SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2003        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Jon Beiser

Revelations Into Another World

The biggest difference form my past would be my short move for Flagstaff to the Phoenix area.  Initially, it wasn’t that big of a difference.  At first I lived in the secluded area of North Scottsdale that is kept extremely clean with fashion-specific shopping, areas notorious for fine dining, and public restrooms that are actually usable.  My real encounter with difference came when I decided to buy my first home.  My wife and I felt that we wanted to buy a place that would be financially sound and make the most money in the least amount of time.  She is from a small town and has the same appetite I do for big city life.  We decided to move to downtown Phoenix.  We moved just blocks from the Bank One Ball Park right in the middle of the high-rise office buildings.  It is an amazing place that always seems to have something going on having an urban feel with restaurants and sports bars at every corner.  It was very attractive and we felt this would be the perfect move for us.

 Our exact location is bordering between urban city life to the south of us and poverty stricken neighborhoods to the north.  After we moved in, the realizations began.  I would not recommend stopping at the gas stations on your way into the downtown are after around 11pm.  The area changes from the weekly city life or sports crowd to watch-your-back, and get where you need to be going fast.  If you wander a few miles form home in the wrong direction, you’re surrounded by homelessness, transvestite prostitution, and drug deals.  My wife came home on night, after classes, to tell me that she had driven by a body in the streets.  There are many vacant buildings with busted windows, dangerous dark alleys due to the high crime, and trash thrown randomly throughout the area.  One of the first people I saw let me know I had entered into a reality I did not understand.

This person was an African American woman walking down the street wearing a latex skirt at hat was hardly enough to cover her rather large backside.  She waved her hands at cars trying to get someone to pick her up so she could exchange sex for money.  It was very frightening at first.  I was beginning to understand that the closed reality I had come form was not the only reality that existed.  I had seen movies that portrayed these debacles, but never had I seen face to face the white of the eyes of the people with such misfortunes.  My heart felt badly for the people begging for money, despite the fact that the same people claiming the dollar for their expressed hunger would turn around and buy their 40 oz’s of cheap booze right in front of me.  It is hard for me to see these things because they don’t make sense, coming from such a close-minded background secluded from the rest of reality.

It wasn’t too long ago when I moved to Phoenix.  Just to give a little background that I feel is very relevant to the subject, I am form a small town.  Flagstaff is only about two hours from Phoenix, but there are many differences that are hard to see until you leave.  Flagstaff does not really have a lower class.  When you live there you really don’t have many options.  You are a student, you own a business, you work for Gore-Tex or Purina, and lastly there is the education field.  I am not saying there aren’t economic misfortunes; there are, just very few.  Sure you have hippies on the corners living the nomadic dream filled with hemp necklaces for sale and pot hazed concerts, feeling blessed to be alive in such a beautiful aura-positive area.

 It wasn’t just flagstaff that harbored me against seeing the urban misfortunes.  I think the fortune of being raised by a family that has had generations of hard work and success tightens the blindfold.  Had they taken me to shelters to help the homeless or beckoned me to be thankful for what I have, I may have been better equipped to see these things.  I wish I was not only shown these things but as Patricia Williams essay, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” puts it, was taught to understand them.  I had no idea what class was.  People like myself, don’t really think about these things unless they are taught to you, or seen first hand.  I feel a little short-changed by my family, not to have been educated in these matters.  It makes me wonder if my parents think that the misfortune of others is not their concern.  It’s not that my parents are bad people; I think fear and ignorance made them scared of the people that they could not identify with.  This is an ignorance that I could have easily carried into my generation and fed my children.  I am glad I had the eye opener.  I am glad I can now look into the live of OTHERS and try to understand.

 Moving into the downtown Phoenix area and seeing the poverty that borders the area is important enough to still stick with me because it made me look at myself and realize how ignorant I was.  I saw that I have been extremely harbored and that my views about poverty were completely wrong.  I was angry that I was brought up not understanding or caring about the huge suffering population.  I was brought up in a way that made me look the other way when coming into contact with homeless people, feel in danger if  I saw people in tattered clothes, or entered certain neighborhoods where the color of people’s skin did not match my skin.  Now I feel that by understanding why some of these people are in these situations, I can actually do something to combat some of the problems or make a difference in these people’s lives.  It makes me want to learn more and volunteer my time to make a difference in some of their lives.

 I am realizing that some of the people come from broken homes and have never been given a chance.  I am seeing that some of the prostitutes are just young girls…or men, who need a chance to get on their feet to free themselves from this style of life.  I have conversations with people that are of many races when I go to the gas station or when I am jogging in the area.  I am no longer so leery of the way people look.  I am still cautious of my surroundings, but I don’t base my awareness on superficial things such as people’s appearances.

 I feel that the majority of the people I know are just as close-minded.  I catch people saying ignorant things that would have sounded logical to me before this downtown experience changed me.  I recently went to Mill Avenue in Tempe with some friends and a homeless man asked for some change.  Afterwards one of my friends made the comment, “He needs to get a life, get a job, and stop feeling sorry for himself.”  I would have agreed a year ago, but today I made an argument to my friend telling him that this man’s situation is probably much more complex than he thinks.  I told him that volunteering at a homeless or battered women’s shelter might help him shed some light on the situation.

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