Archive for January, 2012

Greening the Grid and Ammenities

Chappell’s article on the aesthetics of Williamsburg’s neighborhoods begins by showing the problems of private land developers. C.J. Callahan was a developer who was sent to create subdivisions in the Williamsburg community in the 1920’s. He developed these buildings in a city style (the buildings were in a rectangular grid pattern). The plan lacked distinction to the Williamsburg area and John Pollard bought this tract of land in hopes of creating his own design. Pollard designed a “Court.” Chandler and Braxton court were built in a combo between the American “bungalow style” and English and New England’s “village green.” These areas were tightly packed but came to be some of the most beloved neighborhoods. This type of building style, meant to accentuate the natural aesthetics of the area, has become the norm in Williamsburg. Larger houses have begun to be built but for the most part they maintain the natural aesthetic. This is a major part of Williamsburg and, in my opinion, is one of the distinctive features that sets Williamsburg apart from other communities in Virginia.

Oxreider’s article is about the evolution of Williamsburg into the 20th Century. The article begins by showing that the rest of the state’s community saw Williamsburg as lazy and slightly backwards. Overall it mentioned a lot of the same things from the Tate article about Town and Gown. Most of the article focuses on specific people and how they contributed to the Williamsburg community. I had no idea the first automobile accident in WIlliamsburg occurred in 1911 or the Georgia O’Keefe was involved. The article functions more as a timeline than anything else. It punctuates specific events in Williamsburg’s history and gives the date and important people involved. The town was originally based around the college and farming; it slowly developed a few factories over the years that have since died out. The article goes into specific social movements as well, specifically the women’s suffrage movement. The Williamsburg League “vowed to save women of WIlliamsburg from the new movement (suffrage)” (Chappell). The article added some interesting facts to the background of Williamsburg and seemed to include every group of people it could.

Envoy

Envoy of Williamsburg lays on South Mt. Vernon Road, the very street on which I live. Before visiting I did some brief research on Envoy’s webpage. Envoy describes itself as a nursing and rehabilitation center which focuses on hospice care. The webpage makes it very clear that the location runs on Medicare and Medicaid as opposed to private payments. The building contains 130 beds; according to the webpage, 130 beds is above the average of most retirement communities. Envoy tries to spin this as a good thing, however, the page also mentions having realistic expectations for your loved one’s stay. This information leads me to believe that having those extra beds is not actually a good thing. Pure logic leads to the idea that having more beds leads to fewer nurses per bed. After looking over this information, I decided that Envoy is in fact a poorer retirement community regardless of the spin the website tries to put on their situation.

My first visit to Envoy ended rather abruptly. It was Saturday morning and I had to get up the nerve to actually walk into the building. I felt uncomfortable just thinking about it. “The staff there does not need some college kid wandering in and asking for a tour. They have much bigger things to worry about,” I thought to myself. I wasn’t sure if my normal garb would suffice for the visit. I rummaged through my closet and drawers looking for something that would make me fit in just a little more. I assumed that my outfit would give me away as a college student. I thought about putting on a sweater or a collared shirt but quickly realized that no one there would care what I was wearing. I figured I would just walk in and ask for a tour and explain the assignment. If they wanted to give me a tour they would; if not, I would just go home. It was another hour before I actually left. I drank a cup of coffee to help me gather my nerves and stepped outside. I assumed I would feel uncomfortable because I do not enjoy facing my own mortality. Nursing homes have always been something I haven’t enjoyed for this very reason. I do not like watching the end of the human spirit; there is nothing redeeming about it. I was coming over the slight hill on Mount Vernon and was waiting to cross Monticello when I noticed the ambulance in front of the building. I almost turned around right then. I held steady and kept walking. The lights weren’t on; I hoped that was a good sign. As I got closer though, I noticed EMT’s pushing a stretcher into the ambulance and I immediately turned around and went home.  I did not want to be the young guy who walked into a retirement home as someone was being rushed away to the hospital in the hopes of getting a tour. The time was not right for me to enter and so I waited for another opportunity.

I decided to go back Monday morning, I didn’t have class until 1:00 pm and Envoy is on my way to class anyway. I was not as worried about my entry into the retirement home this time. I had thought about my position in the community since my previous trip and realized I belonged there too. Of course, this idea was entirely because this assignment had been assigned; in any other situation, it would have been wildly inappropriate for me to stop in. As I approached, I noticed the care that had been put into the currently sparse garden plot out front of Envoy. While no flowers were growing, the plot had been carefully landscaped and when flowers did bloom, I was sure they would have looked lovely surrounding the Envoy sign. The building is one story. It has windows all around the perimeter and is rectangular. On the front of the building is an overhang that covers the driveway.  I crossed the street to walk on a sidewalk right up against the building and casually looked into some of the windows. The first one had the blinds open and inside was a nurse with three or four residents/patients who were playing a game; it could have been bingo but I’m not entirely sure. The rest of the windows had the blinds closed. I’m assuming these were people’s rooms.

