Defining the identity of “Second Cities” — explicitly in opposition with global cities

Jerome Hodos, author of Second Cities: Globalization and Local Politics in Manchester and Philadelphia uses the example of Barcelona to define what a “Second City” is, and how they operate in the global world.

Second Cities compares how Philadelphia and Manchester have dealt with globalization over the past two centuries. An important question that people often have about the book is whether one can generalize from the experience of these two places to other cities. What does the book have to tell us about the rest of the world?

Let me pursue this by talking about Barcelona, where I happen to be this spring starting a new research project. It’s an exciting city to be in, about the same size as Philadelphia and with a stunning variety of museums, lectures, and concerts – not to mention FC Barcelona and the buildings of Antoni Gaudi. Moreover, Barcelona has been widely acclaimed as one of the most successful cities of the past thirty years – exemplified above all by the 1992 Olympics, which served as a sort of “coming out” party for Barcelona, and for Spain, in the wake of the country’s late-1970s democratic transition. 

Barcelona was the first Spanish city to industrialize, developing a large cotton textile sector from the early 19th century onward; the neighborhood of Poble Nou was even known as the “Catalan Manchester.” As was the case in both Manchester and Philadelphia, the city diversified into other industries, like machining, and also failed for most of its history to develop a significant financial sector. In the 1950s and 1960s, the city became home to a large automobile industry, and more recently has witnessed expansion of higher education, design, and tourism. Of course, the city has repeatedly invested in transport projects to support its economic growth. It had the first railway in Spain, opened in 1848, and is currently building a high-speed rail line to connect directly to the French TGV system. It systematically redeveloped the port and waterfront in the 1980s in preparation for the Olympics.

All the while the city absorbed a steady stream of migrants, particularly tens of thousands from the southern region of Andalusia. Because these migrants were from a region long considered different and didn’t speak Catalan, the local language, domestic migration to Barcelona took place across a language barrier that functioned similarly to the religious and racial differences between natives and domestic migrants in Philadelphia and Manchester. Today, the city’s population is about 20% foreign-born, including large numbers of Italians, Pakistanis, Dominicans, Ecuadorians, Bolivians, Japanese and Chinese.

Throughout its history, the city has cultivated an identity as European and cosmopolitan rather than Spanish, and has defined itself explicitly in opposition to Madrid, the national capital (just as Manchester and Philadelphia have done with respect to London and New York). It has displayed this identity in three gigantic international events that gave the city a world stage: the world expositions of 1888 and 1929, and the 1992 Olympics. This identity has relied on the city’s 800-year history as the center of a Catalan region that either was independent (and at one time ruled a vast Mediterranean empire stretching as far as Athens), or that chafed under Castilian domination. In fact, the city revolted at least three times against central power, in the 1640s, 1705-14, and the 1930s.

From the Renaixença of the 1860s forward, the city has nurtured several generations of literary nationalists, wedded to the idea that the Catalan culture and nation were distinctive and ought to be protected and promoted. Some of this cultural production was directed at “high culture” efforts, via the literary, architectural and artistic groups centered on the Jocs Florals and Els Quatre Gats, including Joan Miro and Pablo Picasso. But much of it focused squarely on the promotion of Catalan culture and identity, as in the work of Enric Prat de la Riba or Pompeu Fabra. This cultural nationalism was made concrete in a variety of attempts to bolster Barcelona’s autonomy. For example, in the 1890s, nationalist lawyers and writers formed the Lliga Regionalista political party. Today, there is even in Barcelona an official regional government “Institute for Autonomous Studies” that funds and publishes comparative investigations of political institutions in other countries that guarantee regional autonomy. Perhaps most important of all, these politicians and intellectuals codified the Catalan language and promoted it as the region’s mother tongue.

Barcelona, then, vividly exhibits the major characteristics of the second city.

