Parkville is a story of constant adaptation and change.
From what I know, the Connecticut neighborhood was a pretty white place for some time. My mother’s mother, a North Dakota native of Luxembourguese descent, moved there in the 1930s or ’40s. The 1960s saw immigration of the Azorean and Continental Portuguese population into the Hartford, CT neighborhood. That’s where dad’s family came from.
Now Hartford is a mix of white, Portuguese, Brazilian, Puerto-Rican and Jamaican residents. Some are Brazilian-Americans, Jamaican-Americans. Some do not choose to identify as such. Many call Parkville home and many do not.
It’s an interesting cultural concoction because it’s small enough that people are all integrated, but in their minds they are still segregated. People don’t really talk to people outside of their cultural divisions. But some people do. But then again, some people don’t. I haven’t figured it out really. All I know is that Parkville is periodically getting poorer and more diverse over time.
Nestled in Parkville’s nucleus is the Parkville Senior Center, daycare and public library. My mother’s mother, my grandmother, runs the Center (she’s been running it for nearly 40 years). In it, there are old Jamaican men and women, Portuguese immigrants from the ’60s, a man who was once a political prisoner in North Korea, a woman from Guyana whose husband didn’t tell her he needed a pacemaker when they arrived in the USA and died two years later, leaving her alone in a new country with her daughter. Stories upon stories of pain, stories of triumph, stories that had never been told, stories that were to be carried to the grave before I worked with my grandmother on a history project for the Center, interviewing people about their immigration experiences.
Elderly people are of constant interest to me. Their friends are dying quickly, yet they are fighters purely because they are still alive. They know what it is like to live a lifetime of joy and a lifetime of pain. Yet they are still here. They are ultimately still here.
Funding is an issue at the Center. My grandmother’s salary is unlivable. She mainly survives on retirement. The seniors play Bingo for money on some afternoons. I ask them how much they’re playing for. “Oh, ten cents…sometimes a quarter,” they say. The City of Hartford bought them five computers five years ago. They still look squeaky clean, their monitors hidden under a casing of bubble wrap when not in use. The seniors have computer classes given to them by the City. But the computers are old now and have viruses, and the City tells them that the computers are too old for them to offer free technical support, and no, they’re not going to buy them new ones.
On Friday afternoon, a “young woman” (maybe in her mid-40s) comes in to give the seniors a
15-minute Zumba class. She plays music from Africa and the Caribbean, music that makes me tap my feet as I listen and watch. One day she comes in and announces that today is the last day of class because there’s no more funding from the City of Hartford for Zumba. There is a universal groan. The instructor encourages the seniors to practice Zumba on their own time for their health. They talk about how to do exercises on their own, when they can do it, how they can organize it.
Then, sound fills the room. The seniors get up and they are dancing. Slowly, of course, and gingerly, but they are dancing. They are dancing away their worries, their pains. For fifteen minutes today they are focusing on their bodies, the sway of their hips, the movement of their hair, the good feeling of using their muscles again. For fifteen minutes they are not thinking about their family and friends that have gone before them. For fifteen minutes they are not Jamaicans and Portuguese and Koreans and Puerto-Ricans and whites. They are just people, just dancers, just neighbors.
When Zumba is over they sit down, among “whew”s and “what a workout!”s. They feel better; looser. More calm.
Grandma calls out from her office. “Good news, everyone!” she hollers. “The City of Hartford just called. They’re extending Zumba classes for another month!”