A man entered the building just before me. I waited a second before going inside to read a sign that had been placed on the door. It warned against entering if you had any flu like symptoms. I immediately assumed that the people inside were very ill; I had known before but now it was ingrained in my brain. The reception desk was immediately to the right in a foyer that reminded me of every nursing home I had ever entered. The furniture and décor was plain. The wallpaper was not exciting. There was some reading material on a couple end tables; it focused primarily around Williamsburg. I began to feel uncomfortable, as I had been standing in line behind the aforementioned man for quite awhile. He was filling out some form before he could enter and my heart sank; only relatives of residents could really go inside.

I quickly tried to take in everything I could about the place before I would have to leave. Luckily, the receptionist received a phone call right as I stepped up to desk. I began to scour the surfaces of the room with my eyes. On a wall inside the hallway that went to the right, there were pictures of all the doctors or nurses that worked in the building. I noticed the vast majority of these employees were black. Other employees were walking back and forth through the foyer and I noticed that of the six that had passed though one was white. The receptionist was black as was the man who had entered before me; from the Visitor Check In Sheet, I noticed he was visiting his brother, who I assume is black as well. The people I had seen through the window were not all black but all the patients were. I have never felt so aware of my own whiteness. I hadn’t become uncomfortable but I slowly understood the divide between the nursing home and myself. I was almost the polar opposite of the residents; the few I saw were black, old, and based on the Envoy website probably not from a place of privilege. I am white, young, and my family is middle class. I had previously only really understood the age gap that existed between us.

The receptionist finally hung up the phone and asked if she could help me. I explained my affiliation to William and Mary and the assignment I was working on. She seemed excited that I was there but explained to me that they could not let any nonrelatives enter the premises. I thanked her for her help and asked if there was anything else she could do to help me. She showed me a brochure.

The brochure had pictures and much better descriptions of Envoy than did the website. There is a garden in the center of the building as well as a weight room and various other amenities I had not expected. I did not get to venture to these places but they were described as being quite nice.

The 300 Year Old Relationship: The Town and Gown of Williamsburg

Reading Thaddeus W. Tate, Jr.’s article on the relations between the locals and students of Williamsburg made me realize the continuity here and the complex and ever-changing role we (both students and the host community alike) play as a vital part of the community. It seems as thought the relationship began in terms of the co-existence of town politics and the foundation of the College, with James Blair bearing the royal charter in 1693. Apparently, one young orator said, “the Colledge will be a great help towards the making of a Town and the Town toward improving the Colledge,” setting the stage for a successful vote to bring the functions of education and government together.

I was surprised that it wasn’t until 1729, that the six professors came on offering advanced instruction in moral and natural philosophy, two main components of liberal arts in the 18th century, and in divinity. I originally assumed that those courses and options would have been already at the College. I also found extremely interesting the battle between the College and the town during the Revolution.

Towards of the end of Tate’s article, he does briefly mention the retirement communities within Williamsburg, adding another reason to the town’s expansion over time.

Post-WWII growth of Colonial Williamsburg

In 1953, Carlisle H. Humelsine became the president of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and moved the vision for the area forward with an emphasis on the educational expansion and economic needs of this historic place.  The goodwill relationship between the public and the CW Foundation was essential to its ongoing success.  The desire to increase public access to colonial artifacts made the development The DeWitt-Wallace Decorative Arts Gallery alongside the Public Hospital restoration in a shared space a workable solution for the problem of limited space for housing and showing important items.  Expansion required funding.

By the mid-seventies fundraising was emphasized and the American public responded by donating $50,000 raised from 300 donors.  Development of other projects to support growing tourism ensured that visitors would have comfortable lodgings, places to eat and things to see related to the Colonial Williamsburg showcase of historic Williamsburg.

Beyond the development of tourist infrastructure the initiative to eliminate automobiles from the Duke of Gloucester Street and completion of the Colonial National Parkway from Jamestown to Williamsburg was an asset to an already remarkable attraction.

The addition of an Information Center and an orientation film, Willilamsburg The Story of a Patriot, filmed on location in 1956 entertained and educated millions of visitors.  The careful training and attention to historic detail in the dress and conduct of interpreters added to the feeling of authenticity in the historic area.  Research has always been an important aspect in the delivering of a quality experience to tourists.  William and Mary faculty, scholars and the Institute of Early American History and Culture, participated in lecturing interpreters on colonial history to ensure authentic representations.  Close attention to accurately representing history ensures ongoing public confidence.  Visitors are confident that what they hear and see at Colonial Williamsburg is as authentic an experience as can be had in modern times.  This experience includes interpretations of Colonial African American experiences.

