Monday, September 14, 2009

An overlooked minority

Dorchester is a large neighborhood within Boston that contains a kaleidoscope of ethnicities. Most famous and enduring over the past century has been the Irish, but there are others. Vibrant South Vietnamese, Cape Verdean, Haitian, Latino Carribean, African American and WASP communities also have a strong presence. The Native Americans that originally inhabited Dorchester's shorline and hillsides have all but disappeared, but there is another ethnic group that has been here a long time and that has largely escaped notice.

I was strolling Mt. Ida Road that borders Ronan Park in Dorchester's highlands. This is a tidy neighborhood of three-deckers, much like you find elsewhere in the Dot, the main difference being the spectacularly sweeping water views of Dorchester Bay far below the hilltop's summit about a half mile away, if that.

Tacked next to a basement door was a sign written in a curious script, sort of a cross between Norse Runes and Greek. It didn't make any sense to me so I collared a passing teenager and asked him what the sign said. "I can't read it," he told me, "but that's the local soccer club's headquarters. They play in the park on Wednesday nights." He held out his hand and I gave him a quarter for his translation. Then I knocked on the door.

It turns out this cellar is home to Dorchester's own Etruscan-American Football Club. A man with an easygoing smile let me in and I settled onto one of the formica chairs that were arranged around a scattering of formica tables. There were twelve other people in the room, an equal mix of male and female, all of them affable and ready to answer whatever questions I had.

My first question: "I thought Etruscans were extinct. How is it that you are in Dorchester?"

A young lady with a thin nose, dark, curly hair and a complexion like a fava bean, answered, "The Etruscan community has been in Dorchester for over 20 centuries. We don't like to make a big deal over it. We don't have much political interest and so we don't have much political influence. Our community has been based up here on Mount Ida for longer than most of Boston remembers. Nobody bothers us so we don't bother anyone else. Etruscans learned a long time ago that it's easier to keep a low profile and not challenge the majority."

My second question: "How come there isn't a newspaper like the Haitian Reporter or the Irish Reporter available at convenience stores so I can keep up with developments in the Etruscan community?"

An aquiline man in his mid-30s stepped up to answer. He told me that the Etruscan community is well-knit, everyone knows everyone else and that Etruscans, as a rule, don't like to air their business for anyone else to see. "We take care of ourselves," he said, "We don't need a newspaper to know what's going on. After all, as you can see from the sign out front, our letters don't have a regular type font a publisher can pick up at wholesale. Our native tongue doesn't translate easily anyway, so why bother?"

This prompted my third question: "Is Etruscan a dead language?"

An old woman wearing the same beatific smile as everyone else in the room except me stood up with the help of a walker. She curled a limp fist and and tapped it on one of the tables, "As long as one of us breathes, Etruscan will be no more dead than Latin." She sat down again and sipped at a chipped teacup of grappa.

Dorchester is a big neighborhood full of many secrets and many small communities that escape the wide angle lens of the major media. Dorchester's streets are full of surprises. You never know what you'll find in Dorchester, be it the solution to ancient mysteries or the next big boy band. After I left Mt. Ida Road, I headed over to the New Store on the Block in the Polish Triangle. I bought a couple of scratch off tickets, and a Dorchester Reporter. I asked the Dominican guys behind the counter if they knew any Etruscans. The eldest of them answered, "We don't get many Etruscans here. Our customers are mostly Polish and students." His younger apprentice added, "We also have a few Dominican regulars, though."

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails