This post is part of a collaborative narrative series composed of my writing and Chris Arnade's photos exploring issues of addiction, poverty, prostitution and urban anthropology in Hunts Point, Bronx. For more on the series, look here.
Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted while residing next to a crack house in El Barrio, New York, for almost five years, this article analyses how the social and economic marginalization of second- and third-generation Puerto Rican immigrants in the inner city has polarized violence and sexuality against women and children, both within the family and on the street. Traditional working-class patriarchy has been thrown into crisis by the restructuring of the global economy and the expansion of women's rights. Unable to replicate the rural-based models of masculinity and family structure of their grandfathers' generation, a growing cohort of marginalized men in the de-industrialized urban economy takes refuge in the drug economy and celebrates a misogynist, predatory street culture that normalizes gang rape, sexual conquest, and paternal abandonment. Marginalized men lash out against the women and children they can no longer support economically nor control patriarchally.¹
John and Diane, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
John's girl, Diane, jumps into cars. She sits on a bucket seat ripped from a SUV. There, in its place left on the side of the road, she waits for men to drive by, stare, comment, gesture. Men like the punk rocker look, so she rips her tights, more than the day typically does, for show.
She's had a good run of not being raped, so she figures she'll be fine.
John sits on cardboard next to the bucket seat anticipating her return. Sometimes he get impatient and leaves to get food. As if staying would do anything. Her money buys them the crack and heroin, the rented room.
These things, this discontent, come outs when she smokes crack. It becomes unreal that you do everything. But it is expected. It is the way things go.
Sarah and Ramone, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Ramone stays in the non-operable car, their home, while Sarah sucks strangers' dicks. To him, that's all she does while spending time in truckers' cabs, nothing more. Not real sex or being fucked in the ass. He reasons blow jobs to be OK.
He listens to the Yankees and tries to jumpstart the car when it gets freezing in winter, though he often gives up and sleeps under blankets that she finds. She buys the dope, the McDonalds meals.
He's working on finding a job. It's been this way for three years.
Brenda, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Brenda's husband watches TV on a flatscreen in a friend's apartment, wearing only Tony the Tiger pajama pants, never a shirt. He sleeps on the couch, a position he occupies with certainty. When Brenda's friends visit, he speaks about beating the shit out of the women because they annoy him. He names women in the room who he'd like to fuck up. The mouths on them.
The women cook dinner together, serve him a plate.
Egypt, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Egypt's husband Chino beats her with enough regularity for her face to look black on one side. She gets him his drugs, but he's particular. She doesn't do things right, sometimes.
Natalie, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Young girls, nameless, multiple, beautiful dolls, work the streets on a certain corner for a few pimps. You know the girls because they are the 14, 15, 16-year-olds who show up at bodegas with broken arms and lithe bodies, in charge of children who aren't theirs.
Shelly, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Shelly takes care of Roland when he's out of jail. He's only a baby, 23. He can barely clean up after himself, let alone earn enough, or find a dealer, for his own drugs. Poor thing.