STUDY GUIDE Unit Seven, Part One: Little
Cities, (Im)Migrant Communities of Resistance
Reading Questions:Joseph Sciorra, "Return to the
Future: Puerto Rican Vernacular Architecture in NYC," (Ch 3) in King, Re-Presenting
the City; Chapter 6, The Urban Experience:
Social Groups in the City, Primary Groups
AudioVisual Resources: George Tillman, Soul Food
; Video Clips: Little Italy (The Table as Temple);
Local (Chicago) Footage of Pilsen Via Crucis and St. Helen
Corpus Christi Processions; (See still images from
Extra Recommendations: "Ethnic Life in Chicago,"
Introduction to Ethnic Chicago, Robert Orsi, on Italian
Harlem, from The Madonna of 115th Street; Holli
& Jones; Dominic Pacyga, "Chicago's Ethnic Neighborhoods,"
in Holli & Jones Ethnic Chicago, Film Clips: Francis Ford Coppola,
Joseph Sciorra, "Return to the Future: Puerto Rican
Vernacular Architecture in NYC," (Ch 3) in King, Re-Presenting the City
Chapter 6, The Urban Experience: Social
Groups in the City, Primary Groups
Sciorra begins by quoting the great Buddhist thinker Thich Nhat Hahn. "I
think that communities of resistance should be places where people can
return to themselves more easily, where the conditions are such that they
can heal themselves and recover their wholeness." What are communities
of resistance? Explain this term.
The essay's title explores Puerto Rican Vernacular
Architecture in New York City. Before you can continue your reading and
analysis, you must know what vernacular architecture is. Look up
the term vernacular. Visit the vernacular
architecture homepage. What is vernacular architecture?
What kind of architecture will the essay NOT discuss?
Continuing our earlier discussions of urban frontier
imagery, Sciorra describes the media stereotype of the South Bronx.
Depicted as the frontier, the edge where the wild begins, the South Bronx
is described as inhabited by savages. Explain.
Against this economic, political and social marginality, poor people struggle
to change the existing conditions in which they live by "creating spaces
of their own design that serve as locations of resistance
to a system of inequity and domination." What are locations of resistance?
These "locations of resistance" are created in the "cultural production
of vernacular horticulture and architecture that creates local landscapes
of empowerment that serve as centers of community action where people engage
in modes of expressivity that are alternatives to those imposed from above
by the dominant culture." (62-3) Explain.
The essay detours to trace the hybrid nature of Puerto Rican culture. As
a class based, colonial setting, Puerto Rican culture merged diverse peoples,
languages, ideas, and objects into a new synthesis or creole form of
cultural expression. The interaction of these various voices is called
The next section of the essay traces the migration of Puerto Ricans to
New York for work as unskilled laborers in the post-war economic boom that
fed the escalating consumerism of the non-urban middle class. The author
presents briefly the later annihilation of the urban landscape occupied
by these migrants.
This backdrop provides the setting for the essays discussion of casitas.
In this environment of destruction, puertorriquenos have appropriated
wasteland and constructed wood-framed buildings reminiscent of the Caribbean.
The most predominant form of Puerto Rican vernacular architecture in New
York City is the casita. (literally: little wood house). Describe
the casita's appearance (70-71) For helpful images, see a Chicago
on Division Street between Rockwell and Washtenaw) and a
The casitas are built by the accrual mode of construction.
(71) What materials are used? Where are they obtained? Explain the accrual
mode of construction. Why does the author present this method as
creative and resourceful?
The casitas are built collectively. Explain the process. (71-2)
Why is this method significant?
How are the casitas decorated? (73) Explain the significance of
The casitas place a great emphasis on outdoor
space. The non-vegetated yard surrounding the casita is the batey.
In the next essay section, the author calls the casitas "landmarks
of memory." (75) Explain this function of architecture.
He further decries the casitas, similar to quilts and scrapbooks, as
autobiography. (75-6) Explain this term.
We have already seen, in the White City,
how architecture functions metaphorically. How does the casita function
as "a metaphor of home that is both the domestic dwelling space and the
The essay's next section discusses Tradition, Folklore, and a Culture of
Contestation. To examine this section, we need to return to our discussion
of hegemony. The essay expands our
earlier notion of hegemony by suggesting that: 1) The hegemonic
process involves the creation, manipulation, and maintenance of cultural
symbols by the dominant class that serves to achieve a consensus among
subordinate groups to the legitimization of the existing social order as
controlled by the former; and 2) "Civil society" exerts its hegemony through
both formally identifiable institutions such as schools, churches, or the
media, as well as through artistic, intellectual, or scientific trends
or "formations." Be able to explain these two ideas in detail. (78)
However, both at the societal and individual levels there exists
at any given moment cultural forces in operation that undermine the prevailing
hegemony. (79) Explain.
