This week, the greatest city in the world was hit with a calamity of comparable proportions. And in such a polarized urban landscape, where pockets of intense poverty exist alongside luxury condos, we can see that there’s no such thing as an equal opportunity disaster. One of the hardest-hit communities was the Lower East Side–the iconic seedbed of immigrant working-class life that is still a stronghold of Latino and Asian American community. The flooding and power outages also pummeled many relatively isolated neighborhoods in the outer boroughs like Far Rockaway and Red Hook, straining schools, housing projects, and local grassroots service agencies.
Across the city, the storm’s blow to Gotham’s socioeconomic edifice cascaded quickly into a stark profile of the haves and have-nots: immigrants and people of color, as well as other vulnerable groups like the elderly and people with disabilities, were stranded and struggling. One group in Chinatown, CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities (featured in The Nation video above), took a grassroots approach to recovery, and they were out in force on the streets before any significant government response had been deployed. They’re still working and need all the help they can get, even as the lights slowly flicker back on in downtown Manhattan. Get in touch with them to participate or donate. (You can also see a photo essay about the relief effort at Open City.)
One thing that disasters like this have shown us time and again is that in sharply segregated urban areas, communities need to remain vigilant: massive rebuilding efforts can bring promise as well as peril. In areas like post-Katrina New Orleans, the process of recovery and healing is fraught with political, racial and class divisions, and in many cases, underlying inequalities have been amplified. After September 11 in New York, the government-led reconstruction of downtown Manhattan ended up alienating many of the most disenfranchised Chinatown residents and businesses, while gentrification continued to barrel through old neighborhoods. Aid is often out of reach for immigrants and poor people who lack social, legal and language resources to access government services and charities.
The aftermath of Sandy is still unfolding as the true extent of the damage surfaces and families and neighborhoods try to piece their lives back together. The networks of solidarity that marginalized communities, particularly in low-income and immigrant populations that face political barriers, can help ensure that the ongoing recovery efforts do not leave them behind. If there’s one thing that’s certain in a city that’s been turned upside down, it’s that displacement, migration and resettlement are continual processes that affect everyone, the native-born and the newcomers alike. New York, the quintessential city of migrants, is uprooted again–and once again, it’s on the move.