Despite how far we grow from who we once were, sometimes our unsavory past can never escape in defying who we are to others. Recently, this idea was present within one of New York City’s five boroughs: the Bronx.
Three times a week, Real Bronx Tours promised take tourists—mostly white Europeans and Australians—on a guide through what they claimed was a “real New York City ‘GHETTO’” which included stops at food-pantry lines and a real “pickpocket” park.
For forty-five dollars, tourists could attend the tour with once of its guides Lynn Battaglia who would lead customers across “distinctive” sights of the Bronx. For example, outside of St. Mary’s Park the bus would stop and Battaglia would credit Mayor Rudy Giuliani for curbing crime in the borough.
However, she would not stop there.
”If it were 1980 and you said to me, ‘Lynn, I want to die.’ My answer would be, ‘You’re in the right neighborhood,’” Battaglia would tell tourists outside of the park.
“I might encourage you to walk with a New Yorker, not because you’re going to get shot, just because sometimes people take advantage if they know you’re a tourist, either charge you too much or maybe someone would pick your pocket,” Battaglia adds, still claiming the area is still dangerous.
Despite the tour being a major offense to the neighborhoods, and its residents, of the Bronx the guide itself contains misinformation.
When bringing the group around East 140th Street, Battaglia would make a claim that the derogatory term “pig” used to identify a police officer was born in the area. Battalglia would tell tourist that if, “the policeman, his name is Patty, and he would walk up and down that street, and if he ran into an alcoholic, he’d beat them mercilessly. So they’d call him ‘Patty the Pig.’”
According to etymologyonline, the term “pig” was, besides being the name for an animal, “Applied to persons, usually in contempt, since 1540s; the derogatory slang meaning “police officer” has been in underworld slang since at least 1811.”
Containing misinformation and a gross representation of the Bronx to visitors visiting New York City and the borough is why the tour garnered a great deal of public outcry from residents of the Bronx, its elected officials of areas within, and the borough President Ruben Diaz who called the tour and its guide “the biggest fool on the planet.”
The problem with the tour is that it failed to acknowledge the great changes the Bronx has undergone since its dark days during the 1970s recession era.
“They should tell people about The Bronx that we all know, and that’s The Bronx that’s had the lowest crime rate since 1963 last year,” Diaz said, “To have foreigners come and gawk at a long line of people who are less fortunate than they are and to make money off of that and to view them as they are some sort of entertainment is pretty disgusting.”
As of today in the Bronx, crime rate has gone down; unemployment has gone down making the Bronx no longer the highest unemployment rate in New York State; tackling food hunger and promoting good eating habits amongst children by constructing a community garden known as “Good Food Garden”, and creating such community outreach outlets like opening The Bronx LGBTQ Center and opening a New Community Peformance Space at Owen Dolen Park.
Generating support to bring an end to the tour, Diaz and fellow Bronx elected officials wrote to Michael Myers of Real Bronx Tours asking the tour, that while the idea of bringing visitors to the city to the boroughs around it was noble, to changed its presentation to show the Bronx as it is and not merely how it has been stereotyped.
The outcome: the tour was shut down.
In a letter addressing the tour’s end, Diaz said, “I am happy to hear that ‘Real Bronx Tours’ has decided to end its inaccurate and disrespectful tours of our beautiful borough. The Bronx has come a long way in the past few years, and we will not accept such a despicable and irresponsible depiction of our borough.
“I am relieved that this company has listened to the overwhelming complaints of community members, as well as public officials, who were outraged and sickened by the so-called ‘ride through a real New York City GHETTO’ tour. I am especially grateful to Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, who co-authored a letter to the tour company with me yesterday, expressing our collective outrage on behalf of our constituents.
“We are more than happy to welcome tours to our community that celebrate the rich culture and history of our neighborhoods, but using the Bronx to sell a so-called ‘ghetto’ experience to tourists is completely unacceptable.
“With that said, although ‘Real Bronx Tours’ has reconsidered and is no longer hosting this tour, I ask the company to communicate an official apology to the 1.4 million residents of this great borough for their terrible portrayal of our communities.”
What should be taken from this issue?
If you are going to present an area’s past you should also show its present and how far they have come along. While the tour company and its guide did have a noble intention bringing people on a more New Yorker experience, it was one tainted by fallacy and a desire for certain individuals wanting an experience built upon a closed interest based on stereotypes.
Being informed and showing a state of progress is not only educational but inspirational for all.