At the dinner table, my daughter Leni said that one of her classmates had said another lived in the ghetto. She then asked if we lived in the ghetto. And, then posed the same question with a variation. “Do we live in the “whetto?”
Hmmm. Whetto? White Ghetto? I like our neighborhood in Providence, Rhode Island. It feels cozy to me—its narrow streets of closely packed three-family houses, with a sprinkling of tiny cottages mixed in. A walkable neighborhood with boutiques, restaurants and coffee shops, and a park that fronts the Providence River. A former shipping port, the neighborhood was home to a largely Portuguese, Cape Verdean and Irish community, but it’s said that in the 1970’s, urban renewal, gentrification and the encroachment of nearby universities shifted demographics, and now there’s a mix of the old guard, college students, and families like ours.
Leni is twelve, and has grown quite conscious of status, especially with clothing. With her question about the ghetto, I saw she now also noticed the difference between affluent neighborhoods and more modest ones, and I was certain she felt our home sat in the latter category. I asked her if she knew the definition of ghetto. Then I looked it up in the dictionary.
ghetto: formerly the restricted quarter of many European cities in which Jews were required to live; “the Warsaw ghetto”
Our family being Jewish, before I reached for the dictionary, I had given Leni the example of Jews having to live in the Warsaw ghetto because I was getting the feeling she had a previously imprinted image in her head of ghettos being only where poor black people lived. After reading the definition, I felt ignorant too. While I had given the Jewish ghetto as an example of one kind of ghetto, I hadn’t known it started with us.