April 06, 2011
MADABA - Dr. Fares al-Fayez speaks with the words of a populist leader. "What the Jordanian people want is bread, social justice, and democracy," he declares. A Jaguar is parked in front of the steps to his rather patrician looking "firm," an office with the kind of luxury that Gulf emirs adore.
Despite his fancy tastes, Fares al-Fayez is far from a self-seeking, nouveau riche. Our evening meeting took place in Madaba, a 10,000-year-old city situated 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) south of Amman. The Fayez family has been in control of the city "since the 16th century," al-Fayez explains, and his clan is a member of the powerful ethnic Jordanian tribe of Beni Sakr.
So why has this representative of the country's tribal establishment made himself the spokesman of a ferocious critique of King Abdullah II, which risks contributing to the destabilization of the Hashemite regime?
He makes a point of clarifying that "the goal is not to undermine the monarchy, but rather to critique a friend in order put him back on the straight and narrow." This treatment is in the form of two petitions signed by 36 representatives of the tribe. The first, from February 25, was a pamphlet against the corruption that is running rampant in the corridors of power, paying special attention to Queen Rania, who is of Palestinian origin. The second, from March 21, condemns the sluggish pace of political reforms and "economic crimes."
As a professor of political science at the University of Jordan, having completed most of his studies in Spain and endowed with an abundant family fortune, there seems to be a discrepancy between the social and economic background of Fares al-Fayez and his aggressive, direct criticism of the King and Queen Rania, who he refers to as "his wife."
"She's a Marie-Antoinette," he rails against her, "spending the people's money for an evening party that cost what the Jordanians pay in taxes for a week!" Al-Fayez adds that Queen Noor, the widow of King Hussein, Abdullah II's father, may have spent just as much, "but she didn't cross the line by influencing the decisions of the ministers, the King's advisors, and the governors."
According to al-Fayez, the Queen, who he believes should be "under house arrest," is responsible for the disintegration of national unity by seeking to grant Jordanian citizenship to a growing number of Palestinians. Hiding behind this critique, a reoccurring one among ethnic Jordanians, is an acute anxiety concerning identity. Fares al-Fayez does not deny the issue. "If this tendency continues, then it will not encourage the Palestinians to reclaim their right of return "in a future Palestinian state."
Muhammad al-Masri of the Center for Strategic Studies confirms that many members of the Jordanian tribes "consider the Palestinians as guests to whom much rights should not be given, otherwise they will lose their desire for a Palestinian homeland."
Though many of his tribal peers fear the process of political reforms announced by the King, representative of the Fayez clan stresses its urgency and denounces the process of "national dialogue" engaged by the Hashemite sovereign. "What good will it do? He knows the demands of the people and the opposition. What's needed now is action."
Of course, we have seen recently where rising disenchantment with Arab leaders can lead. In Egypt and Tunisia, the escalation of the popular revolt was rapid, but "in other countries, such as Yemen and Jordan, it is gradual, though the movements are accelerating," al-Fayez notes. Until now the Jordanians have not considered the collapse of the monarchy, "but that could change," he warns.
Al-Fayez denies contributing to a campaign of destabilizing the monarchy, which "would be a problem," he admits. "But must we go as far as employing the term ‘catastrophe?"" In such a scenario, he recognizes that the risk of an "implosion" exists, along with a possible confrontation between ethnic and tribal Jordanians and those of Palestinian origin. But it could also create "an extraordinary reconciliation between the two peoples who could then join together to establish a new national unity."
Could this reconstructed unity then be "a platform against the common enemy: Israel?" That is the direction where we are heading, al-Fayez summarizes, "We are presenting the King with friendly and brotherly advice in order to open his eyes."
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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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