I always found it interesting that Rhode Islanders are known for giving directions by describing landmarks that no longer exist: Take a left where Frankie’s corner store used to be —Across from the old DMV—–after the Londsdale drive in, oh yeah, they tore it down, but you remember don’t you?—- Rhode Islanders ‘ memory banks are pretty impressive.
And I, a tried and true Rhode Islander, feel that it is only right to continue on with the remembering.
My family is originally from Jaffa, Palestine, land of oranges and olives, circa ’48. They were forced to flee amid bombing and my grandmother, barely an adult, found her way to Kuwait as a teacher, where about forty years later we would have to flee amid bombing again…
….But I digress…
The Jaffa of today is not the Jaffa of 1948… much like Fox Point, a neighborhood in Providence. Once a vibrant Cape Verdean, Portuguese and Irish community it is now nothing like the Fox Point of ’48. Instead of hearing Creole on Wickenden Street, now you hear Browneze… (slang for Brown University hipster lingo…) Much like Jaffa, now part of ‘greater Israel’, instead of hearing Arabic, it is mostly Hebrew. My grandmother would barely recognize her hometown today…much like WWII soldiers who came back to Fox Point wondering what happened to their vastly changed neighborhood.
In Fox Point, the construction of the highway and Brown University expansion and property buyouts successfully gentrified a family neighborhood by renting apartments to college students at high prices. Working class families had a hard time saying no to a fat Brown check to buy their home.
I hear they offer up a ton of money to Palestinians still holding on in East Jerusalem.
This in turn led to the scattering of the population, the shutting down of locally owned businesses and community centers, and the inevitable shift in the culture of Fox Point, now a college hangout. Some Rhode Islanders still recall a time when Cape Verdeans spanned the area down Benefit Street to the Old Stone Bank. Walking along Benefit and South Main Street today, it is hard to imagine a time when it wasn’t the sanitized version of history we are lead to believe it is…when you might have heard small children playing outside, when the electric trolley dropped off passengers getting off of work, when the air was scented with Catchupa and other stews…
I wonder how long memories hold up? How long before we forget that Yaffa had a bustling port that is now closed? That I came from a family of farmers and landownders? That Palestinians had a livelihood?
Maybe as long as I give directions like a Rhode Islander we’ll be alright: ‘Where? Israel? Oh yeah, just take a left where Palestine used to be.”