There is of course no guarantee of how widely the characteristics defined in the book can be applied, but I would suggest that perhaps 150 cities around the world might exhibit this complex of features, from Bangalore to Lyon, Monterrey to Turin. Like Manchester, Philadelphia, and Barcelona, they are all diverse, thriving centers of large metropolitan regions with several million residents each. Though the book only focuses on two cities, it contains insights that can speak to many, many more.

Celebrating an “important contribution to the understanding of a neglected ethnic community in the Caribbean”

Anne-Marie Lee-Loy’s  Searching For Mr. Chin: Constructions of Nation and the Chinese in West Indian Literature recently won the Gordon K. and Sybil Lewis Book Award. This award, which is given by the Caribbean Studies Association, honors the best book about the Caribbean published over the previous three-year period in Spanish, English, French or Dutch. Award committee chair Linden Lewis provided his announcement of the award.

Searching for Mr. Chin is an attempt to understand the construction of  Chinese identity and the place of people of Chinese descent in the Caribbean, namely in Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad, where the importation of Chinese indentured workers was more heavily recruited.

The bulk of Chinese indentured labor to the Caribbean occurred between 1853 and 1866. Despite the focus on the three English-speaking countries, Lee-Loy from time to time expanded her focus to include the Chinese presence in Cuba.  The book is the exploration of a process of belonging and non-belonging in the region. 

Indeed, the author is careful to point to the ambiguous images of belonging of Chinese people in the Caribbean.  Although its focus is on literary representations of Chinese citizens of the region, the book goes to great length to situate the Chinese presence in an historical context.  Lee-Loy takes the reader on a journey in time from the point of Chinese indentured labor, and the way in which these immigrants were compared to both people of African and Indian descent in the region. There is an interesting story here about the control of labor and of sowing divisions among workers along racial lines.  The characterization of Chinese indentured workers was often one that was made up of compliant subjects, who were efficient, and least likely to rebel.

One of the important contributions of this book is to present a more nuanced understanding of the Chinese images in the region that move beyond stereotypes.  There is very little literary work in the region that focuses exclusively on Chinese Caribbean people, so that Lee-Loy’s analysis revolves around minor characters as opposed to book-length treatments of this community. 

Another strength of the book is her analysis of the representation of  Chinese Caribbean persons as having an alien presence in the region.  Some of these representations directly place the Chinese at odds with other Caribbean people.  There are also other images of the Chinese man as a sexual predatory, who by virtue of his financial resources, mainly in terms of shop-ownership, preys on economically vulnerably women.  It is the Chinese shop that also gives us some insight into the perception of the Chinese Caribbean identity that is important to the phenomenon of the nation.  Lee-Loy summaries this issue in the following manner: “The Chinese shop, like West Indian literature in general, must therefore be recognized as a site of performance, that is, a site of contact and exchange between West Indians, where ideas of exclusion and inclusion, suspicion and trust, hostility and camaraderie – namely, ambiguous everyday ideas of belonging – are given tangible meaning through repetitive stylized gestures”. 

The book is clearly written, broadly interdisciplinary, makes an important contribution to the understanding of a neglected ethnic community in the Caribbean, and would add to the storehouse of information on race, ethnicity, gender, class, national identity and community in the Caribbean.  This book is certainly worthy of the Gordon K. and Sybil Lewis award.

The drama behind the drama of Asian American Plays for a New Generation

In this week’s entry, Rick Shiomi, co-editor of Asian American Plays for a New Generation provides the backstories for two plays in this exciting new collection.

Every play that Mu Performing Arts was involved with in Asian American Plays for a New Generation had an interesting backstory.  In relation to the actual production, there was always some quirky event that shed light on our company and/or the process of how these plays were developed, produced and eventually published.

