When we wrote our East Boston exploration blog about a couple outsiders (us!) walking around the neighborhood, we thought, “I can’t wait to see the comments. People are going to love it! Our new Eastie friends/fans are going to invite us to come back to hang out with them and they’ll show us new, cool places that we missed the first time around.”
Well anyway, that’s not exactly how things played out. We didn’t think that our attempt to express affection for Eastie as a more neighborhoodly section of the city that doesn’t suffer from the affliction of doggie boutiques would be compared to a bad Disney movie but, hey, such is life.
To make sure we fulfill our mission to portray Boston honestly through the eyes of young people, we’ve invited Eastie resident Steve Holt to give us his vision of the neighborhood. We hope you enjoy it!
Home, Sweet Eastie
by Steve Holt
I’m not a lifelong East Boston resident. Far from it.
In only about four years, though, I’ve grown to cherish my neighborhood. It’s become a part of my identity. It’s my home.
Much ink has been spilled on what constitutes home. Some claim that home can be captured solely in the framework of physical place. A few even still hold to the 1950s ideal of home as white picket fence, lush yard, 2.5 kids, and a dog – and closeness to one’s family of origin.
But “settling down” looks quite different for the one-in-three generation than it did for our parents. To me, home has become both less about an American Dreamlike lifestyle or even my family of origin and more of a place or situation that allow me to discover and be myself, with no pretenses. Somewhere I can let my hair down, metaphorically. A scenario in which I am able to take off my mask. To be seen and accepted for who I really am.
In this way particularly, East Boston is home. As a neighborhood, Eastie isn’t trying to be anything it isn’t, and generally speaking, even the young people who have moved in the last 10 years aren’t on a quest to turn Eastie into Charlestown or the South End. That’s because we recognize that East Boston already offers the truly important stuff: family, neighbors that care, diversity, and vibrant spaces to gather.
When I say that my family is here, I mean it not in the way you might think. We form “tribes” around common interests and stations in life, such as young children, entrepreneurial pursuits, ethnic origins, recreation, or cultural exploration. I have met some of the brightest and most thoughtful people here, people who have started their own businesses, are pioneers in their industries, create beautiful art or music, and care deeply for the disenfranchised – both locally and globally.
We support each other as well. In the absence of immediate family members, for instance, a network of young families formed a few years ago in Eastie to offer each other much-needed support in a crucial time in their lives. A different event for parents or children occurs every day of the week, from play dates to support groups for moms and dads. We even babysit each other’s children using a cashless “token” system to keep everything Kosher.
Food and drink are such important components of home. Around a common table, neighbors become family. Despite the erroneous claim a few years back that Eastie classifies as a “food desert,” my neighborhood features an abundance of quality, often simple, places for neighbors to gather to eat and drink. One of my favorites, for instance, is Scup’s in the Harbour, a quaint café down the street where I can eat scrumptious comfort foods around a communal table. Co-owner Wendy Saver greets me exuberantly every time I walk through the door. In fact, she tries to learn every one of her customers’ names; go to Scup’s, say, three times, and you’ll know Wendy and probably at least one other person you didn’t know before.
Eddie C’s is a gathering place that hearkens the Eastie of yesteryear, a mingling place for folks of all stripes. Here, we newcomers sit elbow-to-elbow with the “locals,” pop quarters in the juke box, and demonstrate that “old” and “new” Boston don’t have to be in conflict. The Maverick Square watering hole probably qualifies as a “dive” by most people’s definitions, but if a group of friends can’t be themselves here around a $7 pitcher of PBR, where on Earth can they?
I want to talk about East Boston’s handful of parks and open spaces, its Harborwalk, and the Greenway, areas that bring us in touch with nature and new friends. I’d love to mention how helpful Eastie folks are – the success of the nonprofit ZUMIX in offering children a creative outlet through music or the willingness of residents to spend a Saturday picking up trash or loading a boat with water for Haiti. And it would please me to no end to expound on the amazing heritage of East Boston as a haven for immigrants from all over the world – first Irish, then Jews, then Italian, and now Central and South American.
But I can’t. I have neither the space nor the time.
I’ll have to summarize by ending where I started: East Boston is home. And not just to residents like me – many people from outside the neighborhood have expressed a feeling of warmth and acceptance as they spend time here. If a concentration of Starbucks, boutiques, or expensive condos factors heavily into a person’s valuing of a neighborhood, then East Boston doesn’t rank well. But if what they want is home – a place where they can discover and be themselves – Eastie deserves a good, long look.