There comes a time in every person of color’s life. Do you stay and become the resident educator, surround yourself with bigots and help them achieve a basic humanitarian skill set? Or do you save your self and your family and move back to a city where diversity is the only fresh air?
Dispatch from the Deep North
by Margaret Elysia Garcia
When we think “Red State,” when we think ‘uneducated white electorate’ as pundits started labeling it, we think what we always think: The South. We think KKK and white sheets. And then in our heads we conjure up images that cross themselves somewhere between Gone with the Wind and an angry white mob in black and white screaming at African Americans at a lunch counter.
It’s that generalization which does us in. We’ve mythologized the fear and the miscommunication and made it so other images have a hard time competing for space in our minds.
I hadn’t even checked the stats for my little Plumas County—a county of roughly 20,000 people at the tail end of the northern Sierra Nevada and the beginning of the Cascade Range. But I knew what the stats would probably be.
This is an area that didn’t plan for its future. The white settlers came for mining, then mills and logging. By the 90s it all dried up. The forest service moved its head quarters to the county seat. The small supermarket in town is the main employer.
Now it boasts a few retired people and few transplants from California cities here to breathe fresh air. Kids from here move to Reno or Chico or beyond for work. Kids without gumption atrophy and wither on the vine. The suicide rate is high. We have a small smattering of college-educated folks.
The downtown is genuinely Western and the demographic is literally cowboys and Indians. I taught at the community college in the county for eleven years—I witnessed first hand the grade inflation and lack of basic knowledge of basics. Evolution is an option to learn about in science classes no one has to take. Until recently sex-ed only had to be an hour somewhere between K and 12. Parents complained that the library I built had books on feminism.
I knew Trump would win here.
I’ve always felt strongly that rural America—beautiful America––should be claimed by minorities too. Why should national parks (we’re less than an hour from Mt. Lassen Volcanic National Park) only be enjoyed by white America? Why can’t African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinx Americans have access to fresh air, fresh water and trees too? This is why I moved here with my husband and had two kids here. It’s California after all—how backwards can the backwoods be.
Despite the fact that the government is the big employer in the county, people hate the government here. They talk about the horrors of people abusing social services while being on those very services. Students on financial aid. Elderly with their Medicaid. They get angry when the Forest Service scolds them (with fines) for running off road vehicles off trails or getting firewood. It’s their forest, after all.
Today at my kids’ school, the ‘go back to Mexico’ sentiment was on the rise. Both the cowboys and the Indians talk this kind of shit. The kids and their parents have swallowed the Kool-Aid that somehow one candidate is evil and one candidate will deliver them from evil.
My mother brought home her partner from long-term care during election night so she wouldn’t be tormented by her ‘Christian’ roommate who yells that she doesn’t condone my mother’s marriage and squeals at the prospect of restoring the nation to its Christian origins.
There’s no one in a white sheet here. When people come down with cancer here, neighbors immediately set up a pot luck, a fundraiser, something to help. My mothers were married by the local Methodist church.
But the black kid inquiring about the help wanted sign is told the job has been filled. Brown people get mistaken for each other. Told they look alike. My mother was once asked if she could be someone’s maid and could she teach the family Spanish. My husband was assumed to be Asian since he worked in IT. At a staff meeting at the college a colleague said we should set the debate topic to be corporal punishment and teach minorities not to hit their children.
There is so much work to do here in the Deep North.
There comes a time in every person of color’s life. Do you stay and become the resident educator, surround yourself with bigots and help them achieve a basic humanitarian skill set?
Or do you save your self and your family and move back to a city where diversity is the only fresh air?
That’s where I am now.
Margaret Elysia Garcia is the author of Sad Girls & Other Stories http://solsticelitmag.org/downloads/sad-girls/. Listen to selections from her latest book, Mary of the Chance Encounters, out now on audiobooks: http://www.audiobooks.com/audiobook/mary-of-the-chance-encounters/272663