A Mother And Father's Haiyan Toll: One Daughter Dead, Another Missing

After Typhoon Haiyan, the scale of misery in the Philippines is hard to measure. For one mother and father in the hardest hit city, it is infinite.

More than 2,000 people have died in Tacloban alone
More than 2,000 people have died in Tacloban alone
Arne Perras

TACLOBAN — In the churchyard, children are playing with coins, absorbed by their game and oblivious to what’s happening around them. A few meters away, five black plastic sacks lie in the sun. They are among Tacloban’s dead still waiting to be buried five days after Typhoon Haiyan struck. The smell is overpowering, and survivors cope by tying rags over their noses and mouths.

Maria Fe Llanado sits inside the church. She could go out into the streets and search, as others are doing. Or she could go back to the place where her house once stood. But she doesn’t have the strength, so she sits in the church and thinks of her daughters.

Jean Pearl was 15 and did not survive. Her sister Jessa Marie is a year older, and she has so far not been found.

Six days ago, the family was all together in their house near the bay. They had heard the storm warnings but stayed at home because they thought their house could survive the wind. They hadn’t foreseen the wave. The storm had already been raging for some time when water suddenly flooded the house. They fled to a nearby school, but the two daughters were lost in the confusion. The water continued to rise and Maria hung on to a roof beam for almost two hours until it receded.

Then she came to the Church of the Redeemer in Tacloban. Her husband also made it there, and the two of them went searching through the rubble. On Saturday morning they found the body of their younger daughter, Jean Pearl. They could not bury her. She was wrapped in a plastic sack and taken away to a mass grave. Every day now survivors come to Father Edwin with a list of the dead and he blesses them before they are taken away on the back of a truck. In Tacloban alone, more than 2,000 people have died.

Aid is slow in coming

Father Edwin’s church now houses 325 families. All need water and food, but help is slow in coming. Many survivors have gone through the streets and emptied out shops. “You can call that looting,” says Father Edwin. “I call it surviving.” Officials come every few days and ask him to give them a list of everything he needs, but so far no supplies have been delivered. “It’s frustrating,” he says, “but I didn’t expect anything else.”

A Spanish worker at Care International explains that distributing aid is particularly difficult at the moment. There are bottlenecks at the harbors and airports. There are no warehouses, and the authorities have all suffered so much that they are preoccupied with getting themselves back on their feet. “My office is a pile of rubble, and I have to look after my family first,” says one Tacloban official.

The government has declared a state of emergency and sent the army to Tacloban. Many are afraid that desperation will breed violence. Haiyan's survivors have already stormed the airport in an attempt to get away, and on Wednesday shots were heard in the harbor. “But we have it under control,” says Lt. Colonel Leo Madronal. He assures us that aid is on its way. Three airports in the affected area are now functioning, and cargo ships are bringing deliveries to the harbor. But nobody I speak to in Tacloban has seen any sign of it.

Desperate to escape

In the harbor there is a large ship that is due to be unloaded that afternoon. A crowd is pressing against the barrier, desperate to board it and escape. Among them is Ellen Go, who worked for the city authorities and wants to bring her children and grandchildren onto the ship. The journey to Cebu is free.

“Relatives will look after our children, and then we will come back to rebuild our house,” she says in a low voice, her face very composed. She reminds me of something Father Edwin said: “We Filipinos are tough.” Even this disaster will not break them. They’ll get through it, he believes, although they do not expect much help from their government.

This Filipino self-sufficiency is evident at Ormoc, four hours away from Tacloban. Although the city wasn’t hit by water, the storm destroyed almost every house. When the ferries dock in the harbor, there is chaos as cartons of water bottles and sacks of rice are piled up and passengers shout and shove. Wheelbarrows of supplies are pushed through the crowd and disappear.

The dominant feeling in Ormoc is frustration. They have nothing left here, but all the news reports are focused on Tacloban, as if there are no other places that have been brought to their knees. The streets are littered with corrugated iron from battered roofs, and the city hall has had all its windows broken. But its walls are still standing — a unplanned symbol of strength and defiance. Inside, Engr Godi Ebcas tells us that four days after the storm, no aid has reached Ormoc. He believes it has all gone to Tacloban. “But we need food too,” he says. “Urgently.”

“I love Tacloban”

Back in the Tacloban church, Maria Fe Llanado and her husband are still waiting for news. A friend of their daughter’s told them that she saw Jessa Marie wandering through the streets in a state of shock. She tried to speak to her, but the wounded girl simply walked on. The father asked why she didn’t bring their daughter back to them, but he got no reply. Maria stares blankly into space, not seeming to notice her 3-year-old nephew tugging at her shirt.

It is time for me to leave Tacloban. The car passes mountains of rubble and people who are all searching for someone or something. We see soldiers on motorbikes with automatic rifles. At a bus stop, there is a poster with a red heart and the words, “I love Tacloban.” It is deserted. Only a black plastic sack is on the bench.

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

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.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

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.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

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?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

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.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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