Blog Post #2: The Power of Perspective

At times I become so entrenched in my life as a student in lower Manhattan that I lose sight of the bigger picture. My struggle to assimilate with the culture of New York University has often kept me feeling like an outsider. While I’ve made a few valuable friends and have been taught by some truly brilliant educators, I’ve always felt a bit out of place here…As if I somehow got lucky and finagled my way into an institution I was never expected to attend. In truth, a lingering sense of alienation has followed me my entire life. Being mixed, I’ve never been fully accepted by members on either end of the racial spectrum. Upstate, the police treat me with the same disdain that has been demonstrated towards POC since America was born. In my hometown, my caucasian friends joke at the color of my skin; in the city, my black and latino friends and family call me Whiteboy. My first name is emblematic of who I am. Iancarlos: half white, half Puerto Rican yet to most I’m never both.
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In reflecting my position as someone who’s experienced the feeling of “otherness”, I decided to enter my ecology with a new perspective. Rather than exploring the community I’ve come to love with a sense of attachment, I approached the area as an outsider…as an inquisitor. I had questions that I hoped journeying through the streets with my camera would provide answers to. Using my perspective as an outsider, I began to imagine how this same feeling shapes the lives of ex prisoners re entering society. Struggling to identify with my culture and the people around me could never isolate me in the same way that society does to felons. I studied the features of every street and avenue, wondering how the structure of this community impacts it’s residents. I photographed a lot and questioned everything in the process. I used my life experiences to try to make sense of what it’d be like for someone returning to the community after doing time.

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As I voyaged through East Harlem I contemplated how the the layout of the community shapes social interaction. Just like residential buildings in lower Manhattan, there are East Harlem apartment complexes that stand incredibly tall, towering over the constant activity in the streets below. There are also a number of project buildings clustered throughout the neighborhood. Their relation to the high rise apartment buildings resembles bushes under a large tree; crafted with the same material yet their presence is entirely different. I consider the power dynamic that plays a part in the various structures of living within the community. Those who occupy the high rise buildings must enjoy a sense of power; a comfortable freedom that escapes residents of the projects. They have an enhanced view of the community around them. Way up in the sky, they are the furthest removed from the drama and disorder that can exist in the streets.

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The sights, sounds, and smells, of East Harlem have an immense affective power on it’s visitors and residents. After examining the features and positioning of the luxury buildings (conveniently located in close proximity to the 23rd NYPD Precinct) I made my way over towards the nearby projects. I entered the Thomas Jefferson Houses on 115th and Third Avenue with great familiarity. Instantly greeted by the stench of fresh urine, the odor seemed particularly profound. My cousin later told me that someone had defecated in the lobby the night before. I imagine how living in these buildings must impact residents; if I constantly woke up to filth and disarray, I’d certainly have a distorted view of both myself and the community around me. Guided by the insights shared in class, I examined the hallways and corridors I’ve come to know very well with new lenses. In a way, the floor, walls, lighting, and general aesthetic of the building resembled a jail. As I snapped photos of the lobby and stairwell I began to feel claustrophobic. The dismal lighting provided a looming sense of danger; the littered stairways represents the limited sense of upwards mobility that exists within the community. The overwhelming sense of entrapment that exists within these buildings is felt immediately. It’s as if the people released from prison are exiting their cells to return to another.

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Being free, being a student, and being mixed have provided with a various perspectives that not many are able to enjoy. My position in life has granted me unique affordances that a great number live without. In my most recent trip back to East Harlem, I made use of the agency I’ve been blessed with through critical thinking and deep reflection regarding what I can do to assist the community at large. The mistreatment of felons is deeper than a social malpractice. It is an issue ingrained within a neighborhood of thousands; a neighborhood plagued with communal inequities and detrimental infrastructure. Everyone deserves a fair shot at life whether you’ve been incarcerated or not. In understanding the trials and tribulations of men and women who’ve served time, one must consider the communities they call home.

-Iancarlos Gonzalez Reuter

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~ by iancarlosgr on March 3, 2019.

3 Responses to “Blog Post #2: The Power of Perspective”

  1. Most Affective because they way you describe your personal connection to your ecology and how you are attempting to separate yourself and use your experience of “otherness” gave me the feeling of your struggle in this project but also how much you care. I can hear in you writing the struggle in this research project.

  2. Best Overall: your words (in both this and your last blog post) are very powerful and sincere. I appreciate how honest you were not only about your position in your neighborhood but also outside of it. I think this reconfirms to the reader your connection to the ecology and therefore your knowledge of the subject.

  3. Best Overall: You are able to evoke such passion and tension in your writing – I think you did an excellent job in recognizing your place among the community and how that affects your investigation. The various “perspectives” that your background and upbringing afford you are so well put on the page. Your images are striking and really capture that feeling of “otherness” or perhaps even loss of hope. Excellent job.

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