“Nobody crosses the street, because of what they’ve been told. An idea can become a reality if you promote it enough.”
I recently had an amazing opportunity to take a tour of the Punto Urban Art Museum here in Salem. I am well aware of the stereotypes that have plagued this neighborhood in recent years: I’ve lived here for over 15 years, and can’t tell you how many times people have said not go to The Point: Don’t drive through. Don’t walk nearby. Don’t eat at the restaurants.
I kind of always followed their advice, never really understanding the fears from which it arose.
Finally, I got to know people from The Point. I started driving through on my way home, or parking in The Point to visit my favorite record store. And I realized – those people were wrong. The people living in the point aren’t scary, bad, evil monsters. They are regular ol’ people trying to make a living and do what’s best for their families.
BUT. It’s harder for the families who live here to make livings. Most of Salem speaks English, but many of the families living in this neighborhood speak Spanish. Many come from Dominican Republic with no money, no jobs, no security. And. they have to fight their asses off just to put food on the table. According to the Boston Globe, absentee landlords “rent to poor people for whom they have no respect, collecting their checks while letting grass grow tall and buildings decay.”
This isn’t right. Right? You agree? You know this? Yes, we all know this. Then why does it take us so long to realize it and do something about it?
Then came along Ruben Ubiera. Mr. Ubiera spent his teen years in El Punto (The Spanish word for “The Point” which I will use going forward – here and in person). He loves Salem. He is grateful for all this one of a kind city has offered him. And now, he’s giving back from working as an artist in Florida. Along with his sister, Rosario Ubiera-Minaya of the North Shore Development Coalition, Mr. Ubiera is doing what he does best to show the rest of Salem that El Punto is, in fact, a welcoming community. The streets aren’t scary. The restaurants offer delicious food. The people are kind and hard-working.
Mr. Ubiera, along with a number of other world re-known artists and 20 emerging local artists, are transforming the aesthetic of the neighborhood. They’ve known all along that the people don’t need to change – sure, the houses are run-down, but the people aren’t. In my mind, there is no better way to showcase the culture of a group of people than to share their art. And I love that Mr. Ubiera is doing so on the largest canvases he can find: BUILDINGS.
All working on this project emphasize the importance of keeping Dominican culture the forefront of all they do. The goal is not to gentrify the community, but to welcome others from Salem (and beyond) to appreciate all El Punto has to offer. The goal is to make Dominican culture prominent and comfortable for those who don’t live in El Punto. And this project is a great way accomplish this lofty goal.
Almost to the end of our tour, we paused to admire another mural. I noticed we were at a small park, and there was a little boy playing basketball. He was alone – dribbling and shooting hoops. But as I watched him play I realized, he wasn’t alone. His family didn’t need to worry about him playing on the court by himself. It became immediately clear to me that this is a close-knit neighborhood of people who care of each other. And I love that. I want to share that feeling I had with the whole of Salem.
I urge everyone to visit El Punto Urban Art Museum. Check out the murals celebrating the culture of some of Salem’s newest immigrants. Eat at the near-by restaurants. Say “Hello!” or “Hola!” or something kind to the people who live there. Experience the magic of spending time in a, once forgotten, neighborhood right here in our beautiful city.
Abraham Yvonne, “Artwork highlights Salem neighborhood’s true colors,” The Boston Globe, bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/07/22/artwork-highlights-salem-neighborhood-true-colors/Hnqc68rFS55AIyayX4vXMN/story.html, July 22, 2017.