Urbanism: Latinos Reinvent the US Big City
Latinos are fast becoming the major minority in the United States.
Overwhelmingly urban, they now outnumber blacks in six of the ten largest
US metropolitan areas, and in three of those cities they outnumber non-Hispanic
whites as well. Mike Daviss Magical Urbanism is a briefing
on the political effects of this demographic sea changeLatinos
efforts to translate their growing numbers into social clout. One obvious
route is through the electoral system. In response to nativist politicians
such as Pete Wilson and Pat Buchanan, Latinos over the past four years
have undertaken a massive mobilization; their participation in the 1996
election increased by 16 percent over 1992, even as overall voter turnout
declined. But for an urban populace in a time of federal divestment
from big citiesand when state governments, dominated by suburbs
and edge cities, are unwilling to pick up the budgetary slackthe
electoral route often leaves urban Latinos fighting a zero-sum battle
against blacks, the minority theyre superseding. This, coupled
with the non-citizen status of so many recent immigrants, may recommend
other avenues to social change. Daviss prescription? "Rank-and-file-controlled
trade unionism remains the best hope for empowering urban Latino communities."
He concludes with an old-left slogan for the new American city: he hopes
that "the emerging Latino metropolis will
wear a proud union
Home: Americas Love-Hate Relationship with Community
The citizen of American democracy struggles with a dual identity: how
to reconcile "the citizen of the commonweal" and civic responsibility
with individual rights and the "solitary self"? The late twentieth
century saw a rise of the second self, and Americans are arguably less
social, more detached, and less civic-minded than ever before. But in
Almost Home, David Kirp contends that one common response to
todays individualisma call for a return to "community"
or civic associationtends toward a nostalgic and oversimplified
view of the subject. Contemporary "community," Kirp points
out, involves a complex network of internal and external alliances and
identitiesnot all of them happy. To illustrate how these interrelations
become intertwined and entrenched, Kirp presents a "theatre of
community"thirteen short, journalistic narratives, which
he wrote over ten years and that span decades. In a story about a young
gay black man with AIDS who was expelled from his town, he describes
how ideas about race, ethnicity, and sexuality work against acceptance
and communion with others. In another narrative, he tells of an unlikely
association: a large corporation and San Franciscos gay community.
Kirps balanced and straightforward prose style avoids moralism
and tidy resolutions. The situations, the people, their thoughts, and
their actions are artfully juxtaposed to complement and inform one another.
The reader takes from the collection and Kirps keen observation
a broader idea of the possibilitiesbut also the limitationsof
the individual in civic society.
The Hartford circus fire of 1944 was the worst disaster in Connecticut
history. The blaze in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey big
top injured 487 spectators and killed 167, mostly women and children
attending the matinee in the July heat. Over the years, journalists,
legal historians, playwrights, and fiction writers have been drawn to
the strange events of the firebut surprisingly Stewart ONans
The Circus Fire is the first book-length history of the tragedy.
A novelist by trade, ONan tells his history through sympathetic,
inviting personal stories of a handful of families whom he follows through
the fateful day. The fire, it turns out, was as mysterious as it was
horrible. How, for example, could the circus year after year waterproof
its big top with a flammable mixture of paraffin and gasoline and never
consider the danger it posed? Who was the unidentified dead girl known
only as Little Miss 1565? Who, or what, caused the fire? Was it Robert
Segee, the boy who saw visions of demons and confessed to setting dozens
of fires, only to later recant everything? Then there is the secondary
history of Hartford, in 1944, a city trying to modernize and to contend
with urban growth (buses had recently replaced trolleys, but congested
telephone switchboards were still handled by operators). It was also
a city prepared for war, in which children were accustomed to orderly
air raid drills and car headlights were blacked out to narrow strips.
As ONan movingly explains, the over-the-top spectacle of the circus
was a welcome distraction from the wartime tensionand the ensuing
fire was a devastating additional crisis.
Originally published in the October/
November 2000 issue of Boston Review