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“Ghetto” is not an adjective

Author: Dominic Carrillo

Neighborhood: Barrio Logan

Age: 32

Occupation: Counselor

It’s a noun.

It’s the place where I live.

It’s Barrio Logan, to be exact, but that lone fact is insignificant, really.

There’s no Sherman or Logan or Shelltown to those on the outside looking in. ­It’s all ­“ghetto” to them. ­It’s safely kept at a distance — mostly imagined on pixelated screens or glanced through car windows at high speeds. And ­it’s okay, as long as we stay in it — except in transit between working kitchens and keeping things ­clean.

“Ghetto” is not an adjective because ­it’s a place that does not fit one description. There is a popular assumption that a ghetto is only a crime-ridden, gang-infested, dirty, scary place — no doubt a result of the news and TV bombarding us with such edited imagery. Or maybe ­you’ve had a negative experience that exemplified the rule, while the positive one proved to be the exception. ­That’s exactly how stereotypes work. Perhaps partially true, but never the ­truth.

The truth is that I can sit outside at Chicana Perk Café and have a latte and an intellectual conversation with another local — an exchange that might just surprise a La Jollan. Though within the same hour I can walk down 25th and see a teenager with a shiny silver gun in his hand in broad daylight — ready to shoot if he has to. Yelling and screaming, sirens and gunshots are not uncommon ­here.

Coincidentally, the city government decided to construct two freeways — the 94 and the 5 — that partition this neighborhood from other parts of the city. Emissions from heavy freeway traffic and industrial pollution create heightened environmental hazards. Statistically, more of us have asthma than those who live just two miles ­north.

Our schools suffer as well. It seems that disconnected first-year teachers get their credentials here, then move on to “better” and brighter areas — tragic in a place where lack of a good education likely means consecutive life sentences of menial ­labor.

Speaking of life sentences, we have a precarious relationship with the police here, too. They are more our enemies than our friends — though they are both. They often appear enemies because we are aggressively treated as guilty before proven innocent; friends on those rare occasions when they actually protect us from dangerous criminal ­elements.

But ­that’s enough of the negative stereotype ­that’s already been beaten and washed into our brains by TV, movies, and video games. ­That’s enough of the ingrained image that prevents us from sifting through popular propaganda. This media madness has turned the word “ghetto” into an adjective. When I hear a blonde teenie-bopper from The O.C. utter the word “ghetto” in disdain to describe her damaged or dirty Mercedes, I know that she has never been to one. When I hear my students calling everything from their backpacks to their scuffed shoes “ghetto,” I know that they have also been brainwashed. ­TV’s trickle-down effect, I suppose. But this kind of linguistic ghettonomics affects those in Logan much more adversely than it does The O.C. In The O.C. ­it’s a flippant adjective that happens to be trendy. In the ’hood, ­it’s an everyday reality. Unfortunately, its popular use creates borders between you and me. Its negativity permeates almost everything we see and hear in this ghetto ­neighborhood.

However, this is what I see that ­doesn’t fit the stereotypical description. I see families walking happily together down the street. I see kids playing soccer, expressing dreams with their favorite international teams in mind. I see the foot traffic of young and old, eating ice cream on a hot afternoon. I see strangers greeting each other, smiling and laughing by the trolley stop. I see houses painted vibrant colors that suburban HOAs would ban in a second. I hear loud music and talking that resonates with passionate love of life. I feel the pulse of the moment. I see beautiful murals and harmless homeless people in Chicano Park. I smell fresh tortillas and carne asada cooking and the fresh baked goods of ­Panchita’s. And it all reminds me that the culture here is much deeper than hot dogs and Budweisers; that Mexicans and our indigenous ancestors were here long before ­Fremont’s bear flag was raised or ­Jefferson’s declaration was praised — long before a border wall was even ­conceived.

Yes, the roots of this ghetto community were here long before the word “ghetto” came into existence in 16th-century Europe. “Ghetto” was originally used to describe the segregated Jewish neighborhood in Venice. As the reader may well know, those of the Jewish faith became pariahs in the midst of a Europe controlled by Christendom. Though victims of persecution and discrimination for centuries, the Jewish ghettos created conditions for increased solidarity, economic and cultural strength. Did we forget the positives, or have we been completely blinded to ­them?

If not the mainstream media, I hope the kids in this and all so-called ghetto communities learn the roots of their words (i.e., history), and discover that their perceptions are often stereotypes that have little or no basis in real experiences (and that reality TV is nowhere near “real”).

