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I’m a Hispanic-American who has just moved back to the States after living in Spain for seven years. I wholeheartedly agree with Robin Bingham’s theme in “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” (11/10) of cultural diversity negotiated with cultural preservation, but Bingham falls into the rut of making this argument by painting a picture of culturally rich African-American neighborhoods being wiped out by culturally blank whites. The white protagonists of the article who move into Columbia Heights are “OK” because they’re young and poor. The black teens who yell, “Go back to the suburbs!” at these unlikely gentrifiers are cultural preservationists, not racists. The wealthiest character in the story, an attorney, isn’t a gentrifier but the benevolent voice of reason, because she’s African-American. And Georgetown is lamented as a historically black neighborhood erased by cultureless, originless whites. I guess that explains all the 19th-century Georgian architecture.
Sadly, happily, or neither, populations migrate. Neighborhoods change. As built environments, they are palimpsests.
I can appreciate the compassionate intention of Bingham’s article, but to speak out against soulless development and gentrification by denying whites any history and old neighborhoods any European-American past is wrong, no matter how politically acceptable it may be at the moment. I share Bingham’s ideal of colorful, heterogeneous neighborhoods, but exalting one culture at the expense of others along racial lines does nothing for its advancement. That’s simply history repeating itself.