Monday, July 1, 2013

The Trail

Today was a rainy day in Camden, New Jersey. It was also the first official day for this internship, or rather the first day in this journey. The project is called the "Camden Riots". The goal: to find out as much as I can about the events that occurred in 1971 from which Camden has yet to recover from and to bring a voice to those in the center of it who have been generally silent in the narratives surrounding the event. The alias for the riots is the "Puerto Rican Riots",  for in large part they were the rioters, and that's exactly where my trail began. Early this morning I arrived at Rutgers-Camden and began looking through the Camden census tracts to get a feel for the demographic of city and how it's evolved from the 1950's to the 1980's. What I found was quite interesting but also a common symptom of Rust Belt cities: white flight. As the white population sprawled into the southern New Jersey suburbs, minority populations grew in Camden with a particular spike in Puerto Ricans during the 1960's and 70's. Soon, I used these census tracts to track down the Puerto Rican neighborhoods in the city and was on my way to find anyone I could talk to in those neighborhoods that was present during the riots.
As I made my way there, I found a gentleman in the Charles "Poppy" Sharp(a central figure for later posts) Community Center who then led me to the Puerto Rican Progress center where I got a lead for an individual who might be of interest to me but, even more important to me at the time, he also led me to one of the oldest stores in Camden where I found my first interviewee in Dominic Petulla, certainly Camden's oldest cobbler.
In the midst of what would seem to be insurmountable odds, with decades of economic and social decline characterized by the loss of thousands of jobs and a severe increase in drug use, Gold Star Shoe Repairing is still in business and will continue its run as long as Mr. Petulla is around. A soft spoken son of Italian Immigrants, Mr. Petulla is now 77 years old and although he has not lived in Camden for about 45 years, the love he has for his craft is his motor. Not to mention, to put it in his words, "I'm a native". In our first twenty minute conversation, he provided me with key information about Camden before and after the riots. I'll be sure to visit him again very soon.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a promising first day! Looking forward to seeing where your research is going to take you...