Park Street Cultural Tour
Every stop on our tour was a highlight. Two of our students who live near Park Street invited us to their homes. We went twice to Chadbourne Residential College at the university, the first time to tour the dorm, listen to community activist Sadie Pearson and jazz musician Richard Davis, and then travel with some Chadbourne students to other Park Street sites; the second time to read some of our reports to the college students and look at a Power Point slide show of that first tour. We also met with students from Lincoln School on our visit to an early childhood center with a strong focus on African American culture.
We visited two churches that are active in their neighborhoods, the birthing education room at one of the two hospitals along Park Street, a large low-income apartment complex, an Italian community center, a Latino radio station, and a community garden. At four neighborhood centers we saw murals depicting cultures of the people served by the centers.
The businesses we visited often reflect a rich and varied cultural heritage: a body shop founded by a German blacksmith, a Chinese laundry, an Italian shoe repairman, a Muslim meat market, Mexican and Asian groceries, and a Japanese Oriental Shop. Other businesses, like a hardware store and a family daycare, also show a deep connection to the local community.
It was a “magical mystery tour,” taking us out on Lake Mendota with a lifesaving boat, into the bright colors of yarns on big looms at a craft store, and to lively stories and cornrow braids at a beauty salon / barber shop. We laughed at Robert Pierce’s stories about growing up in South Madison, gasped in awe when we saw the ornate Torah scrolls at a nearby synagogue, delighted in holding baby chicks belonging to a family in the Chicken Underground, enjoyed the food displays in the grocery stores, and were carried away to a dark warm world with 600 aquariums full of angelfish and other exotic species.
Everywhere we went we asked lots of questions and recorded our observations with many pages of notes, dozens of audio tapes, and hundreds of photos. But our trip wasn’t all work. We hiked up Wingra Creek to visit with a fisherman, played bocce ball in the Greenbush, and danced to the tunes of a mariachi band.