One way that individuals and social groups contest
the existing hegemony is through alternative forms of cultural
expression and ways of being that critique the dominant conception of the
world. (79) Explain. How does the author classify casitas as such
alternative forms of cultural expression?
The casita is not only a structure but also a built environment serving
as a "stage for community celebrations such as rites of passage, religious
feasts and ethnic festivities." (81) See image two of Casita
Rincon. How does the author re-value these folkloric practices? Many
people believe that folklore is an old-fashioned or backwards practice.
Sciorra presents folklore as a culture of contestation. (79)
According to the essay, "the casita is a form of community organization
whereby control of one's immediate environment is achieved through use
of traditional expressive culture." (83) Explain.
The Conclusion of the essay notes that "capitalism's frenetic drive for
profits in the building of the urban environment has perpetually created
a category of people 'who are in the way--in the way of history, of progress,
of development, people who are classified, and disposed of, as obsolete.'"
The author suggests that such people, often poor and Latino, resist this
system of inequality through protest (as in Tompkins
Square Park) and casita building, which demands fair access
to use and development of public land. These strategies "point to the inadequacies
of an economic system that leaves people unskilled and unemployed in the
"The vibrant, life-affirming culture of New York
casitas is a counter voice questioning political negligence and economic
tyranny that have left so much destruction in their wake." How are casitas
a counter-voice? How are they a counter-hegemonic practice?
"These creative and courageous
alternative behaviors--planting, building,
singing, dancing, eating and laughing on embers and ruins--pose a threat
to city officials." Carefully consider this list of alternative behaviors.
How can planting, building, singing, dancing, laughing, and eating
be understood as alternative behaviors? How are such practices of everyday
life, mentioned in this list, counter-hegemonic?
Connect this understanding of alternative behaviors to the insights you
gain from screening the opening 10 minutes of George Tillman's Soul
George Tillman, Soul Food
Cities differ from smaller communities in their greater variety of racial,.
regional, and religious groups. We can think of these as ethnic groups:
"subsets of people within a community who are linked, through descent,
to a common race, or religion, or place of origin, or a combination of
these. Typically, each group is also distinguished by a particular culture--tradition,
values, customs, and style of action."
Ethnic groups are both weakened and strengthened in the urban context.
We observe both subcultural vitality and intergroup diffusion as a result
The overall conclusion from urban ethnographies around the world is that
ethnicity is remarkably persistent in major cities. That people tend to
emphasize social ties with fellow ethnics shows up in several ways: 1)
most kin and friends are in a person's own ethnic group; 2) marriages occur
predominantly within the ethnic group; and 3) clubs and associations tend
to have exclusive ethnic memberships.
Comparative evidence usually shows that ethnicity is generally as or more
significant in the city than in the countryside.
Ethnic minorities seem to persist longer in cities. One of the forces that
explain this is critical mass.
Community size modifies ethnic groups because it supports the development
of alternate subcultures based on other factors.
Contact among groups can lead to repulsion and conflict but also simultaneously
to diffusion--to the adoption of selected life-styles, beliefs,
or objects from other groups. The forces of intergroup diffusion modify
the social ties of ethnic-group members.
Ethnic boundaries nevertheless remain, and cultural cores persist. What
is altered most are the peripheral items, such as style of clothing or
taste in food; least altered are basic understandings of the world.
The theory of urban anomie suggests that intimate relationships are eclipsed
in the city by impersonal ties. However, ethnographic studies fins that
city dwellers do have friends. The general rule is that city-dwellers,
apparently no less than country dwellers, have friends from whom they draw
materials and emotional support. Studies of small communities suggest that
their residents might actually have the weaker friendships.
The source of such friendships so differ between city and country. Urban
friendships tend to be a bit more homogenous in age, ethnicity, religion,
Summarize the data concerning urbanism and the family. The larger the community,
the less likely the family to be a "nuclear" family. The larger the community,
the more the extended family tends to be geographically dispersed. However,
the effects of urbanism seem not to impair the intimacy and depth of nuclear
family ties. Divorce, is however, more common in cities. The effects of
this are mixed and not necessarily negative, nor do they clearly stem from
urbanism per se.
Video Clip: Little Italy, Segment:
The Table as Temple
View the opening segments of the film Soul Food, created by Columbia
College alum George Tillman, Jr.
How do you know this is an urban film? What about the opening sequence
contradicts your expectations of urbanity?
How does the film present its main characters and setting in the first
10 minutes? Discuss shot choices, locations, narration, music, and settings
in your analysis.
Comment on the strategic use of the photo album in the opening segments
of the film. What functions does this approach serve?
How does the film portray the counter-hegemonicnature
of African-American food practices?
How could one argue that the opening sequences of Soul Food present
a counter-hegemonic film experience of African-American urban life?
Video Clip: Pilsen Via Crucis and St. Helen Easter
& Corpus Christi Processions
In this segment, food is discussed under the title The Table as Temple.
