I’ve lived in Georgia for about six consecutive months. As each month passes, I’ve been finding myself enjoying more and more aspects about the Southern life. Who knew there could be so many options for chicken? And not dealing with below freezing temperatures and blizzards? I’m good with that.
As I stepped out of the shower tonight and prepared to style my curly hair, I went to Spotify and selected music by Romeo Santos. I used to despise him because while I lived in Washington Heights, New York City, that’s all I heard. People would blast bachata and reggaeton music well into the night and the sounds would drift into my bedroom window along with the strong aroma of marijuana. Oh yeah, some drug dealers lived in my building. It was no big deal.
Immediately I was brought back to what my life was like in Washington Heights. I’d wake up, make my tea, look out my apartment window and see countless brown and black families cooking breakfast, making their coffee, and sending their kids off to school. On weekends I’d get up early and hit the supermarket before all of the Puerto Rican and Dominican ladies and their carts could take over, each shouting in Spanish about one thing or another. It was so easy to go to the grocery store two buildings down, get all of the plantains, yuca, beans, and Goya products I wanted. I never had to search for it in the “ethnic” section of the store. The whole store was the ethnic section. I’d walk down the street, carrying my bags home, and hear everyone around me speak Spanish. I’m actually not fluent in Spanish, so people were surprised when I DIDN’T speak Spanish to them in Wash. Heights. No one looked at me like I was “other.” Many women in that neighborhood looked like me. We were a sea of brown faces and curly hair. Not once in New York did I fear racism. I could easily walk down Wall Street and 181st Street with the same confidence of a native New Yorker.
“I belong here.”
“This is my hometown.”
“I’m accepted here.”
“I can fully be myself.”
Now that I’ve been living in Georgia for the past six months, I can say that I’ve encountered at least 4-5 racist attacks, compared to the two I experienced throughout the first 24 years of my life in New York. I’m not going to lie. Being one of the few Latinos down here, especially being a Latina of Caribbean heritage rather than Central or South American heritage, can be extremely isolating. I’ve been followed around and harassed for speaking Spanish to my mother in public. I’ve been told that Trump is going to get me out of the country. Every time I speak Spanish in public or go to an area that is new to me, I’m always aware that I could experience a racist attack. I prep myself for them. My existence here is offensive to some people. So when I get to my apartment and shut the door, I speak LOUDLY to my mom in Spanish, blast bachata music, cook rice, and forget about what awaits me on the other side of my apartment door.
I’m open to what God has for me here, but there are nights when I do miss New York City, which is a magical place indeed.
At least it’s a place where I never, not once, worried about racism.
Also, where do people find platanos in Georgia? Asking for a friend…