In the case of Hi-Lo, “Don’t mourn, organize.”

February 4, 2011
By

The replacement of Hi-Lo by Whole Foods is a stark symbol of the gentrification affecting Hyde/Jackson Square and JP as a whole. More than a supermarket, Hi-Lo was the closest thing JP had to a “mercado central,” where neighbors gathered to catch up, old men sat out on benches trading stories, and families came to buy affordable staples and hard-to-find items for special meals. To suggest that families go down to Stop & Shop and buy from the “ethnic” food aisle is to ignore Hi-Lo’s important role as a community and cultural asset.

Whole Foods, along with all newcomers to Hyde/Jackson Square, is benefiting from a long history of activism by residents of all races and incomes, which has dramatically improved the quality of life of the neighborhood. These efforts include: stopping a federal highway project and replacing it with the Southwest Corridor Park and Orange Line; confronting an epidemic of crime and violence that swept through the neighborhood in the 1980s and 1990s; organizing against arson-for-profit schemes; and cleaning up and developing blighted, vacant lots. An unfortunate result is the loss of many of these neighborhood leaders, victims of their own success, who have been forced to leave JP as high housing costs drove them out of the community to which they had dedicated their lives.

At the same time, JP remains home to a proud and resilient Latino and working-class community that will not simply disappear because of the loss of Hi-Lo. Despite Census figures documenting the effects of gentrification over the past decade, more than 40 percent of the residents of Hyde/Jackson Square are Latino, as are the residents of nearby Egleston Square. These families have deep roots in JP and will continue to resist any efforts to force them out.

To the people who are concerned about the impact of Hi-Lo’s closing: In the words of labor activist Joe Hill, “Don’t mourn, organize.” People can attend upcoming public meetings to hold Whole Foods accountable to their stated desire to become “active members of a strong, diverse neighborhood and to open a store that is reflective of that vibrant community.” The community can tell them to start by hiring former Hi-Lo employees, and finding other ways to support and serve the community they are moving into.

People can also become active with organizations that work every day to promote and defend the diversity of JP. They can: Volunteer with the Hyde Square Task Force, tutoring and mentoring young people. Attend hearings to speak out in favor of proposed affordable housing developments near your home. Join one of the three local Main Street programs to promote and support independent businesses. Stand with City Life/Vida Urbana at eviction blockades to prevent foreclosed families from being thrown out in the street. In short, get involved.

The loss of Hi-Lo is not a death knell for JP’s Latino and working-class community, but rather a wake-up call for everyone who cares about maintaining JP as a multicultural, economically diverse neighborhood. Let’s get to it.

Harry Smith
Jamaica Plain