Jan. 6th, 2017

marlowe1: (high school reunion)
1. Ghetto Brother: Warrior to Peacemaker by Julian Voloj & Claudia Ahlering - After a decade where the city was abandoned in favor of the suburbs and the war on drugs yielded the crack epidemic, many gangs got together in order to deal with the violence. In Minneapolis, the group was called United for Peace and the police immediately assumed that they were just gang bangers trying to commit more crimes with the newspapers going along for the ride by comparing these initiatives with a famous mafia sitdown that was raided by the feds. Forget the fact that the mafia guys were career criminals and the gang bangers were teenagers who were joining the groups that would allow them the most protection in the places where they were living. Hell, even ignore the way that the drug laws turned every drug user and dealer into Public Enemy # 1 without context. And while we're at it, why don't we keep talking about black-on-black crime while vilifying the people who are in the community trying to stop these crimes (of course, if the people who are talking about black-on-black crime are doing it for any reason other than to draw attention from cops killing black people it would be a minor miracle).

This graphic novel is about the early 70s when the gangs also got together to make peace in the Bronx, centering around Benjy Melendez who was the main organizer in the peace talks as well as the main guy in the Ghetto Boys. The main problem with a graphic novel (and this one has a lot of charcoal illustrations) is the fact that I want to learn more. What did he do in the gangs beyond hang out and beat people up? Did he really get taken by surprise to find out that drugs were in the neighborhood? How did he get to the top of the gangs to the point that when he left Ghetto Brothers they were angry with his wife?

The main story of a community coming together and creating peace is beautiful. The fact that this led to the house parties that would create Hip Hop is almost an afterthought. This is the story about Benjy Melendez and as it is his story it feels a little too clean. Even when his wife leaves him, we don't really get why beyond the fact that he couldn't tell her about the fact that he was going to a synagogue and letting her think that he was either cheating on her or running with a gang. She gets a very small part and that's it.

The book even skips about 20 years to a point where he is eager to meet his daughter that he never knew.

So within this 118 page book there are about 3-4 separate stories
1. His relationship with his Asian wife and how that fell apart.
2. The Ghetto Boys
3. The Peace Talks
4. Hip Hop
5. Judaism

The stories for #2 & #3 are given a great deal of attention and still I wanted more but the one part that feels like an epilogue that should be an entire book unto itself is the Judaism part. Benjy actually was a marrano which means that he had no idea why his family lit candles on Friday night or why his father prayed under a prayer shawl. So when he started going to a synagogue, it was a baal tshuva instead of a conversion story. But when he told his mother what was her reaction? Did she know that they were doing those things because they were Jewish? I suppose I should just read marrano memoirs (and btw marrano is an anti-Semitic slur that is literally pig - something I should have known since I live in a Spanish speaking neighborhood but I have enough problems talking to my English speaking neighbors - ok that's a lame excuse for not even taking an introductory Spanish class), still this felt like an important part of the man's life now that brings up more questions than it answers - especially when the photographs in the book show him wearing a tallit.

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Tim Lieder

September 2017

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