Travel is a complicated topic. There are many reasons to make travel a part of your life. I think one of the most important reasons is to learn about other people, places, and ways of being. Visiting other places develops understanding and empathy and makes connections. It broadens your thinking and experiences. You might even learn a little history! Travel is especially good for aging people. (Ugh – that hits a little too close to home.) It forces you to use your brain differently, to problem solve, to plan (or not?!), to experience new things. Glen and I love to travel. I often say that while we are on vacation, our major conversations are about our next destination. That’s half the fun – thinking about what’s to come. And yet…
As we live in a global society, there are considerations to ponder so that we can travel responsibly – for example, what’s the environmental impact of travel itself, the impact of additional people in a community, financial implications, the potential to spread viruses, etc. I read an NYT article today that discusses ways to be a “better” tourist. The author suggests that we ask the question – What impact will my presence have on the place I am visiting? This is a question I have struggled with while here in Brooklyn. How can we respectfully participate in the community without having a negative impact. Are we just imposing ourselves on the community? Or better yet, how can we have a positive impact? And that makes me wonder…is that just me thinking about me again – as if my impact is wanted or could be useful? It’s a bit of an inner conflict that I have wrestled with since we arrived.
I also just finished a book that I highly recommend – The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. (She also wrote the more recent book – Caste.) Her topic really hit home considering our location. The author presents her research on The Great Migration from the South to the North during the middle of the 20th Century. She explores the lives of three Southerners, two men and a woman, who left their communities in Florida, Mississippi, and Georgia and migrated to Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, for different reasons. One of the themes of her research is the conversation about whether Black Southerners were leaving something or going to something.
I learned a lot from this book and it caused me to consider our presence in Brooklyn. We are in a community that was populated by Black migrants from the South in the ’30s-60’s. They made this vibrant community what it is today. There are obvious signs of gentrification in BedStuy. Our neighbor Mike, told me that many of the locals are beginning to sell their brownstones to hipsters who can afford them and who will refurbish them. These brownstones have often been handed down from generation to generation and the families see an opportunity to sell at a high price allowing them to return to their familial roots in the South – even though they’ve never lived there. This tracks with Wilkerson’s research. While there are many Black-owned businesses in our neighborhood, there are also plenty owned by Whites indicating a change in the demographics. So while we aren’t “hipsters” (haha) and we’re not buying a brownstone or opening a business, how is our presence contributing to that gentrification or demographic change process?
So just how do we fit in? Remember when we first got here and were welcomed to the block party? We met our neighbors, received home-grown herbs (not that kind!), and Glen received a t-shirt from a our neighbor, Mike. Also, remember that Glen bbq’d by the stoop and shared his ribs with passersby? I’ve also written about my daily interactions with the groups of older men who play cards or just sit on the sidewalk and watch the world go by all day. We’ve felt so welcome and continue to have stoop conversations with our neighbors including with our next door neighbor, Earl who kindly and protectively provides us lots of safety advice. We try to contribute to the community by spending our money in our neighborhood. We regularly buy our groceries at the local market vs the “Whole Foods”ish market that’s nearby and I run to the corner bodega just about every day. We go to the bakery and coffee shop down the street several times a week. We visit our “Cheers” bar regularly and eat at local, neighborhood restaurants. We support local business owners.
So what are my questions? Hmmm…Do we belong here? Are we part of the problem? Can we be part of the problem and part of the solution? Have we found a way to be a “better” tourist by spending an extended period of time in one place?
I’m still not sure how to answer those questions.
A few photos of our neighborhood as you ponder the questions…