Celebrations have been added to expand the economic opportunities for CW and provides visitor events that keep people coming to the area all year around.  In the colder months during the Chirstmas season there is the Grand Illumination of the City and decorating of household doors with natural items like fruit and greenery that is a famous and widely anticipated annual event.  The Fife and Drum corp was developed in 1963 as a compliment to the established militia corp and is now seen as “our signature” according to Charles Longsworth as a symbol of Colonial Williamsburg.

Other economic enterprises advantageous to the area included the development of a Craft House to make reproductions for sale, and the restoration and opening of Jamestown.  Many distinguished visitors to the area, like Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in 1957, made it a desireable place to visit.  My own parents honeymooned here in 1957.

Later development, like Busch Gardens, Kingsmill Resort and Busch Corporate Park in the 1970s further expanded the economic base of the area and increased tourism and relocations to the surrounding community around Williamsburg.  The additions became important to the economic health of James City County and Williamsburg.  It has been essential that the locals work with the tourism in the area to ensure ongoing success.  The goodwill component of local businesses, residents and institutions like the College of William and Mary is an essential component of the area’s success as a tourist destination.  Everyone takes pride in the quiet patriotism that exists in the area and works to preserve the humble heritage that was Reverend Goodwin’s vision and legacy for “a small Tidewater town”.

Thank Goodness for Goodwin …

It is remarkable that a modest desire to preserve the history of a local church in the 1920s led to the preservation of an entire area of historical significance to the United States.  I was struck by Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin’s success with convincing John D Rockefeller to fund the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg.  Goodwin had a passionate desire to preserve what he understood as “an appreciation for the town’s socical, cultural, and political history”.  This was also remarkable in that the focus of the country at the time was to “progress” in industry, yet individuals like Rockefeller could see how preservation of history might be both philanthropic and profitable.

A project like Colonial Williamsburg’s restoration beginning in the 1920s was developed with an eye toward making it a kind of adult historical Disneyland.  Rockefeller’s financial backing insured that architects of the highest reputation, like Perry, Shaw & Hepburn of Boston would see to detailed restoration of the initial buildings of importance like the Governor’s Palace, Wren Building and the Capitol.  Goodwin must have been more than a little anxious, but also very excited having day-to-day oversite responsibilities for such a large scale project.  The plans just mushroomed and with Rockefeller money the growth of the project was exponential. A decalogue of resolutions kept the project firmly rooted in the purpose of restoration making sure that only accurate portrayals of Colonial American architecture and interiors were re-created in exacting detail.

The focus and integrity of the entire project came through when I read the essay.  Marketing the project to the public began right from the start. Public relations started with contacting “outside specialists” to join the project who became ambassadors and “talked it up” to the public.  To be sure these were people with a wide sphere of influence and financial means in their communities.

Within a decade of work on the project it was impossible to keep the identity of its benefactor under wraps.  In 1928 it was revealed that Rockefeller money was in the project and the even more companies of the best in the business came forward to work on it.  The beautiful landscaping and gardens around the earliest restorations are the result of the initial work of Arthur A. Shurcliff (1870-1957).

Numerous committess were put in charge of various aspects of preservation.  The capitol site was the beginning of the physical work of the project in 1928 as well as the building itself, folowed by Raleigh Tavern, the Wren Building, and the Governor’s Palace.  Although it was intended that all work continue with attention to careful excavation, Kenneth Chorley, chief administrative officer of the resotration was under time constraints and rushed some of the collection of artifacts or overlooked it entirely.  Concerns that items of interest would be lost caused Rutherford Goodwin to establish and archaeological laboratory.  This lab cleaned, treated and stored many artifacts from the sitework during restoration.

By the 1930s the Governor’s Palace was completed.  The Rockefeller family had Bassett Hall restored and made it a temporary residence for two months out of the year.  The loved being part of the project and I gathered from the article that to some extent they enjoyed relative anonymity in the community when they visited.

Beyond the money to restore the buildings, numerous committees formed around the project in the local community focused on preservation, promotion and educational purposes for the area.  A distinct emphasis on education was put on the table and was the basis for the creation of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation that endures today.  Its purpose was to relate local history of Williamsburg its importance to the United States as a country.  There was intense political pressure to keep Williamsburg in the national spotlight.  Despite the Depression years the restoration continued and in 1934 President Roosevelt visited and claimed the Duke of Gloucester Street, “the most historic avenue in all America” officially announcing Colonial Williamsburg open to the public.

Goodwin’s vision, Rockefeller’s money, the work of hundreds of people literally in the trenches, as well as dedicated experts in the fields of architecture, history and public relations made possible the preservation of a small town that was significant in the Nation’s history.  It is extraordinary that one man during the boom of industrialization and big business in the 1920s connected with the right people to bring such a humble project to fruition.  The preservation of this small town provided future generations with a place to enjoy a break from their hectic lives and travel back in time back to the mid-eighteenth century in America.

