“So much depends on reputation—Guard it with your life”
—Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power: Fifth law.
In my two years of living in Lawrence, MA I’ve noticed one collective behavior: an unpleasant consistency in people’s remarks towards the alleged perdition that seems to proliferate in the municipality. As if it was not enough to hear residents and ex-residents constantly talking about fumigating, bombarding its inhabitants and start the settlement from zero, or the recommendations to just leave immediately, The City of Immigrants, as far away as possible. “One should prevent one’s family to inhabit such place”—some would say; to the point to see people who have fled, employ connotations of a deep relief when referring to it, as an achievement milestone in their lives. And after you hear some of the youth’s expressing their need to leave their hometown as a compulsive palpitation in their being, and so you begin to wonder about your surroundings. The 78% hispanics-population-town is not precisely an Utopia, but Lord, the image that materializes even in social media comments when news from the locality roar, its out of control.
And so you see yourself forced to do a little bit of research to understand the recent background of your new home, and you come across an article published by Boston Magazine on 2012 titled Lawrence, MA: City of the Damned with a headline like so: “Crime is soaring, schools are failing, government has lost control, and Lawrence, the most godforsaken place in Massachusetts, has never been in worse shape. And here’s the really bad news: it’s up to controversial Mayor William Lantigua to turn it all around”. I knew things were bad but after receiving the validation of this print, I began to worry. I find out that we are the poorest city in the state, and as much as I would like to dignify poverty, we all know all of its implications.
This is a place which serves as cushion for immigrants coming from underdeveloped countries such as Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Guatemala whom do not posses, in their majority, high levels of scholarship nor proficiency in english, and many can be unfortunately illiterate and semi-illiterate in their native language. Reality that is going to determined the exclusive entry to manufacture jobs in the “light” industrial field.
According to urbandictionary.com —and we all know how accurate the informal and folkloric site can be— states that the city’s population main income consist of welfare and drugs, which is not even funny at this point. For one of the things that we as immigrants like to be recognized for, is being hardworking, not for the opposite due to lack of opportunities. This machiavellian dictionary which states things as they are and not as they should be, gave me a miserable representation of the place I inhabit. And one keeps reading the newspapers like the Eagle Tribune, whose editor clearly has an special “love” (difficult to distinguish from contempt) towards our city , and find content like: the mayor William Lantigua is under federal and state investigation for campaign-finance improprieties and other questionable behavior, whom is by the way campaigning for a re-election on 2017 against the incumbent Dan Rivera; that Lawrence’s public school system is in receivership due to local mismanagement, and that our high schools have had a dropout rate of up to 50%; that one of the former superintendents, Wilfredo Laboy, is under criminal indictment for fraud and embezzlement. That we are one of the largest drug suppliers for the state of Massachusetts, and even the Governor of New Hampshire bestowed on us, being the providers of at least 85% of the narcotics consumed by the neighbor state. Ok, that’s cool and all, but as we all know from “Basic Underground Economics 101”, that for every market expansion, there needs to be a demand of a product and service offered. Hence, in this correlation we need consumers; so Mr. Governor, you should probably take a look at the successful Portugal drugs’ policies and their positive impact in the iberian population, before using my city as an scapegoat for your local problematics, prior starting to implement your modus operandi as far as with your jurisdiction-
Continuing, we’ve had a City engineer who had been accused of indecent exposure, and was forced to resign of his public seat of 80,000 per year. A City Counsilor whom faced assault charges after allegedly attacking a woman who was having drinks with an ex partner. Crimes were decapitation and dismembering of a teenager body parts was involved in the equation. And yes, is true that every so many houses there is a drug hotspot that often operates unapologetically to simple sight, in which transactions can be easily identified, but this is no all of what we are.
For instance, We Are Lawrence, is an organization that came as a direct initiative to restore the image of the city that so much has been undermined mediatically, trying to slap back the sequences of bad press that for so long have dragged the name of the city against the ground. This nonprofit organizes activities like cleaning of the streets during the earth day. Lawrence Community Works is another non-profit that preoccupies to prepare individuals for job interviews, and even provides internship opportunities, so people can obtain experience in diverse fields. Or individuals like the State Representative of my district, Juana Matias, who is doing an effective labor writing policies and serving the constituents she represents. These are a few of the many occurrences that are worth sharing.
Every time I overhear somebody speaking ill about my city I just ask myself —But what are you doing for your community? I decided to listen to the Lawrence Public Library Director, Jessica Valentin, when she mentioned I needed to create a bilingual bookclub; something that would make some good to my people. That day, I was diagnosed with a chronic condition called “pernicious reading proselytism” and so The Agora’s Laurel was created as a result. Given that I belonged to a marginalized minority (Dominican) that lived for half his life into another’s marginalized minority territory (Puerto Rico), prior to moving to the states, I was able to see situations from very odd perspectives thanks to my life experiences. And so I understood that reading is the only cure for the vilest transgression to oneself and one of the most presumptuous blisses there are: ignorance.
I read in a regular basis because I want to become an effective creative writer, but that is not is not enough for me. I needed that passion of reading to be contagious, yet I don’t need to make people fall in love with reading from first instances; I am going to be militantly persuasive to drag my friends, family, acquaintances and bystanders towards the habit, and then the readers to be, can eventually fall in love later on. It would be rather interesting to write a blog post in the form of a poem as an analogy to Dante’s Divine Comedy, condemning every public figure in Lawrence and allocating them in one of the nine infernal circles according to their sins respectively, proportionate to their “miscalculations” of course, but pointing fingers will not fix anything.
We are running on a deeply disenfranchised panorama, but there is definitively many good things happening in this city. If you live here or know about this interesting place, I would like to know about the good things occurring that you’ve heard about . The real problem with poverty, says the Economist Henry Hazlitt, is not a problem of “distribution” but of production; and I truly believe that reading is the ignition to address that problematic. I think it would be ideal for the poorest city of the state, to pursue reading as a goal towards growing as a collective, for it provides interesting tools and leads to interesting places.