The Beauty of Everyday Life and Strong CommunityA Photo Essay by Naomi Eylath

This photo was taken in one of the convenience stores we visited, where we noticed a couple of shelves filled with brightly colored prayer candles devoted to different saints. One of the interesting things about this shelf was that the candles were sitting next to regular convenience store items, like air freshener and soda. Here, two soda bottles complements the electric reds and blues of the candles, which are enhanced by the harsh light and contrasted by the white shelf. This coexistence of spiritual and commercial suggests how closely intertwined religion is with the daily lives of Egleston Square residents— they can buy their prayer candles along with their snacks and household appliances. I think my perspective is in this photo because I saw this pairing of objects as unusual. Given that these candles are sold in a convenience store, they must be a familiar sight to many people who live in Egleston Square, and most wouldn’t blink twice at seeing a candle next to a bottle of Brisk soda.

All of the convenience stores we visited sold different kinds of bread and pastries from the Dominicana Bakery. The signature white, red, and blue packaging and symbol evocative of the Dominican flag became a familiar sight during our visits to Egleston Square. I chose to take this photo because it was one way of describing to the viewer that Egleston has a large Dominican community. As with the prayer candles, this type of bread was an unusual sight for me, which is another reason why I was drawn to it. However, given their omnipresence, the baked goods from the Dominicana Bakery are likely a familiar sight for Egleston residents.

This sign, which said “Please respect your garden” on the other side, was sitting in a small, park-like area on a street corner. It was flanked by heavily pruned shrubs of some sort, and further off to the side was a well-maintained patch of flowers. Behind it was a white brick wall covered in large, colorful murals, each depicting a surreal montage of people, places, things, and quotes. This space was a pleasant haven on a busy intersection, and the little green sign was both a quaint and powerful feature. It sends a message of respect and unity; this is your garden, not someone else’s. We all share equal responsibility of keeping this garden alive and beautiful. This sentiment was alive in many of the people we spoke to in Egleston. They talked about how close the community was, how everyone was active and caring.

Egleston Square is full of art, whether it’s graffiti or detailed murals like this one. Facing a parking lot, this mural is a tribute to Egleston Square and references several key aspects of the community: the residents, represented by the Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Pan-African flags; the orange line, heading both to Oak Grove and Forest Hills; the proximity to Boston, represented by the city skyline; and what I can only guess is an appreciation for music and Egleston’s vibrant culture, as is represented by the music notes floating across the image. I chose to take this photo because, while there were many other murals throughout the area, this one was a bold, welcoming homage to Egleston Square.

It seemed as though for every barber shop in Egleston there was a beauty salon. Some of them were Latino-run, others were not, but the signage of this one caught my eye. The once red letters were weathered to a shade of pinkish beige that stood out against the deep ochres and browns of the brick wall. There was something lonely about this sign, some kind of stillness that I hadn’t expected on such a bustling street. Not only was I drawn to the sign aesthetically, but I also thought it encapsulated an integral aspect of Egleston Square, which is Latino beauty salons. Even on weekends, there are people getting their hair done— as we passed each establishment there was at least one person in the chair.

One morning, on our way back to school, we passed a man busily placing racks of clothing out in front of his store. There were all sorts of clothing, from t-shirts and shorts to pinstriped jackets. This was just one example of what appeared to be a small business in Egleston. We learned that Egleston is full of small, independently owned businesses, some of which are threatened by the loss of clientele as rent goes up in the neighborhood. However, throughout all three years that I have gone to Meridian, this store has been around. From the looks of its facade and a glance at its interior, it had been around for quite some time before Meridian came to Egleston. And, in classic Egleston fashion, it is situated right next to a barber shop. I’m sure that this is one of many familiar sights for residents of the Egleston Square area.