Visiting the Unknown: The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters Thrift Store

I was not entirely sure where to go for this assignment. Originally I was going to go to the Williamsburg Outlet Mall, but that was too far away and almost did not seem fitting for this particular assignment. Though it was merely a blip on my mental map of Williamsburg, it was not something that was a part of the Williamsburg that I visit frequently or something that I walk past everyday but never stop in to browse. So, after forcing a friend to walk around the area with me, I came upon The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters Thrift Store on Monticello Avenue. I have heard about the thrift store opportunities in Williamsburg, but had only visited the Goodwill, so I was excited to see a similar store only a few yards away.

I have been to the strip mall in which the thrift store is located, but only to visit Nawab, the Indian restaurant that is located on the other side from the thrift store. Walking further away from the part that I knew, it was interesting to compare the type of shops that surrounded the thrift store. While Nawab seems to be a place that is catered to tourists and students with its ornate decorations and service-centered atmosphere, the other stores seemed more catered to locals and seemed more like places that would be found in a typical strip mall. What they all had in common, however, was a run down look that opened into a more welcoming atmosphere. The shabby brick walls of the exterior of the building did not reflected in any way how the buildings looked inside. Nothing was poorly lit or in need of repair. For example, the Big Lots looked like a typical drug store and I actually thought it was a CVS or Walgreens at first. Many of the other businesses appeared to be the same way. Though each store was not as beautifully decorated as Nawab, they still seemed like places where people could frequent on a regular basis and were designed as such.

When I first entered the thrift store, I was struck by the differences between it and the Goodwill. The major difference is that The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters Thrift Store is much homier looking than its counterpart just a few feet away. First, it is much smaller, but the more cramped space makes it seem more inviting. There are not that many sections of clothing racks, and they are all close together. Also, the lighting did not seem as florescent and sterile which makes it seem more like a typical thrift store that you would find in a hole-in-the-wall strip mall instead of a more chain-like institution like Goodwill. It also reflects the smaller charitable nature of the thrift store. Since it is only present in the Williamsburg area instead of all over the country, it has more of a local feel. The way that the store is set up with its smaller selection and shelves of knickknacks and VHS tapes for sale makes it more approachable for locals looking for cheap clothing. The atmosphere seems like a place where people can be remembered and treated like family instead of a place that is the same all over the country.

I believe that my discomfort with both this thrift store and thrift stores in general stems from my upbringing in an upper-middle-class family. The option of wearing clothing that was not newly bought from a department store at one of the local malls never appealed to me since it was not something anyone in my family did. As a result, I mostly spend time in thrift stores looking at clothing and admiring some pieces, but not ever trying them on or buying them, because the stigma of it being used still sticks with me. Thinking of myself wearing used clothing does not fit with the way that I was brought up and I have always been wary towards thrift stores. This belief is also generated by the fact that I have only been to a thrift store a couple of times and only in the last couple of years. Therefore, I have spent most of my childhood, a very defining period of one’s life, believing that all clothing should be bought new and at a mall or boutique. It was okay for me to donate my used clothing since I no longer needed it and I was taught that it was good to be charitable, but I never thought of the people that would buy it, because I was not one myself. On top of that, I have found that most thrift store clothing is for women much bigger than I am and I have never had the patience to search for something that would actually fit me. As a result, the idea that thrift stores are more for bigger women always kept me from visiting them.

As I went into this thrift store, the comfortable atmosphere that the store provided immediately made me feel less uncomfortable. There were very few people in the store, but those that were there were content to go about their business and did not try to judge us as college students that were out of place in a store that they probably visited on a regular basis. It was fun to go through the clothes and see what kind of brands that they had. I was particularly amused to find an Abercrombie miniskirt that I liked and might have even bought if it had been in my size. I was also pleasantly surprised by some of the shirts and skirts that were more geared toward teenagers and young adults and less toward the older, bigger women to whom thrift store clothing usually caters. However, this type of clothing was in the minority and there was still plenty of larger, frumpier clothing especially in the dress section. Though I was disappointed about this particular fact, I was still pleased and made more comfortable by finding clothing that would fit someone with my body type.

The type of people that I saw shopping in this thrift store were very different from the people that I typically see around Williamsburg. Being a college student with no car, I usually only see people of my own age group, tourists, or the lower-class African Americans that I see on the bus. However, most of the thrift store customers were middle-aged white people that were from the area, though there were a few African Americans as well. This experience reinforced the idea that Williamsburg is a very diverse community, which is something that I easily forget in the College’s isolated environment. In a way, I almost felt like I was at a store in Harrisonburg, where my grandparents live, since the people in the thrift store seemed like people that I see in that community. It was a refreshing feeling being among the locals since I usually am not fortunate enough to be in such an environment. However, their lack of judgement toward my friend and me was helpful in ending any discomfort since there was no need for creating any type of equality that Portelli describes in his article. It felt like being a part of the community and being accepted as members of Williamsburg, not just as college students from out of town.

