eyes on the U.S.
April 27, 2012
NEW YORK -- He read Kafka at the tender age of eight, entered college at 11, and graduated at 15. Today, at the age of 24, Ronan Farrow is a special adviser on Youth Issues to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Now he's set to go to Oxford on a prestigious Rhodes scholarship.
Listening to him is like watching a movie where deep, adult concepts come out of the body of a boy -- an extra-wise Yoda with the fresh face of Luke Skywalker.
"Young people are the most marginalized group in the world. They suffer from an unemployment rate which is three times higher than that of people over 30," he says. "During last year's revolutions, we saw them standing their ground, asking for dignity, demanding the right to be listened to, calling for economic policies that would provide them with the necessary tools to face the global labor market. We understood them and we decided to give them a place at our table."
The office where we meet him has a magnificent view over Manhattan's East River. His grey jacket, pink shirt and regimental tie are reminiscent of England's Prince William a few years back. Ronan had good reason to be a dreamer. He was born Satchel Ronan O'Sullivan Farrow – for Satchel Paige, a legendary Black baseball player – to director Woody Allen and actress Mia Farrow. He is also the product of one of the most scandalous relationships of the last century.
Woody and Mia, the master and the muse, never married. The couple didn't even live together, in fact. Woody lived in a house on the Upper East Side, while Mia had her own sprawling apartment on the Upper West Side, where she lived with all the children she adopted during previous marriages. Right from the beginning, Woody expressed his lack of interest in children. Still, they had a child together.
Satchel was just five when, in 1992, Mia discovered pictures in Woody's house of a naked Soon-Yi Previn, a Korean girl Mia had adopted with her former husband, André Previn. That is how one of the most ferocious child custody cases began. Woody defended himself by saying he couldn't control what his heart was feeling, that love was not a rational thing. Mia accused him of molesting their adopted daughter Dylan. In the end, Mia moved to Connecticut with all her children, and Woody married Soon-Yi.
Satchel changed his name to Ronan, cutting ties with Allen. "He's my father and he's married to my sister. So that makes me his son and his brother-in-law at the same time," he says. "This is a major moral transgression. I cannot see him. I cannot have a relationship with him and have moral cohesion. I grew up with all these adopted kids. They're family. If I would say that Soon-Yi is not my sister it would be an insult to all adopted children."
Burying himself in books
He could have turned to drugs and depression. Instead Ronan immersed himself in his studies, becoming the youngest graduate in the history of Bard College, a small school in upstate New York. He went on to study law at Yale.
Following in his mother's footsteps, he dedicated himself to human rights issues, particularly in Darfur and in the Horn of Africa, as a spokesperson for UNICEF. A Wilsonian democracy idealist, but by no means a softie, Ronan worked for the United Nations while at the same time criticizing the international organization for its "cancer," as he describes the U.N. Human Rights Council.
This is how he met Richard Holbrooke, the legendary peace negotiator in the former Yugoslavia. Holbrooke, who later became President Obama's special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was the one who helped Ronan get his position with the U.S. State Department. Ronan was one of the few people present in Holbrooke's office when the famous diplomat had his fatal heart attack in December 2010. Hillary Clinton then took Ronan under her wing, making him her "Special Adviser for Global Youth Issues."
"I know full well how important women are in diplomacy and development," he jokes. "I grew up with seven sisters."
Ronan oversees programs worth more than $100 million. Through this, he has created youth leadership councils in conjunction with U.S. embassies in over 40 countries. The list includes Italy, which the brilliant young man wisely calls "the most beautiful place in the world."
Read the original article in Italian
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In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.
October 20, 2021
SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.
What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?
But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.
An appetite for gentrification
I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.
In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.
This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.
Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.
Informal street vendors are casualties.
A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.
On paper, this all sounds great.
But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.
This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.
In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.
A call for food justice
Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.
Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.
It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.
In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.
Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.
Upending an existing foodscape
In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.
San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.
Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"
But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.
Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.
All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.
So what happens when new competitors come to town?
Starting at a disadvantage
As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.
My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"
San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.
When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.
Going up against the urban food machine
Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.
I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.
When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.
Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.
It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.
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