This sticker was placed onto a block of concrete on a street corner— construction was being done nearby. The sticker says in black letters: “DEFENDER A LOS MIGRANTES” or “DEFEND THE IMMIGRANTS.” The bold, hand-written scrawl, each word underlined with a thick dash, evokes a sense of passion and determination. This is a particularly important piece because it is political. It makes sense that the predominantly Latino population would be in support of Latino immigrants, both legal and illegal, whose security is currently being threatened by Trump’s presidency. Many of them are immigrants or children of immigrants as well. Therefore I inferred that this sticker reflects the political sentiments of many of the people living in Egleston Square.

Egleston Square seems to be a place constantly under development. On multiple blocks we noticed ongoing construction work, so it was not surprising to see this empty lot on a side street. It was a peaceful, grassy area shielded from pedestrians with an iron fence. Though the sign said “No trespassing,” there were spaces in the fence on either side for people to come through. There was also what appeared to be a low bench sitting near the side of the building. It was made of a red metal mesh and supported by concrete blocks. I wonder how long this lot has been unattended to. The sign certainly doesn’t look new, what with its faded letters and peeling grafitti. It’s easy to imagine people passing this lot thousands of times as they go to and from work, school, or church. I also wonder when this lot will be used for something, if ever. Perhaps it will become a brownstown like the ones that flank it on either side, or perhaps it will remain an empty spot indefinitely. Despite what it may or may not become, there was certainly something peaceful about the wet grass and overgrown weeds.

This is Pedro. He has been working at Egleston’s Market II for five years, and has lived in Egleston Square for 23 years. He used to live in New York, but moved here and found things to be much calmer. He has a relaxed disposition and a soft, hoarse voice. We couldn’t hear him the first time we asked for his name, so he just showed us a ring on his left hand that said “Pedro.” It was a thick, gold band and each letter was inlaid with little diamonds. Pedro spoke to us about what it was like living in Egleston, and how much he loved the community. “People are closer here and they share more,” he explained in Spanish. He described it as being a tight and unified community.

The Auto Glass Jackson sign is a familiar sight when going from Meridian to Egleston Square. The building it sits upon is situated right on the corner of Washington Street and Montebello Road. I chose to take this picture because I found the yellow sign to be striking against the steely gray sky. It is also one of the many signs that I have encountered in Egleston that are made of bright colors long since faded. This adds a sense of antiquity to the neighborhood that would have otherwise been lost with the rapidly changing times. The facade of the building itself is brightly painted yellow and green, though the paint is peeling in some places, gray plaster peeking through. It seems that in Egleston there are some things, like signs and storefronts, that are not often subject to change.

On our way back to school we decided to visit one of the many salons dotted along Washington Street. We ended up visiting Anique Nicole Hair Studio, which happened to be the same place where another student conducted her ethnographic project. We spoke mostly with the owner, Anique, and her coworkers Shay and Carlee. When asked about gentrification, Anique said she felt very strongly about it but preferred not to speak about it. She said that it’s a positive thing for some people and a negative thing for others. As Shay did a client’s hair she told us that she always attends protests against gentrification, and had actually went to one the day prior. From my brief conversations with the stylists at Anique Nicole, it was clear that they were invested in the Egleston community. When I asked to photograph Anique, she politely declined. Everyone else was busy working so I didn’t want to bother them, but I managed to take a photo of Carlee as I left, who is pictured above. She laughed afterwards with Anique about her shirt, perhaps because it happened to be advertising a product that they use at the salon.

These festive flags were strung beneath a large Ben and Jerry’s billboard that was sitting in the park-like space with the “Respeta tu jardín” sign. They danced in the breeze and filtered sunlight through the gauzy paper. These flags speak to several things about Eggleston: Its Latino culture, the rainbow of color that is splashed throughout the neighborhood, and the details people put into sprucing up communal spaces. These details are typically art-related, as is made evident by the murals that can be found on every other street. They are a result of dedication that Egleston residents have for keeping their community colorful and beautiful. Often in stark contrast with the harsh structures of an urban environment, I believe that they are a testament to the people in Egleston themselves who are leading a variety of lives in a place full of metal, brick, and concrete.