My only regret with going to The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters Thrift Store was that I chose to go at a time where very few people were shopping. My friend and I only stopped in for a brief period on Saturday and Sunday afternoon, which is not such a big shopping day. It would have been interesting to see what the thrift store looked like when it was busy as well as the other types of people that make up the thrift store’s clientele. I did not get the opportunity to see any families or younger people visiting the store. This difference would have been interesting since I do not typically see those types of people in a thrift store. Regardless, I still enjoyed my visit to the thrift store and I look forward to using it as a possibly cheaper alternative to the well-known Goodwill.

Reflections on the Rowe, Ellis, and Spears Articles

The thing that immediately came to mind when reading the Rowe article is that it is the perfect definition of a promotional local history. There are only two paragraphs discussing racism outright with one being the last paragraph and the other being buried between a paragraph on African American businesses and community groups. If any other paragraph mentions any inequality between blacks and whites, it is automatically covered up by someone or some group (either white or black) successfully stepping in and stopping it. The article does not even mention sharecropping which was one of the biggest jobs for African Americans from 1865-1945. It seems that the city of Williamsburg is trying to make themselves look better by focusing more on the prominent African American figures of the town and their successes instead of the inequalities. Tourists buying this book at the Colonial Williamsburg Visitors Center want to have a positive visit to this town, so Rowe and the publishers of this book are trying to keep the book that way.

That being said, the positive spin on this article was informative, because I had no idea how many strides African Americans made in Williamsburg during a time of such racial inequality. I was unaware that several African American figures served on political councils so soon after the Civil War ended, that there were many black business that were frequented by both whites and blacks, and that black and white families lived in the same neighborhood. It was also nice to see how helpful wealthy white figures like the Rockefellers were to the African American community. All in all it seems like Williamsburg was a pretty proactive community in terms of African American inequality, though the skewed tone and inclusion of information may prove to be more positive than the situation actually was.

Between the two articles about African Americans, I definitely preferred the Ellis article because it was more realistic than the Rowe article. He wrote it as more of an expose and revealed problems that Rowe chose to bury within anecdotes of success or not at all. It was especially interesting to compare Rowe and Ellis’s coverage of the displacement of families when Colonial Williamsburg was being restored since they had two completely different takes on it. Rowe focused on the locations to which African Americans moved and created communities while Ellis focused on the disparities between the two groups being forced to move. I preferred Ellis’s version since it was more realistic and helps the reader get a more accurate picture of the town and how similar it was to the rest of America at the time. Ellis’s well-rounded article is helped by his use of oral histories, because the people that he interviewed were willing to talk candidly about their experiences during the 20th century. It would be bad ethics to tell the interviewees to put a positive spin on their stories so it was easy for Ellis to get a true picture of the situation.

However, it would have been nice to see more about segregation in Williamsburg. For example, one of the oral histories only briefly mentions the lack of recreational areas for African Americans in the community. I remember that when I took Intro to American Studies with Professor Knight last semester, we read one of his articles on how African Americans were segregated in movie theaters both in American and in Williamsburg. The Kimball Theater was completely segregated for decades. It would have been nice to see this information included both to improve the coverage of segregation and to further allow readers to compare Williamsburg to the rest of the South and the country.

One piece of information that truly surprised me was the mitigating role that Williamsburg and the Rockefellers played in the building of equality. It makes me wonder how the tone in Williamsburg would have changed if Colonial Williamsburg was not present or if someone supporting segregation was in charge of Colonial Williamsburg. Would equality have been pushed so much or would the schools and Colonial Williamsburg have stayed segregated much longer than it actually did. I was also intrigued by the fact that many African American parents did not want their children to be integrated into white schools. This particular fact is not one that is ever mentioned in history books and it was a pleasant change for Ellis to include it in his article. It made me look at integration in a new light and understand why it took so long for schools to be integrated in Williamsburg. It was not just because of whites refusing to integrate schools but because of black disinterest (or possibly fear) to be in the same schools as whites.

I found the Spears article to be very similar in tone to the Rowe article. It seemed to be a combination of Kammen’s categories: promotional, inspirational for youth, and commemorative. The extremely positive tone and the repetition of the Greeks’ values of hard work and family both contribute to the promotional and inspirational tone. If any Greek child reads this essay, they will learn about their family and how they achieve success through hard work and will hopefully learn something. Tourists will see how much the town that they visited is shaped by Greek influence and have a new appreciation for both their work and the work of legal immigrants since they are portrayed in such a positive light. This is only supported by Spears’s first paragraph which is a stereotypical description of an immigrant and his family when he leaves for America. This adds a sappy tone that makes it more appealing to any tourist that enjoys a happy ending. It makes me wonder if the Greeks had problems settling into Williamsburg since basically none were mentioned. Like Rowe’s article, they were glossed over to increase the positive outlook that is so popular in local histories.

