In King Kong on 4th Street, Jagna Sharff chronicles an ethnographic team's involvement over a span of fifteen years with the people of a poor, largely Puerto Rican neighborhood in New York City. Anchoring her observations in field notes, she recounts the joys, fears, and disappointments of daily life as well as the drama of large events. Arson, the murder of a popular local teenager, the mobbing of a grocery store as an act of retribution for his death?all are projected onto a canvas of shifting local and national policies toward poor people and neighborhoods.Sharff provides new insights into gender and family roles, how adaptations to available resources from the welfare state may shape the membership of households, and how children may be trained for specific adult roles that will advance the family's well-being. She also reveals how the underground economy, particularly the commerce in drugs whose profits are realized outside of the neighborhood, undermines neighborhood-wide solidarity and sends people scrambling against one another for jobs in the quasi-licit and illicit sector.Following the lives of a number of families into the next generation, Sharff's ethnographic team documents how external political decisions that change the war on poverty into a war on the poor affected them. Paramilitary sweeps of the neighborhood, in tandem with gentrification and declining social services, produce severe dislocations and relocation to homeless shelters, welfare hotels, and prisons. But the reality described is not all grim.The book's vivid style shows that life is more than grim reality. People get real pleasure from raising children and taking part in the human drama around them. Kinfolk, real and fictive, keep each other afloat and reconnected to new neighborhoods and opportunities, including that of upward mobility through religious conversion. Adults and children achieve satisfaction and a measure of security through grit, wit, and acts of heroism and solidarity.
Table of Contents
Introduction -- You Can Hear the Birds Singing -- Dancing -- Homing Pigeons -- A Gentle Young Man -- Chulito Flying -- Victoria's Baptism -- Blue Bayou -- A Dream-Come-True Apartment with a 1949 Stove -- Summertime -- Sometimes the War Close to Home Is the Most Diffcult to See -- The Day of the Big Gun -- A Death Foretold -- Settling a Blood Feud -- King Kong on 4th Street -- I, Miguel Valiente -- Jail, Jail, All Your Life Jail -- Epilogue: Walking My Baby -- Appendix A: Methodology -- Appendix B: Changes in the Patterns of Incarceration in New York State