Johnny Depp rides down on his motorcycle, pulling up below their South Boston apartment. Giddy with excitement, the twenty-something girls peer out from the second story window. Depp and Co. are in town filming Black Mass, a biopic about South Boston crime boss, Whitey Bulger. The scene perfectly illustrates just how far Southie (the nickname Bostonians gave the neighborhood) has come from the days of Irish American mobsters, and the violence and control they exercised in the community. Once a stronghold for Irish Catholics, the neighborhood has made way to middle class youngsters who value the proximity to downtown, and the affordable rent prices. These new tenants now watch on as Hollywood depicts the relics of Southie's not too distant past.
"Are you in Southie, are you safe?", a teenage girl recounts her mothers concern. Older generations have not yet erased their memory of what this community used to be, what was possible here. It is truly a community in the middle of transition. The Irish roots are still blatantly visible just blocks into the area. Shamrocks and Irish bars pepper the main drag, and on the corner of Al's Liquor store a massive mural celebrates the rallying cry for Irish independence from which it's status as a free state was born, "Ireland unfree will never be at peace". With every new coffee shop, organic supermarket, and hip bar, this history fades. Investors and new homeowners have done well to maintain some of the neighborhood's historic buildings, but modern condos are quick on their heels.
You can see the history of Southie etched into the faces of the old guard who still call the neighborhood home. Deep wrinkles, and heavy bags under the eyes, tell you the toll they paid for living in a blue collar community that fought for everything they had. It reveals the pain, hardship, and violence they endured. The new energy into the neighborhood should come as a relief, but for some you can tell they'd rather have what they've known, than accept what they don't.