Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A confession and cultural study sitting on the bus in DC and MD

I moved back to Maryland, specifically to Wheaton, which serves as quite a unique study of the migration of Latinos and other immigrant communities from the city proper to the burbs. You can see the flow of immigrants and Latinos as the rings of a tree trunk, where core communities of DC moved away from former enclaves such as Adams Morgan or Mt. Pleasant in DC in the late 80s and early 90s, settling along the way, ending up as north as Clarksburg MD and as south as Manassas VA. These former centers have become ghost towns of enclaves and the current playgrounds of transients (and to many of us, ingrates and richies). Yet, as water moves through these rings, so many Latinos, Africans, and other immigrant populations take buses from the city where they labor, to hour and a half rides back home in the cheaper and cost effective suburban neighborhoods each day and night. I do not drive. I am a 100% rider of public transportation. And it is standing on freezing cold bus kiosks, crowded train platforms at 9am or 11pm, where I see chutes and ladders segregating off various socioeconomic classes, races, and levels of sobriety to their points of destination. I wonder how often do folks think of the other subcultures that use these trains or buses when they are not using them.
You can see all of this in one day. Yesterday morning, I hop on the bus to go to the community college for an appointment. The bus was packed with young Black and Latino suburbanites heading to the “Harvard on the Pike,” looking as cute and as hard as they can, listening to the latest Gucci Mane or Wisin y Yandel beats through their headphones. Later in the afternoon, I’ll head over to visit my girlfriend in a highly affluent neighborhood in NW D.C. with a horde of bleached blonde girlies and lacrosse playing white dudes sitting all around me as I catch the early trickle of red DC Capitals hockey jerseys heading over to the Verizon Center. Moving to the Green line, I pass through a series of train stops in predominantly Black neighborhoods, where Black youth walk up and down the train, blasting the latest music, complaining to their friends about other friends’ shadiness. Here is where I also see “down” hipsters who live in these “transition neighborhoods,” validating their hipsterdom by residing where all the “real shit” is. (There have been songs written about DC neighborhoods and trains where the Green line is called out as the line not to ride. When the Tea Partyers decided to grace us with their presence, one of their websites instructed them to stay away from that train line too). And, I was quite surprised when I began taking my hour and a half bus ride home from the community college in MD. At 11pm, I walk into a bus as packed as a Red Line commute in downtown DC at 5pm. Instead of iPads, iPods, suits and ties, pretty dresses and white faces staring away quietly; it was completely full of Latinos and Africans chatting on cell phones, and to each other, talking about paychecks, where to work, asking how their kids are doing. Moms and Tias, looking tired, hugging their purses in front of their bellies with their head down low. Men staring at people coming through the door. Someone sitting in the back on the phone, speaking French so loud, you figure he was teaching the entire bus. My albino ass self sits down, pulls his iPod and listens to the latest Indie Rock and Dubstep tunes.
I’m starting to feel like quite the anomaly traveling through these series of cables and channels. My family came from the center, from Adams Morgan, and headed up to Wheaton and Silver Spring MD. We have seen our people continue the push, heading further north towards Gaithersburg or Laurel. I’m thinking the Red Line will have a stop over in Pennsylvania soon. The further we move along the trajectory, the more I feel out of place in all of it. I’ve been spoken to in Spanish at bus stops, as folks try to get one over on me thinking I do not speak Spanish or am Latino. And when I do, I get the ususal, :? Donde aprendistes a hablar español?: :Que bien hablás!:, and from las viejas :!ay que lindo!:. I also sit on trains where folks talk about immigrants negatively in front of me, saying how “This is America” and “I ain’t here to hear Spanish and shit.” If it's not socioeconomic status that marks me as a weirdo, it’s the Albinism, it’s the nationality, it's my Salvadoran and Guatemalan culture, it’s the accent, and so on and so on. I know this happens to everyone else. But in my naiveté, I feel a connection to the old women in the bus, they are my grandmother. I feel a connection to the kids on the Green Line, I hail from DC (and not Washington). And, I also have my share of Banana Republic slacks and button up dress shirts in the middle-class jobs I’ve held. I connect with all these things, yet feel like an outsider in my own home.

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