Evict the Yuppies

IMG_1977Evict Google.

From this, it’s very apparent from where I’m writing. There’s no point in trying to hide it. My neighborhood, or perhaps this city, is notorious for their campaigns to “evict the yuppies” or stated in plainer, more targeted terms, “evict Google.” Their campaign is characterized by the familiar tags over abandoned buildings and empty spaces. I am not Google, or even close to a software engineer. But it always occurs to me, are they referring to me too? I have never identified as a yuppie. This is mostly because I have never been in the world of business or banking, toiling for profit margins or to catch the attention of those higher in the food chain. Still, I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who openly identifies him or herself as a yuppie (or maybe you do – I can hear the condescending pretension already…).

Anyways, what do they, referring to those who feel the need to share their thoughts on the matter on city streets, mean by yuppie? Well, there’s the book definition: “short for ‘young urban professional’ or ‘young upwardly-mobile professional’ defined as a young college-educated adult who has a job that pays a lot of money and who lives and works in or near a large city.” (Thanks, Wikipedia) But when they write on the walls of abandoned, boarded up corner stores and in a city where transplants are coming and going all the time, it can mean so much more. Are they referring to a certain social class, level of education, degree of wealth, or particular unsavory attitude? And do you have to convey only one of these qualities, or all of the above?

Obviously, at the macro level, they’re saying not-so-wonderful things about the gentrification of this neighborhood and the city at-large. But on the micro level, are they telling me to get out? I am a transplant. What right do I have to be here? Am I part of the problem that’s hiking housing prices up because I can get a job that will allow me to afford it? The thought is not particularly welcoming. And I can see the tensions it has created in my short time here.

In the first two weeks of my moving here, I emerged from my cave in search of some nice succulents to brighten up my office. I found a nice neighborhood shop. It was plain to the shopkeeper that I had just moved to the city and I told her I was just looking for something to make my office space a little happier. She asked where I work. “Oh, wonderful. You’re one of the good ones. At least there are still a few around here,” she responds to my answer. My friend, who had come with me on my mission that day, ironically, worked at Google. We both smiled and nodded, looking at each other and down at the register.

With this question in mind, I start with the most natural case study: myself. I wouldn’t consider my upbringing wealthy by any means, raised by a proud immigrant parent. But I did grow up with many privileges of the mid- to upper-middle class because that’s where my mother chose to put me. I am a product of higher education and unequivocally, generation Y. My daily attire is spotted with designer pieces and I regular indulge in a Saturday morning manicure. Yoga and spinning are mainstays in my weekly routine. I do not make a six-figure salary, engage in any pronounced start-up or tech culture, or sport the notorious Bay Area “lumbersexual” or “hipster” fashions. So, am I a yuppie? I don’t deny that I am part of the sweeping gentrification happening. However, it is difficult to accept that you are a part of an injustice characterized by involuntary migration, that is eviction.

So every time I read it on the walls, the thought bubbles to the surface – am I part of the problem? I’m trying to live my life as well as possible, and have a career too. That’s what brought me here. I’m also struggling with the skyrocketing housing prices and food, etc. etc. These are not, by any means, excuses. But, if I am part of the problem, is there anything I can do to address the issue? The solution, like the problem, is complex and multifaceted.

I would venture to say that gentrification is natural in many ways as urban areas develop. However, it is an anomaly that this form of gentrification is happening with alarming rapidity, and only adding to San Francisco’s history of evictions rooted in poverty, race, and culture. Newcomers need to become a part of and embrace the history and culture that is here, not overtake it. We must not replace it, but learn to grow within it. Get to know your neighborhood. Volunteer to work with the community right outside. (Okay, you might have to venture a bit further if you live in the Marina, but you get what I’m saying.) It will not solve everything or maybe not anything at all, but it will at least give perspective on what people are dealing with when you’re world is consumed by everything that goes into climbing that ladder, and connect you to a new (and perhaps truer) reality.

Now finally, all of these intentions, they can’t come out of guilt. Guilt only seems to accentuate the sense of privilege and otherness. This must come from love, empathy, and respect for what came before and striving to be part of what it will become.

