Founder’s DayPosted July 10th, 2011 by Thomas Norman DeWolf
I spent a lovely day yesterday at the Founder’s Day Street Fair in the town in which I live. I volunteered to man (?) the information booth for the local chamber of commerce. I figured this would be a good way to meet my neighbors and begin to assimilate into the local community.
It was a great experience!
One of things I did as I sat there — waiting for people to stop to get site maps and buy raffle tickets — was to think about culture. What is “culture”? What is “American culture”? How does it express itself in places like this? Who gets to participate? Am I one of “them” or an “outsider”?
I should explain at this point that I moved to this place in 2010 after a lifetime of living in big, cosmopolitan cities. It is a small, rural town on the outskirts of New York City. In its heyday, it was a summer mecca for families hoping to escape the summer heat of the city. It is a place where the sky is blue, the stars twinkle at night and I can hear the sound of a babbling brook in the background after a big rain — not to mention the whippoorwills that sing in the evening and the rabbits that hop across my lawn in daylight. People here hunt and are very patriotic. They are mostly Republicans. Like everywhere else these days, unemployment is a big problem. Most people work in either health care or prison industries. Oddly, even in the wake of economic distress, most do not farm or have home gardens, which I would expect since we all live on pretty large homesteads. Of the one thousand or so people who live here full time, less than 30 are African American.
When I came here, I was worried about my safety. There are some “sovereigns” roaming around and I was accosted in my early days by a man at the post office who apparently didn’t like my Obama bumper sticker.
Other than that, living here has been a productive experience. As I write my book, the solitude is a blessing. And then, there is my garden, which yields tasty (yes, they DO have a taste) tomatoes, lettuce and other succulent delights.
But back to Founder’s Fest….
At the dunking station manned by the fire department, one of the first comments I heard was “Come on, hit me… you’re throwing like a girl!” Guess this town has a way to go on gender equality 🙂
I met the guy who is running for city supervisor. He’s a DEMOCRAT! He said he was not really a politician, but realized that, if things are to get better, somebody has to stand up and try to make a difference. And that was not a black/white thing; it was just citizenship in action. We talked about how people get “the government they deserve.” He was so sincere, I think I’d give him a shot.
There were hot dogs (all American?), Italian ice and calzone at the food booths (a nod to the big Italian population hereabouts). There was also a white guy (ethnicity unknown) slaving over a barbecue grill billed as “Hog Heaven.” The Chinese people who operate the local Chinese restaurant weren’t in evidence, although I saw the East Indian guy who runs the gas station, pushing his kid in a stroller. There was at least one Latino family. I only got to meet two of the African American adults. The six black children I saw were in the company of white people who were obviously not their parents. (Where were their parents?)
The bands did their best to play “down low blues” and jazz…. as well as hard rock (ZZ Top) and hard core (Hank Williams) country. On a couple of occasions, I couldn’t resist tapping my foot.
A person who signed his raffle ticket “USMC” won the VFW raffle. I honor whatever service he is giving and hope it is not in Afghanistan.
I bought a bubble gun for my grandchildren and a plastic slinky… not as good as the old metal ones, but it will do.
My conclusion at the end of the day is that is that there is — definitely — an “American culture.” It is mostly a European culture that does not — and has never — had to consider us minorities, until recently. But that definitely seems to be changing. I can’t fathom comments like the one Michelle Bachmann made recently about “not all cultures are equal.” From my vantage point — today more than at any time in history — our cultures ARE equal. They ALL need to be honored and celebrated — just not to the diminution of others.
I don’t want to be angry at or afraid of white people anymore.
Eastern Mennonite University
Harlem Book Fair
Phillis Wheatley Book Award
Post Racial Society
Summer Peacebuilding Institute
Tulsa race riot
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