Friday, July 6, 2007

America the Beautiful

If you've been following this blog since it's induction, you should have a fairly good idea of where I live. I'm in an unnamed mid-sized Midwestern town, small enough to have only one shopping mall but large enough to have three (competing) Indian groceries.

Like Sashi over at Buoyantville, I spend a lot of time playing the observer. Particularly if I'm at an event by myself, which is likely to happen if I'm, say, temping during the summer while all of my grad student friends are scattered across the country.

Anyway. This is what I observed, in this mid-sized Midwestern town, on the Fourth of July.

Imagine a bandstand, in the middle of a large, well-maintained park. On the bandstand, there is a performance of sorts; a nationalistic "spectacular" about our country's history which clearly took a few cues from "Red, White, and Blaine" (down to the old geezer sitting off to one side, narrating the entire thing to the audience).

The performers look a lot like TV America: a bunch of smiling white people and one black man. They're all dressed in American flag t-shirts.

At closest proximity to the bandstand are the elderly; all white, all white-haired. They are the only people really enjoying this performance; perhaps they are its intended audience. When the actors ask all of the veterans in the crowd to stand up, it's this group who provide the tears.

The older folks fill all of the available seating. Right behind them stand the townie crowd; again, all white, largely overweight, with children who are clearly bored and misbehaving. They don't look happy to be there (this performance is something that must be sat through before the fireworks begin), and the mothers glare and whisper threats at the children.

Behind this group is the desi contingent. Many of them took the time to dress up for this event; saris of course, but the men also wear neatly pressed shirts (as do the little boys) and the girls are all ruffles and frills. They also look fairly bored; but, unlike the families in front of them, they stand silently and wait.

Behind this group are the black families, and behind them are a few Hispanic families. And, with only rare exceptions, the audience has very neatly stratified themselves into this arrangement.

Which meant that when I came over the hill towards the bandstand, I saw arrayed before me a little unconscious microcosm of America, appropriate enough on the Fourth of July: a little center of white faces backed by a larger group of brown ones.

And to top it all off, I heard the old geezer onstage say this:

"America's a great democracy, but we can't forget that there are countries out there who are still dreaming that they can be like America. But with hard work, we can help them get there!"

Makes me proud to be part of this great nation.

1 comment:

Daniel said...

uhh...yay for not living in a small, provincial town, (good morning, Belle!)

and yet, in Manhattan, there's also this stratification. The rich people (white, Indian, East Asian) live downtown. In Harlem, there's the black folk, and further north, there's the hispanic folk (and me).

It's strange to ride the subway from downtown all the way uptown, as first I'm one of many white people on the train, and that number slowly dwindles and dwindles and dwindles until 125th street, it's me and maybe one or two others, and by 145, there's not too many black people either. The only white people who live as far north as I do are associated w/ one of the schools up here or are really very poor, and can only afford this area.