The Half-Moon Capital of the Empire


Written by Soyoung Lee

In contrast to having lived in the same place in my entire early life, I started moving around soon after I turned 18 years old. Since then, I have moved every year, switching cities once every two years, and switching countries every three years on average. It has been an untouchable dream that I may be able to settle down in one place someday. I am still in a position that does not have the luxury of knowing where I am going to be in a year from now, so I decided to write about the places I’ve lived in, been to or passed by to remember the moments that I lived.

 I’d like to start off from my current city, Washington, D.C., which I immediately fell in love with as soon as I moved. Washington D.C. is the capital of the United States. On maps, it looks like a diamond where its left lower side is torn off. This imperfect diamond shape is carefully placed between Maryland and Virginia along the Potomac river. It is a “capital district” that is not a part of any state and it is filled with the main political elements of the U.S. such as the U.S. Capitol, the White House, government departments and bureaus, and foreign embassies. Near 700,000 people reside in the district, which is not so overwhelming, but the population expands to greater than 1 million during the day time with the commuters from the surrounding Maryland and Virginia suburbs. Of course, transporting 300,000 people every day in and out of the city plus near 20 million tourists in the city per year is not an easy task, which makes Washington, D.C. one of the worst cities for traffic in the U.S.

Despite the notorious traffic, becoming neighbors with the Obamas was an exciting enough fact for me when I decided to move into a tiny little, or cozy, I should say, studio. It is just as big as some rich people’s closets and the rent is ridiculous.

That being said, there has been a drastic change since I moved. Now I have a new neighbor who took over Obama’s place, despite that he lost by his biggest adversary in the popular vote. He had been a distinctive candidate since he ran in Republican primaries and caucuses and during the presidential election being an outsider from the existing political system that of policymakers, the media and pundits that are tightly woven together. It seems that he attracted many voters who were tired of the established political order and desired for change, although it is contradictory because Mr. Trump himself is an icon of corrupt capitalism that includes numerous failures, bankruptcies and hundreds of lawsuits. On top of it, his blatant flaws and inappropriate words and action that he displayed since his reality-show period until now concerned the majority of people if he would become a legitimate leader who represents the interests of the nation as a whole.

I, as a South Korean citizen, tried to deny my disappointment, saying to myself that he is indeed “not my president,” but it is still difficult to ignore what is going on around me, that the media outrageously talk about every minute and hour. It seems that many people here regard the current situation as if their values are disrupted. Also, it is painful to see people, especially my own patients scared of losing their health insurance, or sometimes even their jobs. Moreover, now people including myself have started to fear their legal status in the U.S. after the Executive Order 13769, also called “Trump’s travel ban”. The new president signed it on January 27, 2017, to ban immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries.

 At this point, it is impossible to talk about the atmosphere of D.C. without addressing the shock, panic, and despair that more than 95% of Washingtonians had been facing since last fall. It is a huge irony that the new president was elected to be in Washington, D.C., when Washington, D.C. gave him the least support (He won 4.1% of the popular vote in D.C., which is the very lowest compared to any county or city in the nation). It is quite comforting to know that I share the same emotions and concerns with the majority of people in the city. However, at the same time, it makes me wonder how this capital city full of politicians, lawmakers, government employees, journalists and reporters do not represent the country. Where does this irony come from? 

To look for the answer to explain how this nation is constituted on the basis of uneven contraries, you may be able to find a clue in Washington, D.C. itself. Washington, D.C. has an interesting demographic history. Once being called “Chocolate City”, Washington D.C. has long been known as a majority-black city that has been served as a flagship in the American black history and culture.

 “Chocolate city?” However, it confused me when I first heard of the nickname. “Where are all the black people?” It was such a genuine question of mine who just moved to Georgetown, in the northwest of Washington, D.C., where only 3% of its population is black. Then, indeed, where are they? 

 

Washington D.C. continued to lose its black population since 1980 when 70% of D.C.’s population was black. However, still, black consists about 50% of the city’s population. You do not see a lot of them in Georgetown but on the other side of the city. Anacostia, a town in the southeast of Washington D.C., is not only on the opposite side to Georgetown by location, but by its demographics. 92% of people who live there are black. It is frightening to look at the map with such demographic data, that shows a near-complete division of race in the east and the west, having the U.S. capitol in the center.  

The demographic shift over time of the city is even more interesting. Washington, D.C. is one of the few U.S. cities that its growth is driven the by white influx. While urban gentrification has made native D.C. residents to find cheaper rents in Maryland, newcomers are filling in freshly built gleaming condos with fitness studios and Zen gardens. The change seems to be only pushing the east-west border more to the east instead of fading the line. On the other side, Anacostia, the town in the most southeast is left with abandoned, trash-filled apartments where the property owners are letting their apartment rot and waiting for the old-timers to leave.

Is the city less chocolate now? Yes, but it is not “Latte” nor “Marble.” It is rather a new “half-moon cookie” city, where one half is pushing away the other. Washington, D.C., one of the hundreds of American cities as well as the capital of the nation, reflects the division of the country through its unique history of demographics.

Mostly driven by the political situation, the U.S. has been in turmoil of disrupting values and crises in its identity. It raises a critical question; is the U.S. really a country of diversity? As we often do not realize that we actually live in a quadrant of Washington, D.C., instead of living in Washington, D.C., we probably forgot what American identity and values consist of. Are we marbling or forming latte? Or, are we just co-existing in space with invisible walls in between?

 

Dr. Soyoung Lee

was born and raised on an island of plenty of wind and sunshine in Korea. She explored various fields in science and medicine in Korea, Japan, and the United States. Currently, she is a resident physician in Psychiatry. While she enjoys listening to patients and understanding the diverse perspectives of human lives, she is actively involved in inpatient and outpatient patient care, research, andmedical education. She is interested in neuropsychiatry and basic neuroscience. Her goal is to continue her career as a clinician-researcher- educator in Psychiatry. eesoyoung@gmail.com

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