I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York yet when reading “Moon and the Mars” by Kia Corthron, there was so much history and major events going on in 1857 in New York City that I was completely unaware of. One of the main things I was shocked yet very intrigued to learn was the history of Seneca Village. I never knew that the area I so fondly know now as Central Park was once the home to many Black Americans before the Civil War. It is astonishing to think that there was once such a vibrant community of culture that existed there. The same goes for Five Points. Before reading “Moon and the Mars”, I never knew about the culture and the history that existed there. Five Points, although “mostly Irish”, was an intersection of many different unique communities that came together to form such a dynamic neighborhood, the neighborhood that made Theo who she was (Corthron 33). My lack of awareness of Five Points and Seneca Village is perhaps due to the fact that both of these places no longer exist in New York, but I found it so interesting to see how such an impactful community filled with history and culture was swept under the rug, especially for New Yorkers. I also found it shocking to see that at the time the novel is set, Harlem was described as a “White” town and the home of the “nativists” (Corthron 77, 85). Harlem is now a city filled with Black history and is renowned for its contributions to the Harlem Renaissance and African American culture. I had another similar reaction when reading Auntie Eunice’s letter to her husband Ambrose where she described the area of her new apartment in Greenwich Village as “little Africa” and “coon-town” (Corthron 111). Greenwich Village now is predominantly White. Reading “Moon and the Mars” highlighted for me the transformation of many of New York’s cities and communities over the years. The demographics of many cities and areas as I know them today are starkly different. The area of New York City that Theo grew up in, which was once filled with immigrants, is now predominantly white. 

Theo is the product of Black and Irish heritage. Her Irish side embodies Irish heritage, maintains their Irish accents and culture, discusses their connections to their homeland, and so much more. Theo’s Black side of her family also often maintains their culture despite the struggles of the immigrant experience that they face. They celebrate things like Pinkster and continue to practice the A.M.E. religion. Now, many of those immigrant communities have moved to areas like Brooklyn, where I am from. Today, Brooklyn is the center for the immigrant experience mixed with Caribbean, African, Asian, Jewish, Italian, Irish, and Black cultures. While these communities are bolstering with authenticity, culture, history, and so much more, similar to what goes on with Seneca Falls and Five Points in the novel, the areas I call home are also being subject to gentrification. Every time I go back home whether that be for Winter Break or for the Summer, I am shocked to see how much my community has changed. Many of the places and small towns that clearly exhibited Brooklyn’s diversity and culture of the immigrant experience are now taken over by White communities. The Caribbean markets have now become apartment buildings for many newcomers moving to New York for the city experience. Many Black people, other people of color, and marginalized communities are being pushed out of their homes much like how Auntie Eunice and Mr. O’Kelleher are forced to leave their homes behind in Seneca Falls. In that regard, I was able to resonate with Auntie Eunice when she communicated her sadness in having to move her home. Seeing how much my hometown changes due to wealthier white people taking over makes me wonder how much my community will change in the next 20 years.

3 thoughts on “Gentrification”

  1. I really enjoyed reading this. I am from New Jersey and make frequent trips to visit my grandmother in Harlem. I never truly knew about the history going back other than what my father’s side of the family tells me from growing up there. My grandmother often talks about the gentrification going on in NYC and how it has been affecting her and her friends who still reside there. The a constant need to have new and improved things in neighborhoods that are built to withhold forms that are forcing people to no longer afford the neighborhoods they gre up in. Great piece of writing!

  2. Gentrification and redlining are crucial topics, so I’m glad you discussed it via Moon and the Mars. I am poorly versed in Chicago and New York histories, but your experience with New York’s history and gentrification underscore an important mindset we have as a society: we don’t think about what came before. From colonialism and Native Americans to present day white communities, we don’t always consider those things. I lived in a redlined area that got bought up and gentrified when I was growing up and I saw a similar disappearance of cultural centers and practices and people that were there. There are a lot of factors to understand gentrification and redlining, but social awareness is one that often isn’t talked about as much. Thank you for bringing that up.

  3. Like you, I was also struck by how little I knew about the history of New York City, particularly the destruction of Seneca Village for the creation of Central Park. I recently took a class on the history of Chicago where I encountered similar personal discoveries of my hometown. This has made me all the more curious to study urban spaces, as I imagine this “pushing out” of people of color from certain areas that you identify is unfortunately more common than is made public. Additionally, and for that reason, I found your point about the changing demographics and neighborhood formation that you have witnessed being from Brooklyn especially salient and relevant to this conversation about who takes up space and where. I agree with your point that Corthron captures perfectly what we now call today, gentrification, through the stories of Auntie Eunice and Mr. O’Kelleher. I find it really interesting to think about what we can do to prevent this whitening of communities that continues today.

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