How can food be considered a form of architecture (temple)? Reflect esp.
on this unit's concern with vernacular architecture?
How does food serve the function of cultural memory?
- This recent video footage (shot in 1999) presents a modern day comparison
to the Feast sequence in Godfather II. Observe the religious and social
practices being enacted in the public streets of Chicago's neighborhoods.
Are you surprised to see such actions in 1999? Do you see these actions as
"old-fashioned" or "backwards?"
- Reflect on the ethnic context of these communities (Polish Americans in
Ukrainian Village; Mexican-Americans in Pilsen). How might these rituals be
understood not as "conservative" or "old fashioned" but rather, as counter-hegemonic?
What is the importance of the neighborhood setting for these events? How might
these "alternative behaviors" be seen as creating
communities of resistance in the urban context? How
do these non-majority ethnic religious practices preserve cultural memory?
EXTRA TEXTS AND FILMS
"Ethnic Life in Chicago," Introduction to Ethnic
Chicago, Holli & Jones
Dominic Pacyga, "Chicago's Ethnic Neighborhoods," in Holli
& Jones Ethnic Chicago
- This small section provides a summary of each chapter in the larger book,
Ethnic Chicago. Briefly review it to get a sense of the data available
and the topics discussed.
- This chapter traces the history of neighborhood change in Chicago.
It begins with a very useful map of the city, marked by the local neighborhood
names. This is an excellent source of reference if you do not know the city's
neighborhood structure. Names and locations are clearly marked.
- The essay traces the multiethnic natural of Chicago neighborhoods. Most
working-class Chicago neighborhoods were spatially integrated, that
is various communities of people lived together. They were, however, socially
segregated: members of various ethnic groups created their own cultural
and social institutions.
- The essay presents a challenge to the myth that Chicago neighborhoods have
had stable identities. To counter this myth, the essay begins tracing the
demographic changes as far back as the 1800's.
- The essay goes on to explain the basic settlement patterns of ethnic Chicago.
Note these details.
- The author explains the great migration of World War II. Explain this movement
of southern African Americans to Chicago's Black Belt.
- Prof. Pacyga focuses on the 1920's as a turning point in Chicago's neighborhood
development. Trace the importance of this period. (613-4)
- Discuss the influence of the automobile and the highway on Chicago's settlement
Robert Orsi, on Italian Harlem, from The Madonna of
- Orsi examines the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in East
Harlem, New York. Describe the basic structure of the events surrounding this
Italian-American (Roman Catholic) religious and social festival.
- The essay examines the role of the home in this value
system. Even though such urban apartments, even tenements may have been, the
Italian Americans "tended their homes carefully and took deep pride in the
cleanliness and beauty of them." (104-5) This extended to the gardens of vegetables
and flowers. (105) Compare this value to those mentioned in the casita
and shack discussions from Sciorra and hooks.
- Orsi links these social values to the Sunday meal. Review
the description of the meal's rules (page 105). How might you apply Sciorra's
insight that eating can be an alternative behavior
to this description? Connect these reflections on food to your observations
of Soul Food and Little
Italy (The Table as Temple).
- Although the author presents the complexities, including the problems, of
the neighborhood, he also notes that "many came to love Italian Harlem" as
a "secure and supportive community." (45-7) In making this observation, he
offers a "unexpected perspective on lie in a New York slum." (47) He adds,
"A recognition of this love of place in poor urban neighborhoods is
essential for understanding such communities. It could be quite a sensuous
love, and intense sensitivity to the sounds, smells, and tastes of the neighborhood.
Italian Harlem had a taste for its residents, the taste of good break and
sausage sold in the local stores; and it had a smell of grapes and tomatoes
and peppers and Italian cooking which survives in memory longer than the polluted
air of the place." (47) Link these insights to those of bell hooks and Sciorra.
- Most people assume that the folks in poor urban neighborhoods have no community
life. Orsi contradicts this assumption through his focus on the love
of place in poor urban neighborhoods. He notes that while Italian Harlem
was "a poor, densely populated, and physically deteriorating place, troubled
by crime and juvenile delinquency, but it was also a place that people came
to love, a place where against the odds--Italian immigrants and their children
created a community life." (48) How is this love of place neglected
when urban neighborhoods gentrify?
Film Clips: Francis Ford Coppola, Godfather
- Note the artistic texture of the "Feast" segment of Godfather II.
Why is the street Feast presented in this manner?
- Connect Orsi's observations on the Feast to your viewing
of this segment. In particular you may want to reflect on two historical elements
of this discussion: 1) the history of deep prejudice against Italian American
immigrants in the U.S. and 2) the long-standing prejudice against immigrant
Roman Catholics in the United States. Why would a group so despised practice
a religion so despised in the public streets? Wouldn't this serve to reinforce
the majority culture's view of them as backwards and superstitious? In other
words, reflect on the very public nature of these practices.