SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2012       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Callea Brown

Welcome to Georgia

We have just crossed the East border of Georgia and stopped to stretch our legs and use the bathroom. My boyfriend and I take pictures in front of the sign, which bears a picture of the famous Georgia Peach. We are surrounded by other travelers, other tourists; who knows where they all come from or where they are going to. There are white and black men and women and children walking, eating, and taking pictures. This was it: this was the legendary South. And it was beautiful, so green and filled with beautiful flowers, grass, and trees, all nicely kept along the highway. But I never felt so out of place; I’m sure my boyfriend felt it too.

I am traveling across the country in the sweltering August heat with my boyfriend from Norfolk, Virginia to Phoenix, Arizona. I am White, my boyfriend is Guatemalan. My boyfriend says he wants to make it through the Southern states before nightfall, a notion I initially dismiss as paranoid. I am an Arizona native; I grew up in a border town, where the population was predominantly Hispanic, and I had never experienced the judgmental gaze from a stranger for dating someone outside my own race. However, as we pull into the Georgia Welcome Center, I had no idea I was about to experience this very judgmental gaze that had been absent in my life.

I should have anticipated racism or judgment to manifest on this trip, given the fact that race relations are evolving in such a way that brings Hispanics into the limelight. Illegal Immigration and policies and legislation surrounding it have created tension among Arizonans and even between states. Arizonans have been experiencing measures such as SB 1070, which allows police to perform a type of “racial profiling” against Hispanics/Latinos, and the various tirades of Governor Jan Brewer as she attempts to remove as many rights as possible from “Dreamers”, or children of illegal immigrants. Although Georgia may not be traditionally thought of as a state that experiences much illegal immigration from Spanish-speaking countries, Georgia certainly does have a history of racism and racial dividedness. In 2011, African-American Troy Davis was executed in Georgia for allegedly shooting a white police officer—despite lack of forensic evidence, recanting witnesses and the confession of another man who claimed to have committed the crime. In spite of these inconsistencies, Davis was given lethal injection. Georgia is not the only state to have been found guilty of harboring racists in recent years, however; time and again, we have seen examples of discrimination in the southern and southwestern states.

Knowing all of this, I should have known that I would experience the judgmental gaze while driving through the South. In the midst of this tourist haven, the Georgia Welcome Center, among the various buildings and trees, sits a concrete bench. It sits facing south toward the highway, over-looking the cars, the never-ending vegetation, the horizon. It is made of concrete, solid and unyielding. I suspect the concrete would be cool to the touch in spite of the shining sun, for the air is damp and a breeze is blowing my hair playfully. Two men, white men, old Southern men, occupy the bench. They wear sunglasses transparent enough to follow their eyes, and canvas hats with wide brims. Like the concrete bench, their gaze is solid, unyielding, and cold. What are they staring at?

I try to imagine what these men must be thinking.

Those two look awful young to be traveling alone together. Where are they going? Are they on vacation or moving? I can’t believe that girl’s parents let her travel alone with that boy. She can’t be more than twenty or so. It’s hard to tell how old the darker-skinned boy is. Maybe early twenties. I wonder what her parents said when she brought him home. What is he? He looks Filipino or Mexican. What are they staring at?

I can’t know for certain why they are staring at us: but deep in my gut, I had a feeling that their gaze carried with it a cultural judgement because they do not often see nice young White girls publicly displaying their feelings toward Hispanic men. We’re back in the car, getting ready to start driving again, but the men are still staring at us, minutes later. My boyfriend looks very uncomfortable; but I will not cower under the gaze of two perfect—yet prejudiced—strangers. I looked my boyfriend in the eye, smiled, and kissed him warmly. The men were no longer staring when I looked back to see. We drove on, and enjoyed the rest of our trip through the South.

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