Fearing the Rainbow

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April 2, 2002 // UPDATED 1:17 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Julie Landsman
Julie Landsman

"I'm worried about all those Rainbow people moving in. Gotta watch that."

He was a well-educated man, holding the fluted champagne glass in his long, tapered fingers. At first I could not figure out whom he meant, and why on earth he worried about "them" moving close to our neighborhood tucked into this section of leafy streets between Lake Street and the river.

Rainbow people? Maybe he meant gays and lesbians? I had read about a

convention in town of gay families raising children and I seem to remember

something about Rainbow people. Maybe he meant Jessie Jackson's Rainbow

Coalition, a wide spectrum including poor and black, white and working class, labor union members, activists of all kinds and

immigrant families.

"What do you mean? Whom are you talking about?" I asked amidst the Valentine streamers draped across the ceiling. A woman in a sequined dress smiled as she floated by. Someone was playing the piano and someone was standing at the table, scooping spinach dip onto his French bread.

"You know -- all the people who shop at Rainbow Foods. They are moving closer and closer."

"Like Maury?" I asked, mentioning my husband, and looking over my glass at this quiet neighbor who, until this moment, I thought agreed with me on many issues.

"Well. No." He dipped his head, looked across the room and moved toward the kitchen.

I know whom he meant. He meant the Latino families who shopped at Rainbow, the Somali women who went through the lines or even worked checkout in their flowing gowns. He meant African-Americans, stopping to pick up food for a birthday party or maybe some groceries for the week on a Sunday morning after church.

The more I think about this conversation, the more I hope my new place, the one on Washington Avenue in North Loop, will have a Rainbow and a Dairy Queen and a Target and a McDonald's nearby.

When I tell people about where I am moving, they raise their eyebrows. They seem surprised to learn that I am going to such an "upscale place," unlike the modest, still unfashionable neighborhood where I live now. I hurry to explain that my loft is not right down along the river, where the high-priced homes are being built. And then, I add, we have a second floor, not one of the fancier third-floor condos.

Yet I am worried about this move, and not just for its change in architecture and space. I am worried that it will be a place where Rainbow people never come, where the stores and shops will be high-priced, filled only with whites, or wealthy men and women of all kinds in elegant clothes, speaking impeccable English, un-accented and without dialect.

My friend Joe White, an African-American psychologist from California who grew up on Washington Avenue during the '30s, writes me often about this street:

"A beer bar called South of the Border was a gathering place for adults from several ethnic groups: Norwegians, Swedes and other Scandinavians, Mexican-Americans, Blacks and a few Native Americans. They would gather together especially on Friday and Saturday nights after pay-day and drink beer and sometimes leave the bar for romantic interludes at nearby homes. Once the beer got flowing, the romantic relationships crossed ethnic lines. My brother and I would peek in the back window of the bar and watch the action. Sometimes we tap-danced for nickels and dimes for people coming in and out of the bar. ...Neither my brother nor I could dance very well. But after four or five beers, I guess it doesn't matter."

I hope Bunkers Bar across the street from our new place stays where it is. Maybe low-rent houses and apartments -- in this city of shamefully few affordable places for people to live -- will be built next door.

I am still excited by the move. I want to live Downtown. And after all, Rainbow people are everywhere. They are moving into all sorts of places before you know it. This movement gives me hope, not only for Washington Avenue but also for our entire city of separation and segregation.

Maybe we will even get back to some of the fine things about Joe White's days, the weekend parties when people drifted off together after too much beer, "crossing ethnic lines." Maybe we will meet at a new Dairy Queen on the corner of Washington and 8th Avenue North when summer heats up the streets.

Julie Landsman and husband Maury will move into their Washington Avenue North condo this summer.