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|Craig Kelley for Cambridge City Council in 2015|
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. . . It is an ongoing struggle, but Cambridge, and much of the world, is learning to embrace multi-culturalism . . .
Not in Cambridge anymore
On a recent trip from Orlando to Miami, I stopped at a wide spot on the Florida Turnpike called YeeHaw Junction. In the middle of Florida's cow country, I'd long ago found this piece of Americana where gas stations sell boiled peanuts along with shotgun shells and the old tavern/hotel complex is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Settling down in the tavern to enjoy my soggy grilled cheese sandwich, I drank in the surroundings. Rural Florida could hardly get more authentic than this. Country music on the jukebox, a couple of heavy-set local men talking about fishing. Tourist-ridden Orlando was a different world.
Then the talk turned to real estate.
"That town's full of gays," said the younger man next to me, who paused before hurriedly adding, "Not that I care- gay, black, white, it doesn't matter." Apparently the speaker was not entirely sure of his companion's social beliefs.
"It matters to me," the older man said unequivocally. "I don't want no faggots around me. Or niggers either. They'd better just stay away."
"Right," the first speaker agreed, sounding relieved not to have caused offense. "That's what I mean. They can just stay out of my space."
In seconds, YeeHaw Junction switched from authentic Americana to chilling backwater. It went from being a place where I could stop to show my family another side of America to yet one more place where many of my city officials and friends and neighbors wouldn't feel comfortable- no, wouldn't feel safe- stopping for any reason because of the color of their skin or their choice in life partners.
The contrast is stark. Rev. Jessie Jackson spoke at my church a few weeks ago, my elected officials support gay marriage, my son's school was renamed to celebrate its first black principal. It is an ongoing struggle, but Cambridge, and much of the world, is learning to embrace multi-culturalism.
Yet, at the same time, there are men- big, plain spoken men who get shots of hard liquor to go as they get in their pickup trucks- who reject this multi-culturalism with more than a shade of vehemence. If you're not like them, stay out of their space. The 'or else' is strongly implied.
Sadly, as others know much better than I, authenticity isn't always pretty. And in YeeHaw Junction, authentic as it is, it's clear you're not in Cambridge anymore.
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