I want you all to know that I just had an amazing weekend. I was in Decatur, GA for the Decatur Book Festival. I was there to sit on a panel about the new anthology I’m in: Crooked Letter I. During my stay, I met the most amazing people. Writers. And I was reminded who I am, who I want to be, who I’ve always been.
When I landed at the St. Louis airport today, Mom texted me to remind me that the Mokane World’s Fair was happening. If you’re not from around those parts, Mokane is a town of 247; it’s where I went to school. K-12. And this fair, of course, is small, but growing up, it was a big deal to go there and kiss my 8th grade boyfriend in the dark, beneath the ferris wheel lights while all the parents played bingo.
Today was the “Old Time Fiddler’s Contest.” It’s held every year, and people from around the state come to compete. There is a Junior division. That means kids of, like, 7 or 8 fiddle, too. I drove straight there from the airport because Cyrus loves music and fiddles, and Mindy was taking him to see them.
It was in the middle of this fiddling, in the 95 degree sweat rolling down the small of my back, that I became moved. In my head, I was writing a piece about white culture. You see, I told my girlfriend this weekend, who is Venezuelan-American, after having met so many talented women of color at the festival, that I wasn’t anything. That I was just white. And she said to me, “Your color is white and it is beautiful. You challenge the cultural conception.” It was a sweet thing to say. I love her. So I sat there watching this small child with a German last name play her fiddle while wearing a cowboy hat and Wranglers. I thought to myself as I looked around at all the older people enjoying the music, this is where I’m from-this is a culture worth something. I was composing an essay, finally, praising my upbringing. We are a people of German heritage and kindness and fiddles and biscuits and gravy. I come from a people who work hard, who don’t mind sitting out in the heat to listen to a child play “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain” at varying speeds. Old men in their bib-overalls and work boots. The women fanning themselves and smiling.
This, I thought, this is me. This is home.
Cyrus became bored with the fiddles, as a five year old does. We walked out of the pavilion and sat with my dad and a distant cousin of mine. The cousin pulled out his phone, “Isn’t this girl your twin?” He said. The girl in the picture was white and had a lip piercing. She wore a backward baseball hat. “I look like her because we’re both lesbians, right?” He said something about how she was also attracted to him. My mind drifted. Then he started in on a story that I couldn’t quite follow…”then we were down on Broadway, you know, where all the niggers are…”
I write this word in its entirety because it is the way I hear it. Loud. Grating. Awful.
With this I said, “No. We’re done,” and walked off.
I circled the fiddle contest area, running my hands through my already greasy and sweaty hair. White privilege means a lot of things and this is one of them: this fucked up privilege–this assumption that, because I’m white and from a small town, this word is okay to say in front of me, that I feel the same way, or that this is just what we say. I felt bad for walking away because my dad was stuck there, listening to the rest of the story or apologizing/explaining why I walked away mid sentence. But I couldn’t stay. I never can.
So I calmed down and went to get another Bud heavy.
I came back, only after I’d made sure he was gone, to stand with my parents and my aunt.
A woman walked up to us, apparently a friend or coworker of my mom and my aunt. They joked she looked so nice since she wasn’t soaked in sweat. Mom introduced her to me, “she worked out at the state hospital, too.” I said hi. The woman started in with, “well, I’m not sure how long I’m gonna work there; there’s a lotta stupid people out there now.” I nodded my head and sipped my beer.
“All those damn foreigners can’t speak any gotdamn English…”
I said, rather loudly, “I have to leave now.”
I walked off, choking back tears. I heard my parents say good-bye, and I gave them a wave without turning around. All the warm feelings I had earlier, about the fiddles and old men in overalls, all those washed away. Or were sweated out. Or were soaked up by the sun. Something about heat.
That is where I come from, though it’s not where I fit. Like everyone, my whole life I’ve been searching. I’m adopted. I’m queer. I’m white. I’m a writer. I’m an athlete. I’m from the smallest town on the planet.
This weekend though, among the writers, I felt snugly in place. But the woman and modest mid-westerner and Southern way of putting myself last always creeps back. Among Jamaican-American, Palestinian-American, Japanese-American, African-American women, what could I possibly say that is different or worthy?
My name is Christina. I’m no different but different from you. I’m starting here.