Different Place, Different Essence by Miriam Meneses ('18)

            I moved several times while I was in Mexico, from Atlixco Puebla, in Chalco in Mexico city, to Tochimilco and to Guadalajara, Jalisco. In Mexico, I felt free and I didn’t have any barriers. We used to have our own house, our own room, and our own space to do the laundry. We didn’t have to worry about whether the owner would want to rent us the apartment or not. We used to go to the Tortilleria two or three times a day to buy hot tortillas, or to the store without concerns about safety. Now that I live in Brooklyn, I feel that I am trapped, because there is not a lot to do. I don’t always feel secure around my neighbors, and the language barrier holds me back from participating in activities. Because of this, it’s hard to say that Brooklyn feels like home to me, though it is hard to say where home really is.

            On my block in Flatbush between Caton and Ocean avenues there are two six-story brick buildings. Mine is the building that reaches Ocean Avenue. When you look at the building from the outside, you can see that it is different from the others because it has a triangular, Tudor-Style rooftop, as well as a chimney. I live in a small apartment my family barely fits into. There are five of us in the house: my sister, my mother, my brother, my stepfather, and I. Our apartment is in the middle of the building where not a lot of air circulates. During the summer, it is extremely hot inside, and it’s even hotter in the winter when the radiators are cracked. Furthermore, I barely know what’s happening outside of my building on my block since I don’t like to go out to the store or market.

            When we arrived to the neighborhood in the summer of 2012, it was so different from where we used to live, on Avenue F and East 3rd street, which was mostly populated by Jewish people. It was quiet and there were a lot of houses, but most of the time the streets were empty. From my apartment I used to hear the train or the wind whistling through the trees. At night we used to hear the cats calling out, and we barely heard music inside the building or anyone screaming in the hallway.

            That apartment faced the street so we could see what was happening outside. We could see the Jewish men in their black suits with white shirts, black hats and, occasionally, their tallit, or ritual fringes, hanging down. The younger Jewish boys wore kippahs on their heads and had some curls of hair dangling in front of their ears. The Jewish women wore long black skirts or dresses, and if the dress had short sleeves, they put a long sleeved shirt underneath. Sometimes I saw women wearing something like a handkerchief on their heads. In the fall, they would build sukkahs outside their homes and they also constructed one outside their synagogue. Inside these little houses they had a table and chairs. Jewish men also used to carry a big palm inside a bag on holidays. One side of the bag is clear and the other side is darker.

            The outdoor smells were fresh there and it seemed to belong to actual nature. Additional aromas alternated between those of Mexican and Indian food. I never smelled the Jewish dishes, but I have eaten some of their desserts and they are very tasty. My mom used to send me to the store because my brother used to get home late. I felt comfortable doing this and I took my time getting back home. Sometimes I used to get out one stop beyond my train stop to buy something or just to walk for a while. The stores there were clean and organized. When I went to the market, I had enough space to move around because the store was not crowded. The employees took their time to help customers find things or sometimes they would even bring me a basket to carry my groceries in.

            On my new block in Flatbush, things are very different. We can hear the loud wails of the ambulances or the blaring sirens of the firefighters. The music that we hear is bachata and merengue. We can also hear the screams of people outside. Sometimes it is hard to know if they are talking or if they are fighting, since their tone is equally abrupt in both cases.  On the floor I live on, there are two Hispanic families who let their children play in the hallway. These children make a lot of noise and they are always bumping against my door. I get mad because they are not supposed to be playing there, but more importantly, the hallway is big and they have to go and make noise in front of my apartment.

            My building is full of annoying people. They stare at you and talk behind your back even if they don’t know you. There are African Americans, some Salvadorians, some Mexicans and a few Caucasians in the building. The area doesn’t put you at ease since there are always men loitering outside the buildings. When you are crossing the street where they are, you can feel that they are looking at you.

            Once I was walking beside a group of men who started saying things about Mexican women. Their words were obscene, but it bothered me more that my little sister was with me. When some men see that a woman is alone, they will say “Hey beautiful” or “Give me your phone number.” Sometimes they are on their phone, but that doesn’t stop them from talking to women. I can defend myself if they try to do something to me or I can just ignore them, but it is very disturbing when a stranger harasses you on the street. Sometimes I have the urge to strike out at them, but I control myself and I continue on my path toward where I have to go. Other people in my neighborhood just stare at you for the way you are dressed. They examine you from head to toe as if you were wearing something from them.

            Some of the regulars that I see on my block are the three old ladies who sit outside of my building. Each one has a green chair. They are there even if it is really hot outside. There are also groups of Dominican men sitting on their metal chairs and always conversing with each other. They play music in the street. Almost every morning or afternoon I see the super in front of my building.  Sometimes all these people on the street are so noisy, we can’t differentiate if they are talking or if they are fighting.

            I mostly like to stay at home at our new residence and I will do anything not to go to the store. If I go to the store, I feel extremely nervous and I feel that something is going to happen to me while I’m walking there or back to the building. My mom tries to send me there occasionally, but sometimes I just give the money to my brother so he can go instead. By staying in the apartment I feel that I’m safe from the outside world, and that I am away from the bad people. I know that it is problematic to think everyone out on the street is bad, but nowadays we don’t know who has good or bad intentions towards us. In the stores, there are always people pushing each other who do not say excuse me and get mad if someone accidentally pushes them. When I go outside, I prefer to take someone with me instead of going alone.

            Near our block there are stores such as Mandee, Model’s, various shoe stores, Radio Shack and Old Navy. These stores are always full of middle age women on the weekends and half full on weekdays. On Sundays, there is a Mexican couple that sells different kinds of flowers such as roses, carnations, and lilies. On our Mexican holidays they sell the flowers that we use to place offerings for our loved ones that passed away. These flowers are called cempazuchitl. I like roses the most. White roses in particular remind me of my home country, and I feel so distant when I look at them. If Mexico were closer, I would go there without turning back. Moving from one place to another has been challenging for me because it is difficult to adapt to another environment that you are not used to. Moving from house to house, making new friends, learning a new language and learning the history of the place you now live is a lot to ask of anyone. After a lot of this you ask yourself, “Have I ever really had a place that I could call my own?” You get to the point where you realize that nothing will be the same and that everything that you have lived through might be a part of a dream now. You sometimes feel nostalgic for one place and wish that you could go back. Nothing has been the same in any of the places that I have moved to, and nothing can be compared to the place where I grew up. Every place has it’s own essence, and not every place will feel like home.