Saturday, December 11, 2010

Out My Window : Donna, Cabrini-Green, and Pyeongchang

By Taek Yoon Lee

Someone said, “A house is made of walls and beams; a home is built with love and dreams.” Home is where people place their best affection and care that they can give. Home is the place in which a tired and anxious soul can take a rest. When we lose our home, we lose both past and future; the memory and the dream. Thus, people without a hearty home are bound to wander off and get lost. Here, a woman who once lost her precious, cherished home and now lives in the midst of terrible crimes tells her own story.

Cabrini-Green is where middle-aged black wife Donna has lived her whole life. For her, however, it has been neither a snug house nor a soothing place. Cabrini-Green, one of the most notorious Chicago Housing Authority projects, has gained world-wide infamy for its gang violence for more than 40 years. Her life, stained with crime and violence, is not an exception. From she was a young girl she has seen her deeply beloved friends shot in their heads, whole face gone. She was once shot in her arm, and her son was shot in his leg, although they were no more than a passerby. She prays every time her children go out the door.

Even her house has never been a reliable shelter from the outside chaos. Since the 1990’s, Chicago Housing Authority has been demolishing the highrise buildings of Cabrini-Green. She has seen her old apartment crumbled into dusts by huge cranes. Donna’s good, old memories amassed while living in the same apartment with her sisters and grandparents were all blown away with dust. Her grandmother and sisters who had been her old companions in whom she could seek relief were obliged to leave the city. She sometimes visits her old apartment in ruins when she misses them. The only thing that comes to her is the yell of laborers to watch her steps. The site always gives her a bitter imagination about what they would be like if they kept living together. “I think [if] they left my grandma her building she would still be alive,” she says in a dismal strain, “But we can’t stop what God has taken… Oh, I miss her, God.”

The three short clips about Donna and her family were quite shocking for me. Their lives and their neighborhood of Northern Chicago completely overturned my impression of United States of America. Probably I have been too much used to splendid downtowns and neat, peaceful suburbs, mainly featured in American soap operas. Of course, I knew there would be some ghettoes and many crimes out there. However, watching Donna composedly explaining how she was shot in her arm when she was a 13-year-old little girl, I felt weird. How could the boys shoot an innocent girl who is jumping rope in her own community, in front of her apartment? I felt as if Donna and I live in a different universe. I was startled that the border between life and death is so thin and vague there, while I have never seen a real gun or a shooting in my life. How did Donna feel when her son was shot in his leg this June? I cannot even imagine it. Though she says he is alright now, I can feel the innermost pain and anguish from her depressed face and dejected voice. Though the tone of narrative is calm and peaceful, I could feel her loneliness, sense of emptiness, anger, and anxiety about the uncertain future.

I lived the majority of my life in Seoul. Most of my apartments were near Boramae Park, one of the biggest public parks in Seoul. I had spent my whole life in several highrises as most of citizens of Seoul do. When I was 12 years old, however, my family moved to Pyeongchang, Gangwon province. It is one of the most isolated, remote countries in Korea with the area twice larger than that of Seoul and population around 40,000. At the time we moved to there, every land that I saw from the tollbooth of Yeongdong Highway to my house was only field, in which potato, cabbage, carrot, and radish grew.

However, everything started to change as Pyeongchang was nominated for candidate city of 2010 Winter Olympics. Most of the field and forests near my house turned into ski resorts and golf courses. Hotels were built on where scallion used to grow, and giant parking lots replaced potato farms. The church I used to go for 3 years and a small grocery my mother used to send me on errands disappeared without a trace. Some shacks and traditional Korean-style houses in which mostly old men lived vanished. Where the pastor, the storekeeper, and the elderly have gone I do not know. If this development is to be accelerated and Pyeongchang is to be a big city, or at least a popular tourist attracting city, I may someday forget where and with whom I messed around goofed around when I was young.
Donna and I share the similar problem: the loss of precious places. Sometimes when I go skiing on the newly built resort, several places remind me of my childhood memories which are still vivid and intense. I know that these feelings are not as painful and distressing as those of Donna, but I am still afraid of the loss of memories, afraid if I will ever be able to remember how my childhood was when I grow up and get back to my town. I can deeply sympathize with the situation Donna faced when she had to leave her familiar home. I can understand how she felt when she had to see her building collapsing down. I know how it ached when she had to give up the place which had been most precious for her. I guess our losses are inevitable price of modern society where everything is changing faster than ever before, and the price is not cheap.

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