How the Other Half Lives

How the Other Half Lives. Studies Among the Tenements of New York es un tratado de Jacob A. Riis sobre las residencias de los inmigrantes de Nueva York en los siglos 19 y 20, la degradante forma en que vivían y el aprovechamiento de muchos para sacar ganancias. ¿Y qué se trataba con "the great riot in 1863"?
           
Long ago it was said that “one half of the world does not know how the other half lives.” That was true then. It did not know because it did not care. The half that was on top cared little for the struggles, and less for the fate of those who were underneath, so long as it was able to hold them there and keep its own seat. There came a time when the discomfort and crowding below were so great, and the consequent upheavals so violent, that it was no longer an easy thing to do, and then the upper half fell to inquiring what was the matter. Information on the subject has been accumulating rapidly since, and the whole world has had its hands full answering for its old ignorance.

In New York, the youngest of the world’s great cities, that time came later than elsewhere, because the crowding had not been so great. There were those who believed that it would never come; but their hopes were vain. Greed and reckless selfishness wrought like results here as in the cities of older lands. “When the great riot occurred in 1863,” so reads the testimony of the Secretary of the Prison Association of New York before a legislative committee appointed to investigate causes of the increase of crime in the State twenty-five years ago, “every hiding-place and nursery of crime discovered itself by immediate and active participation in the operations of the mob. Those very places and domiciles, and all that are like them, are to-day nurseries of crime, and of the vices and disorderly courses which lead to crime. By far the largest part—eighty per cent. At least—of crimes against property and against the person are perpetrated by individuals who have either lost connection with home life, or never had any, or whose homes had ceased to be sufficiently separate, decent, and desirable to afford what are regarded as ordinary wholesome influences of home and family.... The younger criminals seem to come almost exclusively from the worst tenement house districts, that is, when traced back to the very places where they had their homes in the city here.” Of one thing New York made sure at that early stage of the inquiry: the boundary line of the Other Half lies through the tenements
Jacob Riis
Jacob Riis

The first tenement New York knew bore the mark of Cain from its birth, though a generation passed before the writing was deciphered. It was the “rear house,” infamous ever after in our city’s history. There had been tenant-houses before, but they were not built for the purpose. Nothing would probably have shocked their original owners more than the idea of their harboring a promiscuous crowd; for they were the decorous homes of the old Knickerbockers, the proud aristocracy of Manhattan in the early days.
It was the stir and bustle of trade, together with the tremendous immigration that followed upon the war of 1812 that dislodged them. In thirty-five years the city of less than a hundred thousand came to harbor half a million souls, for whom homes had to be found. Within the memory of men not yet in their prime, Washington had moved from his house on Cherry Hill as too far out of town to be easily reached. Now the old residents followed his example; but they moved in a different direction and for a different reason. Their comfortable dwellings in the once fashionable streets along the East River front fell into the hands of real-estate agents and boarding-house keepers; and here, says the report to the Legislature of 1857, when the evils engendered had excited just alarm, “in its beginning, the tenant-house became a real blessing to that class of industrious poor whose small earnings limited their expenses, and whose employment in workshops, stores, or about the warehouses and thoroughfares, render a near residence of much importance.” Not for long, however. As business increased, and the city grew with rapid strides, the necessities of the poor became the opportunity of their wealthier neighbors, and the stamp was set upon the old houses, suddenly become valuable, which the best thought and effort of a later age has vainly struggled to efface. Their “large rooms were partitioned into several smaller ones, without regard to light or ventilation, the rate of rent being lower in proportion to space or height from the street; and they soon became filled from cellar to garret with a class of tenantry living from hand to mouth, loose in morals, improvident in habits, degraded, and squalid as beggary itself.” It was thus the dark bedroom, prolific of untold depravities, came into the world. It was destined to survive the old houses. In their new role, says the old report, eloquent in its indignant denunciation of “evils more destructive than wars,” “they were not intended to last. Rents were fixed high enough to cover damage and abuse from this class, from whom nothing was expected, and the most was made of them while they lasted. Neatness, order, cleanliness, were never dreamed of in connection with the tenant-house system, as it spread its localities from year to year; while reckless slovenliness, discontent, privation, and ignorance were left to work out their invariable results, until the entire premises reached the level of tenant-house dilapidation, containing, but sheltering not, the miserable hordes that crowded beneath smouldering, water-rotted roofs or burrowed among the rats of clammy cellars.” Yet so illogical is human greed that, at a later day, when called to account, “the proprietors frequently urged the filthy habits of the tenants as an excuse for the condition of their property, utterly losing sight of the fact that it was the tolerance of those habits which was the real evil, and that for this they themselves were alone responsible.” (How the Other Half Lives, by Jacob A. Riis., ch. 1)

Para saber
The Great Riots (conocidas como draft riots) fueron violentos disturbios en la ciudad de Nueva York como culminación del descontento de trabajadores con una nueva ley pasada por el congreso en 1863 para reclutar hombres en la lucha por la Guerra Civil de Estados Unidos.
Inicialmente expresando su rabia por los reclutamientos, las protestas se volvieron una lucha racial, con manifestantes blancos, predominantemente inmigrantes irlandeses, atacando a los negros a través de la ciudad. Las cifras oficiales reportaban 120 muertes.
Tenement es un edificio que tiene apartamentos o habitaciones para alquilar y usualmente está ubicado en la zona más pobre de la ciudad.
Knickerbockers: descendientes de los primeros pioneros holandeses de Nueva York.

El autor
Jacob August Riis (1849 – 1914) fue un reformista danés – americano, periodista y documentalista fotográfico. Es conocido por usar su talento periodístico y fotográfico para ayudar a la empobrecida ciudad de Nueva York. Apoyaba la construcción de edificios modelos. Además es considerado uno de los padres de la fotografía debido a la adopción temprana del flash en la fotografía.

Fuentes
Jacob Riis, Wikipedia.

Si te gustó esto compartílo con tus amigos.