They had come up with a collaborative strategy, forming a tight circle of bodies at the base and a second layer of lighter boys on their shoulders. They had to decide on the best way of linking arms and scrambling up backs, and they tumbled down several times before getting it right. Then a few boys tried for the top, inching up with their knees, sometimes wiping the fat off with a towel, always sliding back down at the end. At one point a girl came in and climbed up to the second layer, but the hands and the jokes of the boys became too much, and she soon retreated.
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Later we were agreeably surprised to see an African American boy stepping in; he was dressed like the others and seemed to be a friend, remaining part of the group until the end. Exhibition label text began composing itself in my head: here was the freedom of the marketplace fostering multiethnic collaboration for the common prize.
I checked myself—was my subconscious turning Republican on me?
Eight words for the study of expressive culture
We and a large crowd had been watching them, rapt, for a good hour and a half. The advent of a Southeast Asian man prevented that text from ever being written. Perhaps from the new Vietnamese neighborhood adjacent to the market, the man looked thirty; he was wearing nothing but a brief pair of white shorts, and he strode straight to the pole through the gap made by the relaxing boys.
Then, with no help whatsoever, he started up, using his feet instead of his knees. On his second try he had reached the top and grasped the leg of prosciutto, grinning hugely. The boys on the ground, who had been frozen with surprise, now began to stir.
traditional expressive culture: Topics by cojobocile.tk
They shouted at him, struck at the low part of the pole. One, then another, threw a sneaker at him, narrowly missing.
Then they began to shake the pole from side to side. The man decided to come down before the shoes became stones and, trying to treat it as a joke, smiled and walked away rather quickly. As we caught our breath—imagining the consequences if there had been a larger Vietnamese presence in the crowd—the boys started up at the pole again.
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This time, galvanized by the competition and having observed the Asian man's technique, they made it up within a quarter of an hour. The boy on top scrambled onto the platform, enjoying his triumph, and gestured to the crowd, tossing small toys down to them and waving his clasped hands in victory. Eventually he took the envelope of money and slid down to the cheers of his companions. The photographer approached him and asked what we were both wondering: "What happened?
That black kid was with you, and that was okay. Why couldn't the Asian guy get it? He was not at all embarrassed. But this Chinese guy—" "Chinese! I hate Chinese! This is an Italian festival, an Italian should get it. He's got his own festival to win at. The first time I told this story in class I learned that the incident was not unique: a student interrupted my recital to say that he had seen an Asian shaken off the pole that year.
The story highlights many of the familiar contradictions of contemporary American identity politics. Locals call it the Ninth Street Market and are aware that it used to be Jewish and that its clientele is increasingly African American. Nonetheless, the market sells itself to the city at large as Italian. And the Asian man, though a neighbor, was clearly not a member.
The Vietnamese, however, shop in their own stores and compete in the restaurant business. They have only been around for fifteen years or so, having "come out of nowhere" and been resettled in this depopulating neighborhood. To most Italian Americans in the neighborhood, they are still strangers. Each group that has arrived at political representation has its "own" festival, in which others are invited as spectators and consumers, but in which the "insiders" alone have the right to participate.
Ideally, festivals are located in centers of historical settlement that still retain a high residential concentration of the group celebrated. The miniaturization of the ideology of the bounded nation-state in the urban village can be seen in the T-shirts, sold during Italian Market Days, that layer the map of Italy over the map of South Philadelphia.
In contrast, the pan-African diaspora celebration of Odunde has suffered continual harassment from claiming a site on South Street, a historical center of African American culture but now the border of a gentrified area. Odunde has repeatedly been treated by the city as requiring containment, and the city has sponsored alternative festivals in more clearly African American and less "central" locations, such as North Philadelphia.
Alternatively—and better yet from the city's point of view—festivals are put in the neutral spaces of Penn's Landing and the Parkway, each group getting its turn at these barren sites devoid of everyday resonances. Here one finds the ethnic festival at its most formulaic: only the colors of the flag and the spice in the sausage change from Sunday to Sunday. The same goes for Latinos; the diverse Africans brought to these shores by slave traders went through the process long ago, and new African and Caribbean immigrants are confronting the issue of "blackness" as a social category that erases their own distinctiveness.
The exclusion of the Asian man was breathtakingly visible; the exclusion of the Italian-American girl was effected by a quieter and more intimate transgression of her person to inform her that she was transgressing male space. This level of "intimate difference" Mills easily goes unnoticed in larger political-economic debates. Several definitions of collectivity are at play at war? Your list has reached the maximum number of items.
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Journal of American Folklore
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