mean more room– it means more services for the city’s most vulnerable citizens. Last week, I spoke to Bread for the City’s Executive Director, George A. Jones about the expansion, the work his agency does and more. Part of the interview is below; look for the rest, tomorrow morning.

First, some history for those of you who may not be familiar with this group:

Started in 1974, Bread for the City is a front line agency serving Washington’s poor. The agency began as two organizations; Zacchaeus Free Clinic began in 1974 as a volunteer-run free medical clinic, and Bread for the City was created in 1976 by a coalition of downtown churches to feed and clothe the poor. The two entities merged in 1995. Today, we operate two Centers in the District of Columbia and provide direct services to low-income residents of Washington, DC. All of our services are free. Our mission is to provide comprehensive services, including food, clothing, medical care, legal and social services to low-income Washington, DC residents in an atmosphere of dignity and respect.

I asked Jones about the expansion:

We’ve been around for 36 years; this expansion represents our commitment to providing even more services to folks living in poverty in D.C. It’s the culmination of a dream.

We knew we needed to expand our center in Northwest way back in 1995, but it took a lot of planning and the right timing for us to tackle it. We started this project during one of the worst recessions…but there was a sense in the organization that the community would rally around this project because this community gets that when times are tough, our services are especially in need. There’s something just about an organization whose mission is to help those who are less fortunate.

How did you pull this off?

It was a community effort, a combination of public and private support that really made this possible. The D.C. government was the first partner in this project. The city used tobacco funding a decade or so ago to expand health care…they decided our project did just that. The health clinic is the centerpiece of our expansion. We had a $5 million grant; we leveraged it to attract just under $2 million from Federal tax credits and then the last $1.5 million came from private sources. It was completely a community effort: public sector, local government, federal government and a lot of individuals and foundations. It’s consistent with how we fund our mission day in and day out. We went to our partners to try and realize our dream of expanding.

One of the reasons the expansion was so important is because we had maxed out on our ability…now we will be able to address more of the needs that have surfaced in this tough economy. Just a year ago, we reduced our schedule to four days a week because of our own economic challenges; we were seeing fewer people because we had to limit our service hours to make sure we could meet our own budget. An important element of the expansion is that it allows us to address the growing need for the services Bread for the City offers.

We are making an investment in long-term strategy while dealing with the short-term pressures of this recession. We know the economy will eventually rebound, but when it rebounds, it’s likely that low-income people will benefit from that the least. During this recession, I thought it was more important to set the stage to do more work. I think there are going to be more people coming through our door. There are roughly 2500 people a year in our health care practice; once we grow in to our expanded facility, that number could jump to 6,000 patients. That’s what this building has set the stage for– we will be able to double the number of medically under-served people who can come to our clinic. This expansion means we can do a lot more in the coming years.

Tomorrow: more about the expansion, specifically how it will impact the many services Bread for the City offers.

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“Yet another warehouse of concentrated poverty” http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/01/yet-another-warehouse-of-concentrated-poverty/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/01/yet-another-warehouse-of-concentrated-poverty/#comments Tue, 04 Jan 2011 21:21:18 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=3144 Continue reading ]]>

Flickr: M. V. Jantzen

Shaw Metro station, at 8th & R Streets, NW

So I was reading this post from the City Paper about new, affordable housing coming to Shaw:

It’s a tentative plan, but a plan nonetheless: Lincoln Westmoreland Housing Inc. is moving forward with a 50-unit apartment complex on 7th and R Street NW, right next to the 10-story behemoth constructed right after the 1968 riots.

The new building, designed by Shalom Baranes architects, could not be more ideally located: It sits directly above the Shaw metro station (part of the land will be purchased from WMATA), and across the street from the new Shaw library. It will replace a decked-over parking lot, have retail on the ground floor, and still leave some green space for a sculpture installation.

“Affordable” is the key word here, because as Lydia DePillis reported, the units would be accessible “for people making 60 percent of the area median income”. Sounds great, right? I love neighborhoods that have a range of people from all backgrounds–it’s my favorite thing about Columbia Heights, where there is everything from affordable housing to $3,000 converted condos. The readers who commented on her piece had a different, more bitter take:

Building looks nice and hopefully they will balance income levels. 60% AMI residents will be a welcome addition to the neighborhood and attract civil servants, firefighters, police, teachers etc. But if they decide to concentrate the extremely low income/AMI residents in this building, well they might as well hand over the building to the local thugs so they can have a nice shiny new HQ from which to terrorize the rest of the neighborhood from. [wcp]

Commenter “Sally” was blunter, but on to something– another commenter referred to “yet another warehouse of concentrated poverty. Disgusting.”:

Make it actual workforce housing, not the usual poor people storage facility. [wcp]

Disgusting is right. So the people to whom Sally and other commenters are referring are objects to be stored. Storage facilities and warehouses are places for things forgotten, for the unnecessary crap we don’t have room for, which should remain out of sight. Language, people. Language.

Commenter “Q-Street” added:

I really can’t take another subsidized property in the neighborhood. I’m paying my mortgage month to month while my neighbors walk around drunk all day and talk about the ‘man’ keeping them down burning trash and peeing in public. Let Dupont or Chevy Chase take the next subsidized housing complex for f*cks sake. [wcp]

I feel for this person, I really do. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be to pour all of your money, hopes and dreams in to a home of your very own only to move in and witness crimes being committed, all around you. That’s what public drunkenness, arson and public urination sound like, to me– crimes. It must be disheartening.