One question that I had while reading this article, however, was what happened to the Greek-owned restaurants when Colonial Williamsburg was being restored. While Rowe and Ellis mentioned that African American and white homes and businesses were bought out or forcibly removed to make room for the new tourist attraction, Spears only mentions that there were businesses in the area both before and after the restoration. Were they also removed and were just not mentioned, or did their close ties with the College and location in the commercial area of Colonial Williamsburg allow them to keep their businesses open? Other than that, it was a very informative, if a little bit overly positive, article about a lesser-known group of immigrants and their community in Williamsburg.

 

Searching for the Elusive Hispanic Community

As a student family, my husband and I really have visited a lot of places in the Williamsburg area.  In fact, even though we live down the street from Colonial Williamsburg, we are probably less familiar with what goes on there than we are with what is available to us in the surrounding area.  This is certainly a generalization, but I think there is something about being married with a child that leads you to become more acquainted with the more practical side of a community, from day care services to church services to options for shopping. The typical student, on the other hand, will probably know less about these kind of practical things and more about the social benefits—i.e. local hangouts (if any ; ), outdoor recreation, and so forth. That said, there is plenty that is unfamiliar to us, apart from the more everyday student activities, such as eating at the College Deli, Paul’s, and so on (since we haven’t done any of those things and would feel slightly uncomfortable doing them with our 2 year old). At any rate, what we did was simply drive North on Richmond Road towards Toano until we found something “unfamiliar”.

What we found was a self-proclaimed authentic Mexican restaurant called Tequila Rose located in the middle of completely empty parking lot alongside a bunch of obscure (at least to me) small businesses.  I had driven on Richmond Road several times and I never noticed this restaurant or even the surrounding stores.  This is actually surprising because I love Mexican food (at least the kind I’m able to find out West) and am constantly on the lookout for something other than La Tolteca. And I’ve driven on this road many times before but never really noticed what was here.  At the same time, I was a little curious, because, in comparison to where I am from, Williamsburg does not seem to have a very robust Hispanic community. So, I was very excited to try a new Mexican restaurant that was outside the more popular touristy areas since, in my mind, that would create a better chance for that food to be “authentic” and directed at the Hispanic community.

Pulling up to the restaurant, we could see through the glass windows, and only one family was eating inside.  When we walked through doors, Hispanic employees greeted us in accented English, which raised my hopes a little with respect to the food. However, the server who appeared at our table after we were seated was a blonde Caucasian with no Spanish accent at all.  Quelling my disappointment, I ordered a Diet Coke and a chocolate milk for my daughter. In retrospect, it’s interesting to reflect on why I was so disappointed in having a Caucasian server since who serves the food does not a necessarily have anything to do with the quality or authenticity of the food.  Basically, I can only conclude that I am biased without any real evidence to support my beliefs.   In fact, my favorite place to eat Mexican food back home was a chain restaurant called Café Rio that was not exclusively staffed by Hispanic workers. Yet, I can’t seem to shake the feeling that restaurants where the employees’ nationalities match the food’s serve superior food.

More relevantly, places that match my biased definition of ‘authentic’ food by employing workers of the same ethnicity make me feel a little uncomfortable and out of place. One obvious reason for this is that it is always slightly uncomfortable to not understand what people are saying, which is compounded by different music and television programs. In Tequila Rose, the music was definitely Latin and the ambience was similarly themed.  The colors, music, and food were all what I considered to be ‘authentic’, but the patrons were clearly local customers like us, which may be the reason why I felt comfortable as we ordered our food. Before we left two other families came in, both of which appeared to be locals, or at least their vehicles had Virginia license plates and local bumper stickers. And, based on its outlying location, it makes sense that locals would dominate this restaurant’s customer base. But this also meant that my hope of finding a hidden Hispanic community would likely not be satisfied.  Sadly, this turned out to be the case—the food we ordered (burritos, tacos and enchiladas) was completely average according to my biased tastes.

After the leaving Tequila Rose, I still wanted to pursue this hidden Hispanic community idea.  So, we stopped at a store with a Spanish name that we had driven by several times but never entered, located across from the DMV.  It was formerly a 7 Eleven, but it is now called Bodega (which translates to store in Spanish). Due to its name, I assumed it would be full of Hispanic products—and it was.  But this store also served normal convenient store type stuff, and the workers were both Caucasian, even pretending to speak Spanish in a joking manner at times. We purchased mango suckers coated in chili powder—yum!

