I'm looking for...



Happening:
Anytime
to
Near:
Anywhere
That is
Anything

Stoops, streets and porches


by vreese 28 Dec 2007

Stoops of Baltimore, Streets of Mexico, and Porches of North Texas: Space, Place and Race as Cultural Practices. In Baltimore, there are row houses that have three marble steps that lead up to the front door (think the opening scene in Hairspray.) In the mornings, someone, a grandmother, a momma, a young girl, would scrub […]

CTA TBD

Stoops of Baltimore, Streets of Mexico, and Porches of North Texas: Space, Place and Race as Cultural Practices.

In Baltimore, there are row houses that have three marble steps that lead up to the front door (think the opening scene in Hairspray.) In the mornings, someone, a grandmother, a momma, a young girl, would scrub the steps with sudsy water that smelled like pine cones. Right before the sun would go down, particularly on a Friday night, people would come out and sit on the stoop to drink beer in brown paper bags, lemonade in plastic cups, or sodas directly from the can and be related. We talked. Joked. Laughed and for a few hours  forgot about the hardships of living in the ghetto…

In San Miguel, Mexico, in the morning, right after the sun breaks open the sky, someone: an older man, a young girl, or a feisty grandmother, sweeps the sidewalk right in front of the house. Very often water is used to wash away the past that has crept up to the door and the broom is simply the excuse, the tool used to erase the demons. Once the sidewalk is swept, the doors swing wide, like warm loving arms ready to embrace life, to welcome the world into her hearth. When you walk from the street through a door in San Miguel, its like you are royalty. The very street has been cleaned for you so that you have the experience of being honored and (as my friend Lisa would say) respected just because you are alive…

In North Texas, and I suspect other parts of the South as well, people sit on porches. They sweep and scrub their porches with the deliberated intention of entertaining guests. My friend Meg and her husband have a home with a porch that spans and wraps around the entire house. He makes chairs and tables for the porch and we sit there on balmy summer nights, drink wine, and have intellectually stimulating conversations about the point of theory, literature, and the definition of culture…

The stoops of Baltimore, the streets of San Miguel, and the porches of North Texas give us a location, a literal place and a figurative space for how race as culture can actually be assessed in the mundane practices that constitute living life. Let’s create a working definition of culture as the repetitive actions, practices, assumptions, and expectations of a group that are readily identified by that group as unifying. Each one of these locations can be seen as a signifier as a racial and or class sign: the row-houses of Baltimore are in the urban poor sections of town predominately populated by Americans of African Ancestry; the street sweepers of San Miguel are Mexican business owners preparing the space for affluent tourist predominately of European ancestry, and the porches of North Texas are vintage of the institution of slavery and plantation life (land-owning Americans of Europeans ancestry) as well as the practice of entertaining guests with lemonade and fine cigars lulled by a warm summer breeze.

I have no judgment on these sites as cultural practices given by the intersection of history, class, race, and geography. The reason I find these scenes so compelling is because of the community that was created in each setting. On the stoops, one did not think about money or the light bill—coming to sit on the stoop at night was the opportunity to let go of the demands of life and simply be loved and embraced because you had made it through another day, week, or breath. The cleaning of the streets may actually serve the patrons of the shops, cantinas, and restaurants for indigenous San Miguelenses, but there is something more private and sacred to the actions than mere savvy business practices. The sweeping is a practice of culture in that it is a ritual of pride and appreciation of self at the level of community. The gesture seems to say, “I am not cleaning and sweeping my street. I am cleaning and sweeping and caring for our streets because I care for you. I care for the elder who sits on the sidewalk with her palm outstretched patiently waiting for the generosity of the gringos who visit our city. I care for the children who run and fall and scab their knees as they play on the clean sidewalk. I care for the drunken man who may not make it back home tonight and will find his rest on our sidewalk—safe, clean, and ready.”

The porches talk as much as the streets of San Miguel. I can here the porches say, “I know you are tired; come sit down and rest. Lay your troubles down and take a load off. Give them to me. Tomorrow will be better than today. It is always darkest before the dawn.”

Porch culture in the South has historically been about relaxing, connecting, transactions, and socializing. Marriages where arranged on porches, and courting began on the bench swings. Not everyone was allowed on the porch. Today, North Dallas porches have similar practices but a more inclusive demographic. Stoops, steps, and porches. Yep. Culture can be seen in actions prescribed by location.

SHARE