Things Aren't Always What You Think They Are

Tammy Olague-Buchan

Today our team’s assignment is to hit the street and document the businesses on Central Avenue between Vineyard and Southern. As Kim and I are walking through a strip mall I spy a quaint little barber shop with the red, white, and blue twirly thing outside.  I look inside, very unobtrusively and from a distance.  There are five black people seated on a bench against the wall: two teenage girls, a woman and her son and a young man.  Of the four barber seats, little boys occupy two. A tall handsome black man is working on the hair of one and the other boy is seemingly waiting apprehensively for his turn.

I am trying to decide if I should ask to speak to the owner. I am not certain whether they would be receptive, after all I am not black and I don’t look like I am from South Phoenix. A man comes walking out and I get up the nerve to ask him if he is the owner.  He says no and asks me why I want to know.  I explain that I am a student at ASU West and that my friend and I are talking to people about all the recent changes in South Phoenix. He asks me if I’d like to talk to the owner’s daughter and I say, “I think so, but why don’t you go ask if she would be okay with that first?”  He saunters away confident that she would speak with me.

Within minutes he motions me back past the waiting people, the two little boys and the handsome barber. He introduces me to a young woman and she shares with me her feelings on the changes and how she feels South Phoenix will be affected.

I asked if I could take some pictures and she said okay.  At that moment her father, the owner, came in and they became quiet whispering back and forth.  I could see him looking very suspiciously at my camera, notepad and me - - Who is she? What is she doing here?  I quickly introduced myself and explained what I was doing and would he mind terribly if I took some photographs.  He acquiesced quite graciously and I stepped back to frame some shots. The shop was quite small and it was hard to get pictures without the customers.  I was afraid to ask if they’d mind, after all I am not black and I felt as if I was intruding.  But I did ask and the teenage girls giggled and said okay. The mother and son said okay, and the young man, he asked me to take his picture.  Sam and Samantha Davis were very kind, receptive and open, and I learned that, maybe after all, it doesn’t matter to South Phoenicians that I am not black.


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