Interestingly, the store’s clientele were culturally diverse, with higher proportions of Blacks and Hispanics in comparison to Whites.  For my part, the store had a completely different feel than any store I’ve entered in Williamsburg.  I didn’t really feel uncomfortable, but I felt different in a way I can’t really articulate. Reflecting on why I never visited this store, it became clear that the name itself (Bodega) was a barrier.  I simply assumed that this store did not really desire my business, which makes me wonder what makes me feel comfortable in the first place.  How much is due to my own mistaken preconceptions?  Another piece is how each of these businesses were clearly presenting themselves in a certain way that was not necessarily all inclusive.  Both were targeting those who enjoy Mexican food. The difference is that it is common for Mexican restaurants to target non-Hispanics, whereas stores do not usually do this, at least in my experience.  This could explain why I felt different in the Bodega. Even so, my preconceptions were also faulty.  The Bodega did not exclusively serve Hispanics, and Tequila Rose was not anything special, even with its out of the way location.

The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters Thrift Store

I knew almost immediately where I wanted to go for this assignment. The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters Thrift Store is on Monticello, roughly three minutes from where I live and I had never been, nor ever visited the shopping center in which it exists. Surrounded by a Big Lots, a small nail salon, a fabric store, among several other small businesses, the shopping center looks as if its one of the older ones in the Williamsburg area. The building looks fairly run-down and I couldn’t help but feel a pang of nostalgia, wondering what the building looked like in its prime.

No, it’s not as old as the buildings of Colonial Williamsburg and the at times stunning architecture of Duke of Gloucester Street, but rather, a brick strip mall, with storefront windows that seemed yellowed with age. I’ve passed by it whenever I’m on my way to Newtown, or headed farther down Monticello. As a student at the College, I’ve spent most of my time on the campus, or just outside within Colonial Williamsburg. When I drive by this particular shopping center, there is a stop light entering it and when I have to stop, I turn my head and see the scattered cars, the old building, the birds walking in the parking lot. For some unknown reason, I was drawn to the strip mall and pushed away at the same time.

The buzzing of the fluorescent lights when I walked in was the first thing I noticed. The room was sensory overload. Rows of clothing in front of me and a fair number of people walking around me to get to a faded concert T-shirt, an old corduroy blazer, those sparkle nylons. I was momentarily disoriented, trying to soak in my surroundings. Most businesses I had entered in Williamsburg were busy, as it is a touristy area, but this was different. The room wasn’t lit as nicely as the Williams Sonoma on DoG St. nor had the warmth of the other shops in Merchants Square. But people knew each other in a way I hadn’t seen before in Williamsburg. I heard a woman ask a man about his son. I heard two elderly ladies discuss a church group. I watched a little girl giggle as she twirled in a too-big gown. I suddenly felt completely at ease as I browsed the shoes and trinkets in the rear corner of the store and observed what was around me.

I had been in Goodwill before, I had been in other thrift stores before, but this was new to me. People knew each other here. It was different from the families at the Outlets, or in Colonial Williamsburg. It was different from the students on campus at the Grind, or Aromas. These people were locals. This was there home. What did that mean to me? I briefly felt like an outsider. “Ma’am, would you like to try that on?” I was gripping a cream colored blazer from Talbots that I couldn’t believe was priced at $5.

“Sure.”

One light flickered above me as I moved to the changing room – a small corner about the size of a closet with a swinging door and with a tiny, silver sliding lock. I listened to the conversation around me. Why had I never been here before? Was it because I had never heard of my friends talk of this place? Was it because I did not like the way the buildings looked compared to those of Newtown, or Colonial Williamsburg? Was it because of my personal bias, and the relatively affluent area I was raised? I shuddered at the thought. I am so open-minded, I thought!

And yet.

I exited the dressing room to continue walking around the store. After several loops around the mens trousers, I figured I should check out. The people working couldn’t have been nicer. The people around me in the store were completely comfortable with each other and their surroundings. I should be too, right? I realized I was sweating when I gave my five dollars to the gentleman behind the counter.

I asked about their charity, and how much of the proceeds go to it. Usually a little more skeptic than is probably good for me, I was expecting a response like: “Oh, we work hard to get as much as we can to charity, but some goes to here, or there…”

“100%.”

To my relief, the cashier did not laugh at my jaw, which most definitely on the floor. With locations in Virginia, North and South Carolina, CHKD (Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters) are a project of the Norfolk City Union of The King’s Daughters, the founding organization of Children’s Hospital. The stores provide a much needed, inexpensive opportunity for shopping.

I came home and did a little more research after my experience. I found out that their stores bring in more than $2.5 million to CHKD in a single year. Community support helps CHKD provide quality health care to our community children, who made more than 600,000 visits to CHKD Health System providers last year.   I was so impressed with this organization, and can’t believe it took me three years to venture over to a wonderful store, only three minutes from my front doorstep.