Here is my reality: I am sitting and writing in a ghetto in San Diego. It is one of many ghettos — often separated, misrepresented, or ignored. I am in a favela. I am in a slum. They are almost everywhere and they are many things — but not adjectives. I am not sitting in a “ghetto” chair as I write this. I am sitting in a homemade, hand-painted, and personalized wooden chair. It was not bought and will likely not be sold. Most importantly, it is far more comfortable, full of character, and alive than the over-priced plastic chair lining some stale street north of ­here.

That is not to generalize that all of, say, Mission Hills is stale and pale. It would be a shame to make anybody or any place the victim of one-dimensional paintings or popular stereotypes. It is simply to say that this ghetto — Barrio Logan — can be both a wonderful and horrible place, and everything in between — a multi-dimensional reality that is seldom seen first-hand. And, above all, “ghetto” is not an ­adjective.

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Author: Dominic Carrillo

Neighborhood: Barrio Logan

Age: 32

Occupation: Counselor

It’s a noun.

It’s the place where I live.

It’s Barrio Logan, to be exact, but that lone fact is insignificant, really.

There’s no Sherman or Logan or Shelltown to those on the outside looking in. ­It’s all ­“ghetto” to them. ­It’s safely kept at a distance — mostly imagined on pixelated screens or glanced through car windows at high speeds. And ­it’s okay, as long as we stay in it — except in transit between working kitchens and keeping things ­clean.

“Ghetto” is not an adjective because ­it’s a place that does not fit one description. There is a popular assumption that a ghetto is only a crime-ridden, gang-infested, dirty, scary place — no doubt a result of the news and TV bombarding us with such edited imagery. Or maybe ­you’ve had a negative experience that exemplified the rule, while the positive one proved to be the exception. ­That’s exactly how stereotypes work. Perhaps partially true, but never the ­truth.

The truth is that I can sit outside at Chicana Perk Café and have a latte and an intellectual conversation with another local — an exchange that might just surprise a La Jollan. Though within the same hour I can walk down 25th and see a teenager with a shiny silver gun in his hand in broad daylight — ready to shoot if he has to. Yelling and screaming, sirens and gunshots are not uncommon ­here.

Coincidentally, the city government decided to construct two freeways — the 94 and the 5 — that partition this neighborhood from other parts of the city. Emissions from heavy freeway traffic and industrial pollution create heightened environmental hazards. Statistically, more of us have asthma than those who live just two miles ­north.

Our schools suffer as well. It seems that disconnected first-year teachers get their credentials here, then move on to “better” and brighter areas — tragic in a place where lack of a good education likely means consecutive life sentences of menial ­labor.

Speaking of life sentences, we have a precarious relationship with the police here, too. They are more our enemies than our friends — though they are both. They often appear enemies because we are aggressively treated as guilty before proven innocent; friends on those rare occasions when they actually protect us from dangerous criminal ­elements.

But ­that’s enough of the negative stereotype ­that’s already been beaten and washed into our brains by TV, movies, and video games. ­That’s enough of the ingrained image that prevents us from sifting through popular propaganda. This media madness has turned the word “ghetto” into an adjective. When I hear a blonde teenie-bopper from The O.C. utter the word “ghetto” in disdain to describe her damaged or dirty Mercedes, I know that she has never been to one. When I hear my students calling everything from their backpacks to their scuffed shoes “ghetto,” I know that they have also been brainwashed. ­TV’s trickle-down effect, I suppose. But this kind of linguistic ghettonomics affects those in Logan much more adversely than it does The O.C. In The O.C. ­it’s a flippant adjective that happens to be trendy. In the ’hood, ­it’s an everyday reality. Unfortunately, its popular use creates borders between you and me. Its negativity permeates almost everything we see and hear in this ghetto ­neighborhood.

However, this is what I see that ­doesn’t fit the stereotypical description. I see families walking happily together down the street. I see kids playing soccer, expressing dreams with their favorite international teams in mind. I see the foot traffic of young and old, eating ice cream on a hot afternoon. I see strangers greeting each other, smiling and laughing by the trolley stop. I see houses painted vibrant colors that suburban HOAs would ban in a second. I hear loud music and talking that resonates with passionate love of life. I feel the pulse of the moment. I see beautiful murals and harmless homeless people in Chicano Park. I smell fresh tortillas and carne asada cooking and the fresh baked goods of ­Panchita’s. And it all reminds me that the culture here is much deeper than hot dogs and Budweisers; that Mexicans and our indigenous ancestors were here long before ­Fremont’s bear flag was raised or ­Jefferson’s declaration was praised — long before a border wall was even ­conceived.