Having typed that, I also wonder if a lot of the gentrification-related rage in this city is born from an impatience that neighborhoods aren’t prettying up as quickly as newer, more affluent residents had hoped they would. It’s tough to be the new family on the block, but someone is always first, aren’t they? Or second, or third. I have sympathy for fed-up homeowners but only to a certain point; if the grittiness of a transitional area will be too much to bear, I’d suggest a different neighborhood. If crime-ridden neighborhoods are all someone can afford, then the real problem is access to affordable housing for all of us– not drunken neighbors, which Shaw hardly has a monopoly on…public drunks have annoyed me in Kalorama, Georgetown and even my current building. Is an inebriated sorority girl who is shoeless and screaming hysterically on Irving street less annoying than someone railing about “the man”? Or is she just prettier, less threatening, and thus more acceptable?

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Slideshow: Convention Center neighborhood in transition http://dcentric.wamu.org/slideshow/slideshow-convention-center-neighborhood-in-transition/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/slideshow/slideshow-convention-center-neighborhood-in-transition/#comments Tue, 14 Dec 2010 15:41:41 +0000 Matt Thompson http://dcentric.wamu.org/?post_type=slideshow&p=2691 Continue reading ]]> Construction is underway on the massive new Marriott Marquis hotel next to the Convention Center. Several of the empty buildings around the hotel will give way to smaller Marriott properties. I took some snapshots to document the neighborhood as it looks today.

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It’s easy to be a critic, when English is your first language. http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/11/its-easy-to-be-a-critic-when-english-is-your-first-language/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/11/its-easy-to-be-a-critic-when-english-is-your-first-language/#comments Tue, 09 Nov 2010 19:11:45 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=1938 Continue reading ]]>

Santa Fe Nachos, Dos Coyotes, Davis, California

One of the things I miss most about Northern California is the Southwestern restaurant, Dos Coyotes. Please note: I did not say “Mexican” food. I fully admit I want some sort of “inauthentic” dish which contains spicy salsa, black beans and an obscene amount of cheese. That’s a pretty basic want, but it’s difficult to fulfill here in D.C. When I worked near K Street, I’d go to Pedro and Vinnie’s burrito cart and 80% of the time, I’d be satisfied; unfortunately, it’s not open for dinner or on the weekends. So I often end up at…Chipotle. I know. It’s not real, ethnic food. I know.

But it’s spicy and across from my house, so I go. When I do, the staff switches to Spanish while asking for my order. Years ago, I was fluent in it, so my accent is decent and I can bust out these impressive sentences every so often…but I’m much more likely to be left staring at the ceiling, agonizing over a verb I can’t remember. The 14th Street crew doesn’t mind this, in fact they exhort me to keep practicing. I do, because it’s kind of them to help me, but also because it is a potent reminder of how privileged I am.

I speak English.

It’s not my first language, but I speak it as if it were and I don’t take that for granted. When some dolt on the street compliments me by telling me something like, “You’re Indian? You speak good English for an immigrant!”,  I smile a wan smile and reply that I was born to immigrant parents in California, where English is often spoken.

It’s easy to forget how difficult English is to learn, because we all take it for granted. We’re here. But for people in other nations, English is a puzzle. The pronunciation of the word “cough” makes no sense. As a teen, I used to preen and smirk at my ability to pick up French and Spanish rapidly– until my Father gruffly pointed out that they’re both romance languages and much easier to learn than English, something he studied for his entire childhood, in India.

My parents both studied at English-medium schools in India, so when they came to this country forty years ago, they were each fluent in the language and better prepared to communicate in it than other immigrants were. Recently though, and I’ve noticed this increasing as she ages, my Mother will enclose notes with packages from home that make my heart stop, because of how sweet they are– and because of how protective I feel of her, upon reading them: “Saw this when I was wondering thru the Mall and knew you’d like it, love you Mommy.”

Seven years ago, when I kept a visual diary via my photo blog, I would’ve taken a picture of the open package and all of the goodies it contained– but I would have hesitated to include the note. I wouldn’t want someone to make fun of my Mother and it’s not like she meant for the words she wrote in her beautiful, looping handwriting to be put on blast. But I’d always feel a twinge of worry– was I ashamed of who my Mother was? What was more appropriate and less self-serving? To be proud of all she had accomplished in this strange land, where she lacked family, friends and even a proper winter coat for a brutal Oklahoma winter in 1973, typos be damned? Or to privately feel my heart swell at her kindness while protecting her from scrutiny?

I thought of all of these things a few minutes ago, while reading this post at Prince of Petworth. PoP regularly investigates new restaurant openings, taking pictures and offering details about what to expect on the menu. This time, he was exploring what had happened to the space which once housed the popular Vegetate, in Shaw. It is now Cafe Eagle, and its menu is almost entirely Italian, with one Eritrean dish, too.

The menu is simple, probably printed late-night at Kinko’s, on blue paper. It is notable not for its offerings, but the misspellings which PoP’s commenters immediately noticed:

Prince of Petworth

Said another commenter, "Paper sauce. Huh?"

My initial reaction was to feel a surge of sadness and defensiveness on behalf of the hopeful proprietors of this space, whom PoP had called “super kind and quite enthusiastic”; I could picture them reading the post, their faces falling as they scrolled down. Then I remembered the irritation I feel when I go to an Indian restaurant and see typos, and how I’m always tempted to offer free proofreading services, but end up smiling and saying nothing. “Why can’t they proof these things?”, I mutter to myself, as I concomitantly feel concerned that others will hold mistaken letters or poor punctuation against them.  Just like those commenters did. Pasto with paper sauce. Obviously, they meant “pasta with pepper sauce”.

I know, it’s a tiny thing to think about, and these anonymous commenters on another blog are irrelevant and just killing time at their desks, not conspiring to harm others. But I can’t help but think about it. I know something about people with brown skin, who sacrifice everything to come to a city like this, and work so hard to offer something of value to those who would snicker and point out their flaws, all the while ignoring their gifts.

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