Looking Beyond

Toni White - Brazil


February 25, 2011

As a group we often go into different communities as part of our exploration of beautiful buildings, composed of people who dress in designer clothes, to areas where homes are built on water or children are begging for money as a way to support their family income. Often times before leaving to go on our day trips the group gets informed about the neighborhood and what we should expect before going in to this area. From doing my own research I’ve noticed that the information that the media portrays often times is the opposite of what I experience when going out into Brazil.
Over time I began to notice a pattern: whenever we went to areas that were less modernized or filled with low income families, we received the same pep talk. “Be super careful with all your belongings, don’t walk by yourself, don’t bring a lot of money out with you”, things of that nature. I understand that this is only for our safety, but why is this only stressed when going to less modernized areas?
It is common that when I research different areas that I’m told about in conversations I have with different people I meet. New places are always brought up when talking to others, whether it’s other students studying in Brazil or people who just came to Brazil to practice capoeira. Students would depict many different places; expressing the new friendships they made with people who live in the area. After hearing about how much fun everyone had and how everyone enjoyed themselves, I became interested in wanting to go. During my free time I google information on these same places. I find it strange that what i would read would never match what I was told in in my conversations with others. As I read I’m surprised at the different perspectives I’m now receiving. This same place that was portrayed as being wonderful and a must go to and is described as an unsafe place to be. Things like crimes and death rates are all that I’m receiving as I continue my research. Things are not matching, but I still have the curiosity to see this for myself.
One might ask why I would want to go after all I’ve heard. And the best answer to that is because I’m form the South Bronx.  I interact with people who believe that the South Bronx is very dangerous and risky, so I am familiar with people judging where I am from based off of what they heard or read in the media. Often times when I tell people that I am from the Bronx they automatically think guns, gangs and under educated people. And none of this is based on what they see with their own eyes. So do they really know or are they just another victim of believing everything that the media says. Yes, it’s true that people in the Bronx have guns, some enter into gangs when they are young  and some drop out of school to gain an income, but that’s NOT EVERYBODY. These types of things can be said about many neighborhoods no matter the location. I’ve lived in the Bronx for almost 18 years and never felt more unsafe walking the Bronx than I did in places like Manhattan. To some the Bronx is a place they never wish to visit but for me it is home.
Whenever I hear someone belittling a place that I said I wanted to go to while in Brazil, I pay it no mind and look past all the negativity. The only questions that come to mind are: how does this person know this?  Where does this knowledge come from? And what would a person say when describing the South Bronx? I enter into each and every community with an open mind and only seek the opinion of those who live there because they are the only ones who truly know about life there.
I know what it feels like to be judged because of where you are from, but I also enjoy showing people that where I am from does not limit who I am as a person and all that I am capable of doing. I love that I am from the Bronx, one of New York’s most dangerous areas. So with my thickest New York accent i say “My name is Toni White and I am from the Bronx and I have a goal of bettering the next generation of young people. At the moment I’m living in Brazil and will return home in May with a new mind set of the world and the people in it.”

Toni White