Monday, September 28, 2009

Life of a Trash Collector

I'm in the park now an hour a day 5 to 7 days a week. It's become an important part of my day- my gig. I visit the larger part of the park, once a week on average. Most of the time,however I'm dealing with the litterers of the the small strip of woods surrounding the park's kettle pond. On the other side, the woods and bridal path dominate the park's acreage.On the side where I work is the pond, the parking lot, picnic grounds, carousel and the golf course. The woods around the pond lead up a long thin ridge to the restored Dutch colonial farm house which has offices for the park administrators and their staff. The Urban Ranger headquarters is also on this side. The community bordering this part of the park is dominated by small single family homes with a large Mexican population, and some bigger homes and apartment houses that are occupied by other new immigrants and some "original" inhabitants. Queens neighborhoods are changing fast all over with new immigrants from third world communities in Latin America, Trinidad, Guyana ,India, Pakistan and Mexico. The impact on city parks in Queens doesn't seem to occupy much press in New York. A couple of years ago, Forest Park had to stop issuing permits for the picnic area to a community group consisting of people from one of those third world countries. It's a problem. We are dealing with populations who have no experience of our culture of National Parks and green area restoration. These are people who lived in parts of the world where garbage was either burned or dumped somewhere else. So, I've been thinking a lot about these things lately as I gather beer bottles, food containers, cigar wrappers and what not. Last week I encountered yet another site of a Santeria ritual. If you don't know, Santeria is a spiritual/magic tradition that began in Africa, and traveled to the Americas. Part of their ritual involves lighting votive lamps, leaving certain tokens and ritually killing a chicken. Apparently from the trash left behind, several people attend these rituals and eat and drink during them. It poses a dilemma for me, because I believe in honoring all traditions and as a magician myself, often conduct rituals in these woods. I never leave any litter behind, and make sure if I'm using incense that it can't start a fire but, all the same. I could have called the Park Manager who would send a crew to clean the site, but this time I decided to clean some of the mess, and leave the heart of the ritual. I left the sacrifice which I covered a bit more, the votives (which I had to extinguish), a plate of dried beans and a glass of liquid (wine?). I cleaned up a lot of plastic cups, food containers and attending trash including the ubiquitous beer bottles. Here's the rub. The people who conduct these rituals may have a connection to the woods as a sacred place, but they don't connect with the idea that leaving litter behind is a desecration.I'm struggling with the same dilemma then, that I have with the pot smokers. Any ideas?


Michael Harkavy said...

Why not attend one of the rituals, or parties, when they happen, meet with a leader, express your respect for their rituals and or right to use the park, and indicate your problem and seek their help?

Otherwise, it sounds a lot like "us and them" which rarely gets anything accomplished.

Honor to the work you are doing.

Joe Ambrosino said...

Exactly Mike, which is why I left a note addressing the pot smokers at a fallen tree where many of them gather. That seems to have worked at least at that location. The problem with the Santeria people is that this group does its thing at night and my guess(although I don't know for sure) is that its practitioners are more conversant in Spanish. i thought of posting an open letter on the Forest Park blog and putting up advertising in the neighborhood, but should I have it translated?

John Perkins said...

Hi Joe,
John Perkins in Seattle here. This can either happen very quickly towards resolution or take a long time. All depends on connections across many edges: class, language, cultural practices, shared spaces, rituals, etc.
I might seek out college professors who study this and talk with them. They may have connections from their research or give you ideas where supplies are secured (such as candles) and those people would know others who do the rituals, etc.
In the home cultures for these rituals find out if there's an etiquette for how the space is left afterwards. It may be some assumptions about America paying people to do work people did for themselves, but I have no basis to know if that's true.
I may get other ideas, but that's a start.

Joe Ambrosino said...

Excellent ideas, John! It's the etiquette or lack of it that presents a problem for the park. My fear is that there is no regard for Mother Earth in their tradition, although I do not know, but find it hard to believe of a people who have such a strong devotion to Our Lady of Guadeloupe.

m sourdough said...

I would like to agree with your other idealistic posters about this issue but I tend to think about this on a purely practical level: I have observed this kind of behavior in lots of third world places (including places where Santeria comes from) and I think there is little chance of changing their understanding of what it means to litter, of personal responsibility for the environment in the near future. (So-called native born 'Americans' routinely dump garbage too.)
Anything outside a personal dwelling is considered 'other' and uncared for. Even middle class and rich Caribbean, African and Asian people routinely dump garbage out their windows or directly in front of their homes. There is little infra-structure and little trust in public services.
The only time I've seen that pattern altered is when there is a strong economic motive combined with social pressure and legal enforcement - and that usually takes a long time
As you do not have access to the elders of that community your short term tool in this situation may be enforcement, so I would call the park manager in, try to get signs posted that threaten a fine, etc and forget the cultural negotiations.