There were two things about The Parkway that made it unique (pardon the pun) and established it as an integral part of my Patronus.
1- The Parkway was the America most Americans will never see.
Even those bewigged revolutionaries that decided Taxation without Representation was unacceptable and signed a document declaring their defiance of an absentee monarch, even those visionaries couldn’t envision the America The Parkway- in particular my one block of it, between Franklin and Classon Avenues- represented.
We were like a village, only a very large, very unusual village, made up of multiple races, ethnicities, religions, cultures, languages, education levels and economic means…not only congregating at some obligatory central location or other only to return to our mutually exclusive enclaves and ghettos afterwards, but living together. This was especially so when I first arrived there. Less so as the years passed and as the White Flight from the inner cities to the suburbs persisted.
Trying to imagine this melting pot wonder, aren’t you?
Try to imagine a soup base made from the descendents of African captives from nations stretching from Senegal to Namibia mixed with virtually every former Western European colonial power, with the stock of holocaust survivors and refugees from war-torn Europe thrown in, flavored with the lineage of so-called Coolies from China and India, countless Native American nations and the tribes of the Arawak, Carib, Taina, and Boricua, etc…all living together in a genetic gumbo.
That was The Parkway my mother moved me and my brothers and sisters to.
Naturally as a child you can hardly appreciate it and, a few years into my life on The Parkway, I just got used to it. In my circle of people I still have mad love for til this day, were African-Americans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Panamanians, Jamaicans, Jews, Haitians, St. Lucians, Trinidadians, Bajans, Guyanese, and I’m sure I’m missing a few.
Little did I know I was part of a grand experiment. A relatively young country’s fledgling efforts to show the world that gumbo was the new chicken soup. To me it was just home. That among my friends there were those who could speak foreign languages (Spanish, French, Hebrew, and a number of different patois from the Caribbean and South America) did not strike me as special. That I had friends from double income professional parentage as well as some from the single parent one income lifestyle, and even some (like myself) from the welfare rolls; that some were in private schools destined for higher education while others were destined for less esteemed and privileged heights and in some cases jail or death, that didn’t faze me, either. That some had lived abroad, in England, or the Caribbean, or even in the southern areas of the US (which seemed like a different planet in those pre-MTV days) wasn’t even much to get excited about. It was all par for the course on The Parkway.
Yeah, the longer I live, the more I see and experience, the more I realize the anomaly I was raised in. And, the more I can appreciate what a miracle it was! (Especially once I came to Asia, to this land of monotony, homogeneity and social congruity.) I realize now more than ever the blessing my upbringing actually was. That having and taking advantage of the opportunity to abide with people, ideas, cultures and expectations so vastly different to my own, in those tender years when the foundation of character- learning how to negotiate life, how to build enduring relationships and establishing an identity- are being lain, made all the difference in the world.
This Patronus of mine, this spell I cast to ward off the negative energy around me and keep my path forward lit, is a power derived from my ability to see not only the differences people have but the things we have in common. Because living in this gumbo essentially forced all of us to find common ground.
Sure, Ubi’s parents owned the dry cleaners around the corner, only spoke Spanish in the house when I came over, and bought him everything a child could ever want, but he loved Chinese Handball as much as I and we could do battle late into the night in front of the building to see who was really king of the court. And, yeah, Michelle’s parents, born and raised in Jamaica, thought “yankees” (like me) were lazy, shiftless niggers but that didn’t stop Michelle from making out with me on the staircase.
And, a thousand other stories like these keep my Patronus shining bright.
The second thing about The Parkway was even more profound!
…to be continued