The Dividing Line
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
The Dividing Line
A boundary line runs through the city of Lodi, along the railroad tracks, nearly dividing it in half. On the west is the preferred side. It is laden with new, tidy homes, and old, stately houses. The schools are clean and well cared for. The parks, too, are manicured, and if graffiti should by chance make its degenerate mark on public property, it will be taken care of promptly. On the other side of the boundary line, lies the east side of town, or the other side of the tracks. There, homes fall into disrepair. Condemned buildings stand boarded, graffiti-covered, and forgotten. The schools and parks pale in comparison to the west side establishments. There, also, one turns one's cheek to crime, for it is expected. I know what it is like on the east side of town, because I was raised there. I understand, too, the differences and inequalities of the two separate areas in Lodi; I experienced them as a child. In "Pecuniary Emulation," Thostein Veblen states, "A certain standard of wealth…is a necessary condition of reputability" (170), which means, to be respected in a community, one must possess the right amount of wealth.
I used to live in an alley-house off of a main, high-traffic road with my mom, stepdad, little sister, and baby brother. During the day, we neighborhood kids would pool our change together to buy candy from the corner store. At night, I could hear cars, sirens, and gunshots. The first school I ever attended was a flat, brick building surrounded by small, colorful German-built houses and Mexican minimarts. A few years later, I transferred to a new school across town. That school was comprised mostly of kids who lived on the west side. They dressed differently, spoke differently, and behaved differently than my old classmates. The new school provided unique opportunities for field trips and academic programs. I felt like an outsider. In class pictures I looked homely, and on field trips I could only wish for the trinkets that my classmates brought home as souvenirs.
After some time, I began to develop friendships at my new school. Often, I would visit other kids' homes, but I soon realized that not even my closest friend would ask to spend the night with me. When I finally summoned the courage to confront her, she gave the sheepish answer, "I am not allowed to go to your house, because you live in a bad neighborhood." I was only a child, yet I was hurt and embarrassed that my house was forbidden. It confirmed what I had thought to be true: I was different. I was poor.
During my adolescence, I began to understand the negative stigma attached to the east side. I noticed homeless people wandering the streets aimlessly. I became aware of drug addicts and gang members. I saw for the first time all the crime and litter that must have been there all along, and I was ashamed of where I came from. I was angry to be classified in the same category with such poor, outcast people. I developed resentment towards my own class, but I also felt bitter towards the people on the west side, as I imagined that they looked down on my family and me. I remember asking myself, "Why is my value measured by material possessions? Are people not worth more than the things that they own?"
One day, I spent the afternoon with a few friends from school. We eventually made our way back to my place, to play board games and roast s'mores over the space heater. It began to get late, but we were having such a good time that nobody wanted to leave. My friends asked if they could stay the night. Their parents were hesitant to grant them approval. The last parent arrived in person to debate with her child, and finally they consented. Before turning to leave, she looked smugly at my mother and said, "I am not happy about this." I watched as my mom's face fell into shame and embarrassment. I knew how she felt, because it was the same feeling that I had experienced with my schoolmates. I was so angry at this woman for hurting my mother. She did not know what my mom had gone through, and she could not see how my mom's children trusted and loved their mother. The woman only saw the little house that we lived in and the squalor of the surrounding neighborhood.
Looking back over the years, I understand more about the dividing line. I know that it is more than just a boundary line. It is a separation between two worlds and two types of people. People that misunderstand each other, fear each other, and sometimes even hate each other. At the root of their differences is money. As Veblen writes, "members of the community who fall short of this, somewhat indefinite, normal degree of…property suffer in the esteem of their fellow-men" (170). That is, nearly all poor people are denied respect from those with more affluence. Sadly, this prejudice is at times unavoidable. I have forgiven my friend's mom, and I have walked away from the memory with a story that has helped me to better understand who I am and where I come from. I now know that living on the east side can be a mark of shame, a badge of perseverance, or a rebellious source of pride. For me, at times, it has been all three.
Veblen, Thorstein. ""Pecuniary Emulation." English 1D Handbook, Critical Composition. 2012: Ed. Anna Villegas. 165-172. Print.