Yes, the roots of this ghetto community were here long before the word “ghetto” came into existence in 16th-century Europe. “Ghetto” was originally used to describe the segregated Jewish neighborhood in Venice. As the reader may well know, those of the Jewish faith became pariahs in the midst of a Europe controlled by Christendom. Though victims of persecution and discrimination for centuries, the Jewish ghettos created conditions for increased solidarity, economic and cultural strength. Did we forget the positives, or have we been completely blinded to ­them?

If not the mainstream media, I hope the kids in this and all so-called ghetto communities learn the roots of their words (i.e., history), and discover that their perceptions are often stereotypes that have little or no basis in real experiences (and that reality TV is nowhere near “real”).

Here is my reality: I am sitting and writing in a ghetto in San Diego. It is one of many ghettos — often separated, misrepresented, or ignored. I am in a favela. I am in a slum. They are almost everywhere and they are many things — but not adjectives. I am not sitting in a “ghetto” chair as I write this. I am sitting in a homemade, hand-painted, and personalized wooden chair. It was not bought and will likely not be sold. Most importantly, it is far more comfortable, full of character, and alive than the over-priced plastic chair lining some stale street north of ­here.

That is not to generalize that all of, say, Mission Hills is stale and pale. It would be a shame to make anybody or any place the victim of one-dimensional paintings or popular stereotypes. It is simply to say that this ghetto — Barrio Logan — can be both a wonderful and horrible place, and everything in between — a multi-dimensional reality that is seldom seen first-hand. And, above all, “ghetto” is not an ­adjective.

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Comments
12

I live in the ghetto neighborhood of Southeast San Diego, which itself is a term that was buried with considerable ceremony years ago, but hasn't quite died off yet. Perhaps it is a zombie, and because of the nature of my neighborhood, Southeast San Diego must be a ghetto zombie.

I've been told that my ghetto neighborhood is blighted, which justifies it as a ghetto neighborhood. It also appears to justify a lack of popular community oversight regarding the Southeastern Economic Development Corporation (SEDC)... unless one happens to be a paid consultant of SEDC.

Having been a college-level English tutor for years... maybe decades?... I am suspicious whenever there is a proposal to adopt a rule of grammar that really carries no weight in public. This in not to say that I can't be a language purist, either, but I generally restrict applying that tendency towards regimentation to formal languages like algebra, BASIC, or Oberon, not to the ordinary use of human expression by people who would most likely just ignore me as soon as shoot me.

Some of the best math majors I ever recruited at City College came from ghetto neighborhoods... not many English majors, though.

Aug. 13, 2008

I have the feeling this blog article has little to do with Mathematical equations or English grammar. It seems to be addressing the pervasive use of the word "ghetto" as an adjective and the negative effects this might have on those who view it both internally and externally. Orwell clearly warned us of language manipulation and the influence of propaganda. For instance, if we continuously use a word like "collateral damage" instead of directly speaking about dead innocent civilians-- men, women, and children-- then we might become desensitized and silently compliant with a policy of bombing foreign cities. Maybe the widespread trend of describing dirty, ugly, or smelly things as "ghetto" won't have a noticeably negative impact on American culture. Maybe it will. We don't know.

Aug. 18, 2008

VIVA LOGAN! I grew up on 30th and Newton, right behind Malena's. I love the nieghborhood and all that goes with it. I currently live in La Mesa and work in Mission Valley, but I always go back on the weekends for a carne asada. Logan is the heart of the hispanic community in San Diego, the Mecca of Latino Sabor. As the article states, let us not take anything away from Sherman, Shelltown, Lomas, Eden Gardens, Lomita, East Side, and the other Varrios in San Diego. They all make up this wonderful city of ours.

Sept. 11, 2008

Regarding #2:

It seems that propaganda is where you find it.

It is interesting for me to see that a writing used for proclaiming what should be or not be an adjective is seen by the writer as having "little to do with... English grammar." Logically, we are therefore free to assume the writer had in mind other goals and intentions for raising the issue of undesirable adjectives, and then freely speculate on what those unstated goals and intentions might have been.

Millions of Americans look to the discussions taking place in the ghetto for any significance to their own lives, only to find things of less importance or substance than a SEDC media release. From this, it only makes sense that issues here rarely receive national attention, or if they do, then only for a media minute.