For Asiamnesia, by Sun Mee Chomet, it was the painstaking process that started as a project that involving half a dozen Asian American female writers. Playwright Sun Mee wanted to gather various writers together to co-write the play.  So after a couple of drafts and readings that didn’t work because the voices and styles were too disparate, Randy Reyes, the dramaturg and director for the project, pushed to have one last revision done with Sun Mee as the sole playwright. This version include the poem “Yellow Girl” by Katie Hae Leo, one of the original writers in the group.  That draft showed a new promise that was largely fulfilled in the eventual production of the play.  Bringing Asaimnesia  to the stage was one of those odd journeys where the answer was no, no, and no until it turned to yes!; we think it will work.  There was a clear passion and belief in the project even when it didn’t work, but also a willingness to listen to the feedback and make changes based upon that.  The play was recognized by Rohan Preston of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis as the best new script of 2008.

For Bahala Na by Clarence Coo, it was the change in our attitude from reading the play on paper to hearing it at a reading.  When the play was originally submitted, none of our readers were impressed by the play. However, there was a feeling that it should at least be given a reading.  The style seemed unnaturally lyrical and non realistic, but then it was difficult to find someone to direct the reading.  Finally after some difficulty, some excerpts of the play were read at our New Eyes Festival in 2005 and all of us immediately knew we wanted to produce the play. The lyrical style that seemed odd on paper, sounded so beautiful when read aloud; the characters just came alive.  We produced the world premiere production of the play in Sept. 2007.

What remains clear, even in these two examples, is how elusive and unpredictable the creative process is.  What appears not to work with one draft can be turned around in another and what appears odd on paper can appear fluid and natural on stage.  We all know this, and yet continue to be surprised by the twists and turns taken on creative projects.  That’s what makes being an artist such a fantastic trip.

Jewish athletes, unheralded no more

In this blog entry, Doug Stark, author of The SPHAS, celebrates the achievements of basketball ‘s greatest Jewish team.

Many people are familiar with Hank Greenberg, the great slugging first baseman for the Detroit Tigers. Nearly as many people are aware of Barney Ross, the great boxing champion. Both were two of America’s best athletes in the 1930s. Both were Jewish.

By contrast, few if any individuals have heard of Shikey Gotthoffer, Inky Lautman, Cy Kaselman, Moe Goldman, Red Rosan, Red Wolfe, Petey Rosenberg, and Gil Fitch. And yet, these individuals comprised the greatest Jewish basketball team, the SPHAS, the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association. The SPHAS were contemporaries of Greenberg and Ross and they were the best professional basketball team in the 1930s.


The SPHAS: The Life and Times of Basketball’s Greatest Jewish Team chronicles the true story of the team from their humble beginnings as a club team in 1918 to their rise as American Basketball League champions seven times in the 1930s to touring with the famed Harlem Globetrotters in the 1950s. When the SPHAS first started playing, World War I was nearing its completion. By the time the team finished in 1959, Wilt Chamberlain was first entering the NBA.

The book tells the true story of the team on and off the court, as the players challenged racial stereotypes of weakness and inferiority as they boosted the game’s popularity.

Basketball in those days was a Jewish sport and the SPHAS represented thePhiladelphiaJewish community. On Saturday nights, SPHAS games were followed by dances at the Broadwood Hotel. Young Jewish singles attended the games, met, danced, and became American. One of the players, Gil Fitch had an orchestra that played at the dances, and big band singer Kitty Kallen had her start singing at SPHAS games.

Much has been written about Greenberg and Ross as well as the Original Celtics, Harlem Globetrotters, and New York Renaissance, three teams that competed against the SPHAS in the 1930s. I found it curious and a big omission that the SPHAS had not been significantly documented since their records and achievements are comparable to those other three teams. My goal in writing this book was to delve deeply into the team’s history and to show its arc from the days when basketball was played in cages to when dunking became popular.

One of the challenges in researching a book like this is that the team had not played a meaningful game in 70 years. Many of the players from the 1930s, the team’s heyday, had long since died, and tracking down family members was sometimes difficult. Newspapers proved to be the best source, although sports articles in the 1930s were more a recollection of the game rather than sports features that included quotes from the players. I also found it curious that the Jewish press rarely if at all covered the SPHAS. Hank Greenberg and Nat Holman (basketball player and coach with City College of New York) passed for sports coverage.

Visit the author’s website at

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