White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, noted for espousing propriety, long have disparaged ethnic groups as garrulous and unruly. America’s ethnics often strike back, chiding WASPs as desiccated while praising themselves as demonstrative and warm. Caricaturing others—and ourselves—only inflames America’s culture war. Case in point . . .

In a September 2022 Atlantic article, “Let Brooklyn Be Loud,” Xochitl Gonzalez, of Puerto Rican descent, chafes at quiet. Fine. She’s also offended by people who like quiet. Guess who?

“New York in the summer is a noisy place,” Gonzalez writes. The rich escape to the Hamptons. Central air-conditioning and window units shield the “bourgeoisie” from street noise. To the less well off, “the city becomes the soundtrack to life: motorcycles revving, buses braking, couples squabbling, children summoning one another out to play, and music. Ceaseless music.” 

Been there, done that.

I grew up in Queens without central air. Before we had window units, noise included buses, trucks and cars on 63rd Drive; airplanes to/from LaGuardia; and Long Island Railroad trains. Also, the Eisens. Screaming. 

We took it in stride. My father grew up in crowded Manhattan neighborhoods including Harlem and West 17th Street. My mother spent years on the Lower East Side. Rego Park, to which they moved from the Bronx, toned down the racket—a step up.

Gonzales found quiet at her Ivy League university (Brown—“bourgeois?”) surprising and disturbing. “The first day of classes was marked by such gloriously WASPy pomp that it made my young, aspirational heart leap.” But . . . “I just hadn’t counted on everything that followed being so quiet.” Worse, “. . . it was an aesthetic at odds with whom I was.”

I’m a Jew yet—gasp!—an introvert. I don’t like parties. But I enjoy Jewish weddings, b’nai mitzvah and other get-togethers because we Jews of Eastern European descent generally are loud. I get in touch with the me I’d like to (should?) be. 

Not that my San Francisco neighborhood is silent. Foghorns? Charm, not noise. Drummers practicing across the street? My violin-playing son Yosi started his musical life as a drummer. A neighbor playing his alto sax or taking off on his motorcycle? Hey, he’s my neighbor. 

Xochitil Gonzales loves her Puerto Rican culture, including music and dancing, and points out that, “. . . one person’s loud is another person’s expression of joy.” I see—or hear—that.

But sometimes, one person’s joy becomes another person’s very real annoyance. Occasionally, late-night conversations on the sidewalk intrude into my home. Someone on a skateboard grinds by. A person who’s mentally ill—we have homeless among us—passes by screaming. Thank goodness for double-pane windows. 

In reality, joy expressed by turning up the volume can keep a baby or sick/exhausted adult from sleeping, make it difficult to watch TV, stress already-frayed nerves.

Let Brooklyn or anywhere be loud—but with one proviso. Seek a middle ground that acknowledges rather than dismisses others’—not only WASPs’—desire for peace and quiet. 

That might require less public trumpeting of our particular ethnic pride and more listening to each other. When it comes to ethnic traits, different isn’t wrong. It’s simply different.

Paraphrasing Rabbi Hillel’s 2,000-year-old advice (Jesus knew it), stinging WASPs does to others what we would not have done to us.

Order Lola Flores in softcover or e-book from Amazonbarnesandnoble.com or your favorite bookstore.

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  1. Jim Shay on August 26, 2022 at 11:52 am

    Who, among us White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, do you mean? Moi? Nah….

    • David Perlstein on August 26, 2022 at 12:03 pm

      Just my point, Jim. Lumping all WASPs together—same with Jews, Puerto Ricans and any other group—does a disservice to the individual. Of course…

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