Posts Tagged ‘race’

Day next, we drove to lunch with Gramar, meeting her at the house that helped her raise my father and 3 other children. Opening door, house exhales collect of halved century: once family, now radio, embroidery, newspaper, and steady ticking of a clock. Gramar wants to go to a Latin American place to share a whole fish. She drives slowly but apparently and telling stories all they way.

“How has this neighborhood changed, Gramar, since you’ve lived here fifty years?”

Well, now it is Hispanic. It developed as a bedroom community to Washington DC.

“What’s a bedroom community?”

You work in the city and your house serves as a bedroom in a borough outside.

The neighborhood seems scrunched together. Houses, yards, and streets designed for 1950s culture now considered small and dilapidated by current market and public expectation. Increasingly throughout the past six decades people became convinced they need Big and More. Beaver Cleaver has changed hands. Latino and other immigrant communities can afford these falling houses, once groomed for and esteemed by the “All-American Nuclear White Family” of days gone. Gramar’s house saw alcoholism and eventual divorce at the crux of its multi-person containment.

But lately, Gramar says, She’s seen cars go up for sale and residents in eviction. Those in service of the nation’s capital (with cars and means enough for fuel for daily travel back and forth) seem to be holding it together. Meanwhile work opportunities for lower-paid immigrant communities are dwindling, to death, and further rearranging the neighborhood (not to mention the Lives of families throughout the world).

The diversity of this area (Rockville/Olney, Maryland – suburbs of Washington DC) is striking to Melanie and I. There are people gathered here of all cultures and races! Sharing space. And there is some degree of class mobility. People of all races can be seen riding the bus as well as driving cars. Segregation dominates the town we’ve made our home in: Asheville, North Carolina. The most visible and present population in Town is white. White people totally dominate crowds in restaurants and shops, to the point where non-whites in these places are Noticed and Considered. Considered Noticeable. The Latino community has developed a subtle yet strong network that lives on an entirely different plane from the world traversed by whites with enough money to spend in town. Latinos in Asheville work in dishrooms and kitchens, most frequently in Latin-American restaurants. There are jobs for Latinos on farms, in construction, and landscaping. There are jobs for Latinos in places where they have connections with other Latinos. Some don’t have a working knowledge of English. Their options for employment are extremely limited and their jobs often at risk (in case another Latino willing to work for the same pay speaks English). Many Latino immigrants in Asheville send all their earnings to family back home. They work twelve or sixteen-hour days, six days a week. They live cheaply in order to support loved ones, thus their network and presence spans laundromats, dollar stores, a Tortilleria where a pound of corn tortillas is $2.50, the state farmer’s market, a Chinese buffet restaurant (all-you-can-eat for $5.50), and an American buffet restaurant whose customers are nearly exclusively elderly folks. Friends also run into one another at Latin markets in the area as they purchase calling cards and wire money to Mexico, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere. White folks do not visit these places unless they’re elderly and without income, or they work in the service industry, or their personal income is nominal. The visible whites who dominate the workings of downtown Asheville remain ignorant to this network. The “visibles” have made this Latino network invisible. I am reminded of American mansions built in the 1800s that still stand today; many of which contain a separate, tiny stairwell for their servants. These dark and narrow stairwells lead to cramped quarters the employing family never had to see. Out of sight, out of mind.

Returning to an observation made earlier about class mobility in the DC area, I mentioned that people of all races could be seen taking public transit as well as driving personal vehicles. In Asheville, North Carolina, black riders overwhelmingly populate the central bus station and its satellite stations. Some Latino riders can be found, as well as a handful of white riders, but ultimately public transit exists to serve the black community in and around Asheville. In general, the black community cannot afford to own personal vehicles.  What jobs exist for black people in Asheville? I once had the privilege to converse with a woman on a bench during my lunch break from working a double at a restaurant downtown. This wise grandmother had grown up in Western and Central North Carolina all her eighty-odd years. She told me that when she goes out to eat, she doesn’t tip.  It’s an old adage in the restaurant world. Servers in this area contain a quiet expectation that black customers they wait on won’t leave a decent tip. It’s been proven time and time again, and I’d always chalked it up as a result of economic oppression. This woman spelled it out for me.

Back in the day, she said, black people could work in this town. They worked as washwomen and doormen and housekeepers and bakers. They worked as farmers and butlers, and there were jobs for them as waiters and waitresses in downtown restaurants. Since I have lived in Asheville in 2010 and 2011, I have only been served by two black waitresses – at a Caribbean restaurant in a small invisible corner of town where (if one looks) one can find an African drum shop, South African barber, a bail bondsman and a cultural center. The service jobs in this town are prevalent, as tourism is Asheville’s biggest industry, and while they used to go to black people in the area, now those jobs are reserved almost exclusively for an influx of young white people. Asheville’s restaurants silently cater to well-off whites and establishing a white (and vastly female) service staff is part of that equation.

Grandmother and Others, continue your economic protest. I accept a shitty tip knowing my part in gentrification of the workforce. I have seen black people work downtown today as doormen, bus drivers, convenience and grocery store cashiers, dishwashers, linecooks, cleaning people, and staff in fast food chain restaurants. Some make it as street musicians and a tiny few as artists. These are the jobs available to a sector of society that has been relegated to low-income housing, situated in out-of-the-way locations always near a bus line. Surely there are other jobs for blacks in the Asheville area? Whatever those jobs might be, they are unseen.

Read Full Post »

Cease Fire

there were no mirrors

at our house

browns stared into greens

kinky pondered straight

burnt brass fingers fondled

locks of gold

they say people

fall in love

with their own reflections

that daughters

look for someone

like their fathers

but my yoruba-faced sisters

all married white boys

my brothers and nephews

do not discriminate

collecting ebony and ivory

prom pictures

like trophies

believing all of the words

to the preamble

consecrating their mtv choices

with white chocolate babies

with hair

their mothers

can’t comb

birthing human treaties

in a domestic race war

and I am caught in the middle

at the peace conference

bullet holes in my memories

bayonet around my neck

negotiating cease fires

with families

whose maiden names



– Frank X Walker

Read Full Post »