As compensation for spending time at the beach my wife and I will make sure to hit a used book store nearby. Down on the Connecticut shoreline the best one is the Book Barn in Niantic; a house, a few outbuildings, dozens of kiosks, a basketball hoop, animals, some benches and a huge collection of well priced books.
Last summer I found “Nineteenth Century Cities: Essays in the New Urban History” for $4 and as the snow came down last Tuesday I decided to give it a read. I hadn’t noticed that one of the pieces was written by an expert in 19th century Springfield and focused on the community elite and the emergence of local politics. The author, Professor Michael Frisch, takes note of the fact that in the 18th century Springfield’s town elders were known throughout New England as the “River Gods”. He remarks on changes to the political system one hundred years later as being in some way inspired by the fear that the enormous growth of the working class gave a poorer transient population too much control over a community in which they had too little long term interest; the wealthy and their progeny were tied to the city in ways laborers were not.
As LunaLucia and I were spending time at the library yesterday I found another essay by Dr Frisch, this one on the occasion of Springfield’s 350th anniversary in which he notes that, in the 80’s, changes to our economic system reversed that relationship; it is the poor who were most tied to the community. He notes that the upwardly mobile gladly move from region to region to secure improved positions, the corporate bosses live in far away places, and what elites do inhabit the region have chosen to live in suburban locations.
A recently published map at CityLab shows that Springfield’s otherwise little known Hampden County has taken in more María refugees than any county in the United States outside Florida. As my wife and I were planting some new grape vines and another apple tree in the backyard yesterday I struck up a conversation with a neighbor whose back porch overlooks our back yard. He began to talk about the mango trees “he has” in Puerto Rico, and the other fruits “he grows” in Aguadilla. He has only been here a few months. I asked him if he was here because of Hurricane María: “Oh, no. I lived in Waterbury for 15 years but I’m tired of it so I came here.”
He’s been in New England for going on two decades but he still “has” roots on the island.
If the analysis is correct, Hurricane María has only hastened the exodus which was already taking place because of the economic/debt crisis in Puerto Rico. Before María Springfield was taking in roughly 5% of those emigrating from Borinquen and those numbers appear to be holding. So thousands of people are coming here, most of them for good. Will they ever think of Springfield as home? If they do it just might mark them, despite their citizenship, as NOT being true Americans after all.