I recently learned a few things, like how Menlo Park kids living on East Palo Alto’s side of the 101 Freeway are barred from their own city’s T-Ball league.
It’s an example of this area’s “peculiarities,” as a local called them at an afternoon event my church held to educate people about EPA. I also don’t know what else to call them except “interesting,” because I’ve noticed that’s my label for anything that strikes me, but whose contexts are still beyond me.
Below you can see the triangular outline of East Menlo Park and EPA together; the hypotenuse is the freeway. As I mentioned, it’s the youth of E. Menlo Park who are disqualified from the Menlo Atherton Little League. Incidentally, that sliver of EPA below the freeway is where my housemates and I live – rife with its own particular issues that accompany such proximity to Palo Alto.
The event also helped to clarify the rumor we’ve all heard of EPA as former “murder capital of the world” – a vague reputation that often surrounds EPA’s name in conversations. Indeed, EPA had the highest per capita homicide rate of any city in the U.S. in 1992. Community organizations and improved police staff can be thanked for helping improve that, but I still remember thinking: Huh, so the “murder capital” thing is true. Interesting.
I also learned that almost 100 percent of students in EPA benefit from the school lunch welfare program; the city was absent a grocery store for 23 years; and one of its main historical industries back in the day was in flowers, nurseries and greenhouses. Currently, EPA residents are 70 percent Latino and 20 percent African American, down from 100 percent African American several decades ago. Prior to that, before the 1960s, the majority of residents were actually Caucasian. That was until real estate agents began blockbusting EPA, telling white homeowners that masses of black people were moving in, while telling their black counterparts up in San Francisco that cheap housing opportunities were opening up in EPA.
Part of the afternoon was spent driving around getting familiarized with some of our church’s community service partners. Along the way, we stopped at a very pretty elementary school called Belle Haven that is located in Menlo Park, but whose scores (low) and surrounding socioeconomic standings (low) link it more to EPA community. Someone asked, “If Menlo Park government is actually negligent about this area, why insist on keeping it?” And we wondered if part of the reason might be that important tech companies, like Facebook, make HQ down the street. Or maybe some still hope the wealth of those industry giants will bring the Belle Haven neighborhood up with them, as The New York Times suggested in 2011 when Facebook first moved in.
Another stop on our tour was the Friendship Bridge, which connects residential neighborhoods in EPA to the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course. There were ducks quacking under the bridge, and the light was beautiful.
So these are some facts about East Palo Alto and East Menlo Park, and it’s easy to immediately flag a few as “injustice,” to be fixed by the magic words “social justice.” But I wonder why I’m so hesitant to feel enraged. Is this what apathy means? At the same time, I also don’t trust my ability to evaluate right and wrong – yet. Or perhaps majoring in International Relations taught me too well that no institutional policy is purely “bad” or “good,” so I’m confused. Or maybe it was that freshman archaeology course that taught that any opposing party in an issue can have an argument as persuasive as the next. In this particular area, there are many different parties involved.
However, what I do feel is a particular, um, interest in this area I’ve come to live. I didn’t make the move “intentionally” (a contemporary Christian buzzword that connotes planned, spiritual motives), but for whatever reason I’m here now, and my heart feels unexpectedly invested.