For more information visit:  http://www.chkd.org/giving/thrift/

Cultural awakening in the Highland Park Community

When two friends and I decided to search for off-campus housing over the summer, we quickly became familiar with the surrounding neighborhoods. Within a 10-15 minute walking distance to campus there are generally two options: The posh, near-Colonial Williamsburg neighborhoods where the grass is always freshly cut and parking decals are required and enforced or the areas my friends affectionately refer to as simply the less desirable places to live.  Off-campus housing for most students is found at the Lawson Enterprise apartments and Highland Park, Williamsburg oldest African-American community.  This year, my friends, Anna and Meghana, and I decided to live in the Highland Park Community for its close proximity to campus and affordable rent.  We are aware of three other homes that are being rented by William and Mary students, yet besides us, the majority of the homes belong to predominately African-American families who’ve been living in Williamsburg for generations.

This assignment awakened some thoughts my housemates and I have felt and shared ever since we moved-in: as non-black women, new to the community, would we ever fit in?  Would our differences (class, race) cause tensions in the community? Would we be treated with hostility or welcomed by our neighbors?  After living here for six months these questions still enter conversation at dinnertime.  I took this assignment prompt as an opportunity to learn more about my neighborhood, talk to some neighbors and visit a place I pass by every day but have never entered, the Union Baptist Church on Dunning Street.

The first thing I did on Thursday was go talk to my next-door neighbors to find out more about the functions at the Church and if I would be welcomed to attend a service on Sunday.  They encouraged me to attend the service, although none of them personally were members, and directed me to a home a few doors down from mine to speak to the Highland Park Community representative, Estereen. When I arrived at Estereen’s home, she answered the door in a hurry and announced she was heading to a community meeting at the Union Baptist Church.  When I stated my purpose, she invited me to join her at the meeting since she said I was a part of the community and that she likes the energy of young people.  I agreed and walked over with the surprisingly energetic, elderly woman, I had just met, yet who talked to me as if she was my own grandmother.   On our short walk over, I learned the Church not only serves as a place for bible service and choir practice, but also as a gathering place for homeowner association meetings and general community concerns on select Thursdays.  I was lucky enough to have met the community organizer right before a meeting attended by concerned residents of the Highland Park Community and what seemed like a city councilman (I unfortunately didn’t get his name) about the issue of parking passes required on Virginia Ave specifically, and other streets around the college.  Some of the community members complained that they couldn’t afford to pay $35-40 for the parking pass required by the city to park in areas around the college and Colonial Williamsburg.   One man said that the parking issue inhibited his ability to attend sporting events at the college.  Estreen chimed in that people in her community could afford the pass if they chose to spend their money more wisely and learn to save.  The representative said money for the parking pass was effective in containing the number of cars parked on those streets.

The room was filled entirely with African-American residents of Highland Park, reflecting the demographics of the neighborhood.  I felt like I stood out, as an outsider, in the position of the observer, yet didn’t feel uncomfortable, at least not yet.  The people I met were very friendly and asked me what I was studying in school and where I was from – essentially “othering” me from their community and placing distance between us, which Portelli suggests can create a “condition for a more effective and conscious participation” (37).  A few suggested I come back for service on Sunday and come to a cookout at the Highland Park picnic tables.  After the meeting, Estereen went around and collected money to buy flowers for a recently deceased member of the community, suggesting a close-knit and supportive atmosphere. For the most part, I felt welcomed and felt people were very approachable and amicable.

However, there was one incident where I felt very uncomfortable and was reminded of how distant and different I was from some members of my temporary community. After the meeting, I went back to Estereen’s home to ask her more about the community and her experience as a previous member of the church.  I wanted to know why she chose to go to a Baptist church further away than the one conveniently located down her street. Her response caught me off-guard.  She said the member of the church learned that “the pastor was a faggot” and loved gay people, and that made her feel like he wasn’t doing the Lord’s work.  Herself and other members of the church decided to leave and attend other Baptist churches in the area like St. John’s on Penniman Road. until the recent replacement of pastors which has attracted some members back. As a native-Washingtonian where same-sex marriage is legal, where my neighbors are a happily married gay couple, and as a member of the W&M Lambda Alliance with close gay friends, her homophobic remarks were highly offensive, and yet I took a hard gulp and kept my mouth shut remembering that I have to play the role of an objective historian.  Was it appropriate to challenge my interviewee? Could I have said that I felt offended by that statement? I thought against it because then I would lose the trust that I’d been working to build for the past two hours and perhaps create some degree of tension with a neighbor.  Encountering unapologetic homophobia is something I expect to encounter as I research the issues the LGBTIQ community faces in retirement in Williamsburg, especially after this incident.

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About

The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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