Letters to the Editor; French ambassador to China hears from Dot man in Beijing

Taking umbrage over the news that the government of France had singled out Dorchester as one place to be wary of in sending out an alert to its ambassador and consuls in the United States about the dangers from crime inherent in traveling in certain neighborhoods in the nation’s large cities, Mike Shaw, a native of Dorchester who now lives and works in China, hand-delivered the following to the ambassador’s office in the French embassy in Beijing:

Madame Ambassador Sylvie-Agnes Bermann:

I am writing to you in regards to a travel advisory that the Foreign Ministry of France recently released for all French citizens visiting the United States. In it, there is a warning given in regards to my home neighborhood, Dorchester, in the city of Boston. As somebody who was born and raised on the streets of this diverse and culturally vital section of the city, the Ministry’s advice that “Foot traffic… should be avoided in the neighborhoods of Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury” is surprising and offensive.

I am a proud child of Dorchester. I grew up in the shadow of the oldest continuously operating public school in the Americas, and went to high school on the same peninsula as the John F. Kennedy Library. I have walked – safely- –the historic trolley route along the beautiful Neponset River around Mattapan Square. There are plenty of other attractions and monuments worth exploring throughout Dorchester. It goes without saying that advising your citizens to avoid these neighborhoods would deprive them of the chance to see some of the most significant sights that our city has to offer.

We are very proud of our history in Boston. We are aware that the Boston of today, or even the US itself, might not be here at all were it not for the help and support of the French people. In our hour of need you sent more than money and arms. You sent your people. The man who came to America to train our farmers and militia volunteers, turning them into a force that could stand up against the British, was a Frenchman, Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. There are streets and buildings in Boston that bear his name. This “Hero of The Two Worlds” connects us even today, as he is buried in Paris under soil from Bunker Hill.

Did you know that the largest party ever thrown in my city’s history did not come when one of our sports teams won a championship, which your Ministry said might be a dangerous time to be in the city? It happened when we first learned that the Parisians who had supported our fight for freedom had risen up and stormed the Bastille prison. There was feasting and drinking and fireworks for three straight days. Three million people may have come to Boston when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, but the parade for our baseball team lasted just a few hours. Our great friends across the seas making a stand for liberty, equality, and fraternity shut down what was then North America’s most important port for days.

All of this is to say that if any city in the United States deserves some nuance when it comes to constructing documents that will influence the manner in which your citizens plan their visits, it is Boston.
I would urge you to please ask your Ministry to reconsider the text of their advisory. While it is proper to remind everyone of the risks associated with walking through any major city at night, and to caution people to take precautions against petty crime wherever they may travel, the singling out of Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury as places that French people should avoid visiting at any time is simply wrong.

I would also humbly ask that you impress upon your colleague in Boston, Consul General Fabien Fieschi, to respond to the letter delivered to him on Nov. 26 by students from Codman Academy. He should meet with them. They raise concerns not just as slighted citizens, such as I am, but as participants of an exchange program that sent them to France and brought students from France to Dorchester. They have an important perspective in this matter. They and their counterparts in Lyon are among the most qualified to clarify this issue for your Ministry, and your government would be well advised to exploit them as a resource.

Yours Sincerely,
Mike Shaw
Beijing, China