Galveston From the Outside
I moved to Galveston kicking and screaming from Colorado.
I came here, not out of choice but out of obligation. My parents, specifically, my mother needed me as she was becoming more and more ill.
I did make the choice to fulfil my obligation and moved here. I didn’t want to be here, I didn’t appreciate the beach. Yet. I couldn’t get used to the heat. Still. I couldn’t see the hidden charm in being a local and I couldn’t yet understand the simultaneous love and loathing for visitors to the island.
No, I simply didn’t want to be here. But I was needed, so I made the choice to stop seeing the reasons why I didn’t want to be here, and look for reasons I could love it.
I began to dabble in things I found interesting. I became a voter registrar and enjoyed registering voters at Galveston’s Own Farmers Market and other locations around the city. I met many people and eventually got involved in gardening, politics, and real estate. I am, what I like to call, an outgoing introvert, so when I first attend meetings or gatherings, I stand back to watch and listen.
I hang in the periphery.
Viewing life from the edges allows for a perspective that is unique in that I see what those deeply involved may no longer see or have never seen.
What I noticed is that most gatherings, meetings, and groups are generally either predominantly attended by White people or Black people. I rarely see large numbers of Whites at Black-hosted events and vice versa. I have always wondered why. I learned this is generally a topic of discussion within the groups.
At one meeting, I was the only Black woman in attendance. After brief introductions, the other women began asking me questions.
“Is it African-American or Black?”
“Why aren’t more of you involved in politics here?”
“Why don’t more of you come to our meetings?”
I felt like I was supposed to answer for all Black women. I felt like I was being scrutinized and “othered”. Instead of being introduced and asked the general questions about my family, career etc., I was asked about my race, place of origin, and to answer for all who looked like me. It was uncomfortable.
I told them I don’t know and would never speak for all Black women as we don’t all think the same. One said, “You’ll have to forgive us. You can’t grow up here and not get a little on you.”
Racism. You cannot grow up in and around racism and not get some on you. It’s on you, even if you are unaware you are exhibiting behaviors that are offensive and rooted in generations of racism. That one statement summed up the divide. People have not quite gotten it all off themselves and neither has the city.
As I explore Galveston and stop in local shops, I wonder if the owners where I have chosen to spend my hard-earned money see me. Will they engage with me? Will I be ignored? Will I be helped? Will they take my money, while still believing in and voting for policies and people who are obviously and actionably against the progression of marginalized groups?
In one local shop while we casually chatted, the owner tells me that he is going to vote for Trump because his finances are doing great. He says, “He is like that mean boss. You don’t like him, but the company is doing well so you tolerate him.” Does he know? Does he care this “mean boss” says the land where my ancestors are from is a “shithole country”? Does he care that children are still locked in cages and women are being sterilized without consent? Does he care this “mean boss” refuses to denounce White Supremacists? Does he remember he said he grabs women by the pu***? I guess none of that matters when your money is good. I chose the keep my money.
I worked with a client and while waiting to complete his transaction, we began discussing the history of Galveston and Hurricane Ike in particular. He, my older, White, male client, made a sweeping motion with his arm and said, “It should have wiped out the entire area, “ referring to the lower income, mostly black and brown neighborhoods. I paused, tilted my head to the side, and asked “What about the people? Where would they go?” It was his turn to pause. He looked blank then he turned a light shade of red as he realized his mistake. The room was silent.
Many here are still fighting for inclusion, equality, and diversity, while others are so used to the way things have always been that they don’t even see the separatism sewn into the fabric of the city and therefore so no reason to change much.
Galveston has a long and deep history stemming back to the ships that traded humans as merchandise.
The racial tension is generational, and the post-Ike housing concerns have created deep and wide chasms in this city that people see and experience, but have yet to figure out how to repair.
Despite the needed changes, I have learned to love Galveston. I exercise on the beach most mornings, I teach gardening to children, enjoy the restaurants, and have made some great new friends from all walks of life.
I still wonder if people see a vibrant woman when they see me or if they see a stereotype first. I may never know. What I do know is that I see things on the edge of change. I am listening, I am watching, and I am staying involved. I am moving from the periphery to the inner workings and adding my voice to the future of Galveston.