Recreation is Rife with Racism, Classism and lies in Amerikkka


root - Posted on 26 May 2009

by tiny aka Lisa Gray-Garcia/PNN

“When they faced a work shortage they brought in the Chinese- they proved to be great workers, highly productive and steadfast, and the only difference is they wanted to be paid with food!”

The deep green pine branches and soft white snow massaged my weary eyelids through the train window. I was on a little tiny vacation, a train ride to Reno, Nevada,. An unbelievable luxury for me who had struggled with poverty all my life and only started traveling last year with the release of my book The trip was on the Califonia zephyr line of the Amtrak and is a truly breathtaking route which travels through and between the snow-covered, river threaded mountains of California and Nevada where Asian, Irish and native American workers did back-breaking underpaid or unpaid labor and had to strike to be paid close to a subsistance wage. It is an amazingly beautiful trip that I would highly recommend to everyone, children and adults alike.

Just don’t listen too carefully to the volunteer historians from the California state Railroad Museum

As my eyes rested in the lush scenes, my ears were bombarded with a guided tour through the history of trains, labor and the depths of old school capitalism. The idea was great, an audio tour through the very trains we were on and the routes we were going through by people who actually worked the trains and archived the history. There was only one problem, these elder volunteers were washing the brutality, racism, classism and bloody labor struggles out of US history with each raspy paragraph they tentatively whispered into the PA system.

After the insanely egregious lies about the railroad workers struggle I challenged the elder historians on the train in a respectful way. Suffice it to say it didn’t go so well.

This wasn’t the first time this had happened. I was invited to be keynote speaker for the local to global justice conference at University at Arizona. After my talk was completed A friend set up a ride in the famous Sedona train excursion run by a private company that climbs through the native lands in Sedona, Arizona.

The first frightening part was the ride past migrant workers stuck in the rocky ravines of the mountains. Migrant raza day laborers, indigenous people who were reduced to seeking day labor in the cold, barren mountains. “They like to wave at people” the hyper- excited announcer proclaimed. Like they were some kind of cute animal who lived in the mountains

“See that land outside the window, that was homesteaded by a settler from Mexico when this was still mexican land. He settled the land and raised a whole family with no electricity or running water Then a couple of years ago, the land was taken from the family by a multi-national corporation. Now the family takes you on a tour of the land by horse. One of the descendents of the family is our porter”

By the time this horror story was completed I was in tears, how could this story be told as a part of a travel narrative. Why was the destruction of a family reduced to one part of a guided tour.

The two hour ride through stolen land, exploiting stolen people and using stolen resources logically culminated in a huge rendition of Star Spangled Banner with a huge video of George Bush and a gigantic waving flag

Local Museums and Archives

In museums across the US this same cleansing happens to the point where I am always ready to cringe when I walk in to anything called “museum” or archive. Im always surprised when truth is told and silenced voices of herstory and history are truly represented, such as the case of the African-American Library and Archive in Oakland and The Tenement Museum in New York ( where they go out of their way to hire native New Yorkers with a social justice lens on poverty and immigration.

But since the advent of the internet, more and more public archives are trying to compete for the tourism dollar by launching massive public relations campaigns on-line. These are at once very successful financially for the cash strapped public institution and clear example of the gentrificaiton of recreation. In San Francisco we have the Academy of Sciences, not so many years ago you could get a hot dog , a soda and a visit with an alligator.

A few years back, The Academy of Sciences in San Francisco underwent a huge remodeling and re-vamping job. Now this massive site boasts attractions such as the live garden and the zoetrope tour, repping large donors’ names like the donors were themselves scientists and scholars, rather than people with a lot of money in need of a tax write-off and an invitation to a phat donor party.

Ticket price$25.00 – who can afford $25.00? Certainly not poor folks. My family and I have been dying to go for months but couldn’t afford it. I was recently able to buy group tickets for my family because my job offered a discounted rate. When we arrived on an early Sunday morning after Christmas, we stood in line with literally thousands of people for several hours while we watched as the members of the museum were escorted in first, making one wonder if it really was a “member”s only institution. Once we actually got in all of the daily “tours” were filled. My partner also noted that there were two black folks in the line and he was one of the two.

The alligators were trying to leave

There was a big “swamp” in the middle of the museum which held alligators and turtles. One of our family members noted that it was the same alligator who was there before – the sad thing is all three of the alligators and all of the turtles looked very eager to leave, their heads buried in the retaining wall while their legs seemed to be reaching in a perpetual state of frozen departure. My partner noted that the albino (read: white) alligator seemed quite happy in his tank being the object of thousands of people gawking while the darker-skinned alligators seemed to want to get the hell outta there.

As we counted out our meager dollars to pay for food in the over-priced buffet of the Academy of Sciences which one had no choice but to eat in as you were starving from the over four hour wait in the entrance line, I pondered the situation. First they move us (working poor, people of color, folks) out, “clean us out” to be exact with redevelopment, gentrification, sneaky lawyers, speculating realtors, sleazy landlords and removal. Then they turn our neighborhoods, our land, our parks (and our tanks) into over-priced “attractions” that none, least of all us, can afford to be in and then once we are truly extracted, removed and/or destroyed they lie, re-define and/or revise our stories for their archives about when we were there and how we left.

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