Saturday, March 19, 2011

Xenophobia: A Fear of Warrior Princesses?

I like to enjoy my weekends. They are a welcomed two-day escape from work and from the need to be anywhere before noon. This was not the case a couple of weeks ago when I tagged along with my wife to work the Bradenton Farmer's Market booth her agency set up. They are in the middle of their annual fund raising campaign. As a loyal and supportive husband, I arose at 6:30 am so we could open up and be ready for business by 8:00 am.

My wife Jessica works for a not for profit agency that shelters and counsels homeless and runaway teens (a proud husband indeed). After spending 45-50 hours a week working for a capitalistic corporation, I like to dedicate my time to this cause as my way of giving back to my community. Last year, I raised about $1,000 for her agency through my expert raffle ticket sales. This year, I had yet to sell a single ticket and we were quickly approaching the end of the campaign. I needed the opportunity to do something, and the farmer’s market was that opportunity.

The farmer's market is an outdoor market on Old Main Street where people sell their fruits, vegetables, and other assorted wares. It generally attracts a wide range of people who come from all walks of life. This particular day was no different. The first four hours of our six-hour stint at the farmer's market netted us about $35. That was less then ten dollars an hour, and was not the kind of return on our time investment for which we were hoping. Luckily, our friends Carey and Jason arrived to lend us a helping hand (or helping voice as the case would be). Carey works for the local Chamber of Commerce and is well versed in the ways of fund raising. Jason is the perfect Yin to her Yang, and served as my conversational companion while Jessica and Carey worked the crowd. Carey has also never been described as “discreet” or “soft spoken.” In the 45 minutes she served as the barker for our cause we raked in over $100. She shouted things like “If you buy a ticket, the shelter kids won't break into your house” and “C'mon, are you telling me you don't support an agency that helps homeless children? Do you have a soul?” Her appearance was a welcome occurrence, and her exit was equally sorrowful.

The hour after Carey and Jason left was unprofitable. It was quiet until a couple of simple town folk approached our table. They asked a few questions about the prize drawing and about the agency. Their lack of interest in purchasing a ticket was evident, and we laid off on our sales pitch. They were two relatively young men who were at the market for the sole purpose of purchasing some fresh vegetables. One man was dressed in a denim coveralls and nothing more. He apparently decided an undershirt and footwear were optional at such an event. He was heavy set and was somehow able to sweat on a breezy day with temperatures in the low 70's. The other man looked to be in his early thirties, and he was dressed in a pair of blue jeans and a tie-dye t-shirt. He had facial hair that looked well manicured, but lacked the connecting mustache to beard elements of a trustworthy male. Had I not witnessed their next conversation, I would have never guessed they were at the market together.

Next to us, a family of Mexicans was selling fruits and vegetables. They worked feverishly to service their constant stream of customers. We were jealous of how many people visited their booth compared to ours. The two young men, standing just feet from us, were enveloped in the family's ethnicity and inability to speak English in relation to their success as produce entrepreneurs. Johnny Coveralls referred to them as the “Spic Family” and joked about how although they couldn't carry on a conversation with their customers, they sure had no problem converting food into income. Timmy Tie-dye was not happy with his cohort’s crass language. They muttered softly to one another for a while until their conversation turned from friendly back-and-forth jest to a full on argument. Timmy had smug look on his face as he said something to Johnny. Appalled by Timmy’s comment, Johnny shouted back, “Xenophobic? What's that supposed to be, a fear of Warrior Princesses or something?”

I know what Xenophobic means. Based on Johnny's previous comment, I understand how their conversation went from racism to xenophobia. What I didn't know was how it went from there. Both men turned their backs to me, and began walking back through the market and out of our sight. Was Timmy able to explain to Johnny that he had not accused him of fearing a fictional Amazonian woman from a mid-nineties fantasy television series? Was Johnny showing a wit that was light-years beyond that of most other coverall-wearing Americans? Or was this truly the quick connection he made between the misunderstood root word of a term he’d never heard before?

I imagined their walk back through the market was a lesson in tolerance and vocabulary. Timmy probably bestowed upon Johnny a litany of terms to which he has uttered in the past, and explained to him which ones were considered racist and which were just xenophobic. Or did they completely lose sight of the more important task at hand, and go into the cultural significance of Xena as a role model for young impressionable girls, and less young, less impressionable lesbians alike? I can hear Timmy explaining how the young female watchers would look up to Lucy Lawless as a hero and icon for strength and fortitude; while Johnny asks him to go back and fill him in on the theories of a on-screen lesbian relationship between Xena and the farm girl turned warrior named Gabrielle.

Johnny is obviously a male of modest upbringing. I assume his coveralls were not Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger. Timmy was more of an enigma, his tie-dye was that of an expert. Was he a life long tree-hugger well versed in the art of tie-dye or was his hippie attire purchased as an ironic homage to the pseudo earth-conscious people of his generation (are you sick of hyphens yet)? Either way, their relationship was a mystery to me, and the ending to such a wonderful conversation was beyond my ears' capabilities at this point.

Since that fateful day just weeks ago, I have tried to rekindle that conversation amongst my friends and coworkers. Bringing up stereotypes regarding foreigners and other cultures in search of the perfect opportunity to use this joke. Unfortunately, the people with whom I generally surround myself forego these conversations in lieu of other topics. Someday the opportunity will arise where the term comes up again, and I can summon my inner Johnny and Timmy to leave those in my wake with a one-liner that will forever be engrained in their minds.  Someday.

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