There’s a man that walks the streets of Emporia. He’s hard to overlook. He dresses in camouflage, wears a safari hat and sports a rough and peppered beard. He reminds me of a tall, lanky Fidel Castro. I don’t know his name. To assume his class status is presumptuous. But, no matter the weather –100 degrees or 20 – he shares with us only his face and hands.
The socio-economic division in Emporia becomes more apparent as you travel north to south. The university acts as a buffer of history and stagnant development.
Go north and you’ll begin to see a collection of houses and businesses horizontal in their structure, reminiscent of the Brady Bunch. Travel even farther north and you encounter the quintessential suburban design that any Johnson County native is all too familiar with.
But take the southern fork in the road and the picture changes dramatically. Smaller homes, with little or no maintenance, front porches instead of back porches and sidewalks broken by time and geological forces.
The man who walks the streets is a character of south Emporia.
In the north you’ll find the elderly tending to their gardens and meticulously trimming the grass, historically and presently a status symbol. The children play inside or, perhaps, in the backyard, away from the world. The streets are silent and well lit. The cars are perched cleanly in the driveway or tucked into the garage.
As students, we live in the buffer zone where rent, rather than ownership, reigns as the traditional mode of dwelling. But we are inundated with remnants of either faction of Emporia in our everyday life.
Do we wait to reflect on this aspect of Emporia until we are finished with it? Rather, we should understand that we are not separate from, but a part of a greater cultural locale.
We encounter townies as we ask Emporia to provide for us. At restaurants and movies, bars and Walmart, the people of this town convene to share their skills in the common interest of making their lives easier.
It strikes me as odd, though, that much of our interaction with other cultures even within our city’s borders are only a byproduct of commercial needs.
The safety within our own class strata is a comfort we should consider dispensing. It hinders a genuine understanding of other cultures.
Consider celebrating Cinco De Mayo with your fellow Latino Emporians – not because you hold the same principles as them, but because you occupy the same space. Perhaps even attend an event that is open to any person of any age, simply to enjoy the magnificent variety of Emporia’s peoples.
Emporia’s small size provides an excellent opportunity for cultural mixing and the honing of tolerance. We should take advantage of our position at the geographic intersection of these varying environments to reflect on how we interact with each other, and the rest of the world.