by Mark Naison
March 14, 2019
Fordham Road Reflections: The Working Class Bronx Is Alive and Well
Yesterday, as I took the D train to Fordham from Brooklyn at 6 AM and returned at 2:30 PM, I was struck at how little Fordham Road had changed from when I first started working at Fordham in 1970. Not only did the buildings look the same- there was not a single new structure along the entire route- but the stores and the people seemed remarkably similar. Yes, there were more people speaking Spanish now, and fewer Jewish and Irish faces, but the dress and affect of the people, all dressed up in their winter coats, was as identifiably working class at it had been nearly 50 years ago. If there were stylishly dressed slim people, they apparently had decided to boycott my visit. Most folks, irrespective of age or racial background, were a little heavyset and wore thick functional clothing. And the stores echoed the affect of the people. Phone stores, fast foot outlets, clothing and jewelry outlets,food vendors selling chorizos, pastelitos and halal food. Nothing for sale that could be found in Park Slope, Soho, or the West Village. There wasn’t a single sushi bar, a single boutique, or a single upscale yogurt store. Whatever signs of gentrification had entered the Bronx- in Arthur Avenue, along the Bruckner Expressway, in the area near Yankee Stadium- they had decided to skip Fordham Road- completely!
The other thing that struck me was how far away Fordham seemed. Whether because of the Ram Van or Metro North, I saw almost no one wearing Fordham regalia on either the street or on the D train, and few people who carried themselves like middle class college students ( judged less by race than by body type, clothing choice, and book selection!). Anyone taking the D train or walking up Fordham Road from Webster Avenue to the Concourse would have been hard pressed to find evidence that there was a University any where near the street.Not one book store, not one cafe catering to college students could be seen in any direction.
What is interesting is how little this upset me. I actually loved walking down a street where everyone was working class and either recent immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. I loved at how resilient the Bronx seemed to change of any kind emanating from people with power, be it in City Hall, Albany or Washington.
The Bronx is still a place where people from all over the world make their own history, to their own rhythms, in their own way, and in a manner that shows that the majesty of powerful institutions has its limits,
Perhaps Fordham has more to learn from what lies right outside its gates than many in its classrooms and offices suspect
More than ever, the Bronx is the epicenter of immigrant, working class New York.
Mark Naison is Professor of African American Studies and History at Fordham University and founded the Bronx African American History Project.
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