Sept. 18, 2008

I used to live in Logan heitghs until recently, but as a single parent raising a baby girl, but moving, in spite of the fact that one no longer saves as much in funds on rent, seemed the most natural thing to do. The schools are underfunded and it seems to me that many people in this are seem to forget that being poor is not a permanent condition, nor does it mean one should forget manners. People told me that my daughter would not learn spanish as easily anymore, bu the truth of the matter is that Spanish in the true sense is not spoken there, more or less a patois is, in fact many semi-fluent speakers merely pepper their phrases with spanish words to sound authentic but in reality dismemeber the language further.

Crime is overrated, but what really got to me was that I could not take a walk with my daughter in the street safely, nor could I go out at night, and if I wanted to go downtown no cab wanted to bring me back, the few that did, only did so after a generous tip.

The problem is that no one in the community recognizes the problems that are endemic to the subculture that is bred in the barrios. Gangs, substance-abuse, prostituttion.

Education is not overwhelmingly appreciated and that is the trully dad part.

Dec. 20, 2009

I apologize for the typo, but my point was that education, or the posibility of upward mobility through education as well as scholastic achievement is not appreciated.

What's really lacking though is reinvestment and community ownership. One thing that bothered me was that the local supermarkets, which are all Chaldean christian owned, would only hire females for cashier positions--and they would only hire Chaldeans as managers. Is this not some new form of economic subjugation and ethnic exploitation.

The liquor stores and majority of busineses are owned by people who do not reside in logan heights, this means that any income generated here invariably flows out. This is a serious problem that needs to be tackled.

Dec. 21, 2009

Andreas pointed out correctly that people's perceptions of "the ghetto" come from reality, not "mostly imagined on pixelated screens or glanced through car windows at high speeds". The author himself admits "I can walk down 25th and see a teenager with a shiny silver gun in his hand in broad daylight". It's a normal impulse to want to be proud of what you consider home, but it's not in your best interest to be in denial about the reality. The fact is, every neighborhood, every city, is the product of the people who live there. So while there are good people in "the ghetto", there are a lot fewer bad people on "some stale street north of (t)here".

Dec. 22, 2009

Plainly ridiculous.

Clearly, no one is in denial about "the reality." Not the people on the outside looking in. And certainly not the people on the inside who have to deal with the reality of their circumstances as well as the judgmental opinions of others who seem to find it so easy to identify and solve problems without actually rolling up their sleeves and doing the work, and in fact making things worse by their oppressive and high-handed attitudes.

Dec. 22, 2009

Certain aspects of reality will change.

The relatively few people attending community planning meetings (that send recommendations to the City of San Diego Redevelopment Authority AKA city council) know that neighborhood-changing developers want more high-density development NOW... otherwise, developers go out of business by making no money on projects not built and sold.

Dec. 22, 2009

Reality will change.

Like Little Italy, and Chinatown, Barrio Logan will become another condo ghetto surrounded by strip malls and tourist attractions based on a forgotten vibrant history.

Progress is becoming a beloved memory. Resistance is futile.

Dec. 22, 2009

All I can say is...I'm glad to not be there anymore, I'm sorry but I don't think I'm too good for the ghetto...but I do think my child deserves better.

Once I argued with my neighbor regarding the "kind" of kids that would hang around his daughter when he wasn't home--chiefly because I had to deal with their noise--his wife then mentioned "what do you expect...look at where we are." Three months later his 14 yo daughter ended up pregnant and he had to move since he could no longer afford the rent.

Now we live in a nicer area, but I still feel I have to do better for my family--sadly, I aw few young parents who would make similar sacrifices for their children.

What really destroys our neighborhoods is the glorification of the "Cholo" or gangster, if those idiots only knew that the word Cholo is a pejorative for half-breed or someone of mixed ancestry in colonial mexico--then again when they go back to mexico they are reminded of why their parents came here, unfortunately it doesn't seem to ring a bell in term of awareness or self-empowerment. The Cholo in mexico is seen as a reject, the dreggs of society.

Jan. 12, 2010

By the way Cuddlefish, it would be a beautiful neighborhood with a vibrant history if the people that lived in it started concerning themselves with developing it. Home ownership, local-business ownership, and reinvestment. Why do we buy from the chaldeans, we should buy from the mexican owned stores, we should boycott those chaldean stores that don't have at least one mexican/black manager or at least on mexican/black male cashier.

Until the local populace takes charge of their development they deserve to disappear--when you mention little Italy, remember that's what they did.

Jan. 12, 2010

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