I read an article this morning about the impending demolition of the last remaining structures in what once was Dallas’ “Little Mexico” neighborhood, an area its residents called “La Colonia.” At its peak, 15,000 people lived in the area. The neighborhood was full of restaurants, grocery stores, bars, shoe repair shops, and myriad other businesses run by and that catered to the Mexican-American residents and the others who gravitated there. During the last several years, wealthy developers have snatched up houses and shops, usually demolishing them shortly thereafter, replacing them with glass and steel skyscrapers. The land beneath the old houses became extremely valuable as more and more expensive buildings were built. The character of most of the neighborhood changed quickly, though pockets of the old community remained. Those pockets struggled to retain the look and feel of the old neighborhood, but the efforts were destined to fail. Money swept the residents aside, forcing them to disperse into the wider community; the close-knit Mexican-American community spread into a gossamer-thin veil that has almost dissolved into…what? Memories and pride; things that cannot be buried under money and abject greed.
The glass and steel condominiums and parking garages for flashy cars and the ritzy shops that sell overpriced goods in homage to greed and gluttony have no entrenched identities. They are temporary compartments where misplaced pride and meaningless wealth are stored. They will disappear in time, too. But, unlike La Colonia, they will have no foundation upon which rich cultural memories can be built.
When cultural touchstones are ground into glass, it’s not just the abused culture that suffers. It’s all of us who can no longer see and feel and taste the deep connections members of that culture once had. We have our memories of such places, but they, too, will disappear in time. Our faded memories serve no useful purpose to those who follow us, for those memories will become vapor before they can inhabit the minds of the future.
Mexicans. Italians. Jews. Germans. Czechs. Indigenous peoples. Japanese. Chinese. We claim that we are a nation of immigrants. But only for a while. Only as long as it takes us to erase cultural identities and replace them with a homogeneous, spice-less, bland, superficial crust of doughy, wet flour.
How is it that the only satisfaction we seem to value is the pride built on variations on a theme of genocide? We all should have meaningful stories to tell about our heritage. We can’t, though, when the only heritage to which we cling is built on vanquishing those who might challenge our superiority.
Somehow, some way, I will turn this morose reflection on the shame of American civilization into something of value. That’s my job for today.