The Social (in)Significance of (Interesting) Hobbies

“So, what do you do for fun?” It is THE hated question of first-meeting-at-a-bar-small-talk questions. What do you mean, what do I do for fun?

It’s been a year since graduation. Everyone needs to have hobbies now – something that I spend my free time doing that’s different from everyone else and makes me interesting.

I begin crossing them off in my head – [Reading, lame. Puzzles, sad. Writing, “oh! What do you write about?” – uh no. Shopping, high maintenance. British crime dramas (yes, specifically British), embarrassing. Yoga, along with everyone else in San Francisco, Seattle, New York. Volunteer, self-righteous. I drink, semi-alcoholic? I can’t talk intelligently about cooking or baking. Politics is not typically appropriate to talk about in any setting let alone a bar, and neither is religion (and I’ve broken both those rules before), so nope. Making something up may make this conversation more interesting, but then I could probably never talk to you again because we know how badly I’d fail at maintaining anything I made up in the long-term. And now I’m starting to think that that may not be such a bad thing.]

“So, what do you do for fun?”

“Oh, you know. I just hang around, explore the city.”

Decidedly boring. But what did you expect me to say? That I farm tulips and socialize with my pet chicken on the weekends?? Or perhaps I happen to also be an amazing artist, so I spend my free time in studio? Or I can magically afford to travel regularly to exotic locales to work on perfecting my already perfect tan?

I have no more excuses in the form of – “oh, well, I’ve been busy studying this and that. I like to do this, but haven’t done it in awhile because school.” Somehow working towards the worthwhile personal goal of academic achievement lends itself to judgment less severe.

The fact of the matter is that I love my work. I spend a lot of time doing it. I also greatly enjoy spending my free time alone, probably more than the next person. I like being productive, and so spend my time (again, usually alone) working on pet projects that may or may not result in anything in particular. I like to read articles and take classes on nearly everything, but no, that does not somehow mean I could intelligently discuss Chinese art with you.

What could this someone in a bar do differently? Don’t require me to present my likes and dislikes on a silver platter, awaiting your judgment. There are plenty of other questions to answer and things to talk about that don’t require me to outline my Facebook profile of exceptional life events and ‘hobbies.’ You’re objective is to get to know me? It shouldn’t be so easy for that would only serve to relinquish the complexities that make each person intriguing. And where would the fun be in that?

So, if you want to ask me what I do for fun, don’t forget to bring me another drink.

To Baltimore with Love

It’s been a rough couple of days for Baltimore… Wait. No. It’s always been rough for Baltimore. A city divided. By race. By socioeconomic status. By level of education. By even life expectancy (you can see up to 20 years of difference between neighbourhoods in the city). All these things are inextricably connected anyway, but hey I’m trying to make a statement.

Baltimore boasts a world-class hospital that often outranks every other hospital in the country. And yet many of the city’s health outcomes fare worse than the national average, especially for its african american and hispanic populations.

The city is home to the nation’s first research university, a pioneer in the modern university model adopted from Germany; it remains one of the leading institutions for knowledge and discovery in the world and yet, the city has the lowest rate of high-school graduation (56%) in the state of Maryland. Not to mention the food deserts. And substandard housing. And well… general racial tension.

It’s no surprise then that things got out of hand in Charm City. With entire subpopulations systemically marginalized for decades, the more recent instances of policy brutality created the perfect storm for imperfect protest. (Policy brutality was originally a typo but I actually think it might be more appropriate here than “police brutality” so I’m leaving it).

I spent a year and a bit in Charm City and I grew to love it. Its weird little quirks. And fabulous characters. Its crazy amphibious races, pirate ships, seafood/hot dog combos- all of these made it charming. I ignored the less charming bits for the most part. Now we can’t ignore it. Watching the news from the Canadian version of Baltimore (I swear it’s Baltimore-light over here) was heart-breaking. It was clear that the city’s destruction didn’t happen Monday night- it’s been a systems-based work-in-progress for much longer than that. It’s time to fight back with equally systemic healing policies. And hugs. Always hugs.

With love,

D

Natty_Boh_crying_20120829121145_640_480