A Nation on an Island
This year, I have done some exploring- personally and geographically. This election has definitely caused me to look in the mirror and examine my own beliefs, challenge my existence, and try and gain a better understanding of how I might fit into the world around me. Perhaps the Hamptons aren’t the first place you think of when it comes to taking blinders off and thinking critically about policies and the complexities and differences throughout the country. The Hamptons are known around the world for its beautiful beaches and white washed mansions. However, as a waitress in the Hamptons, I’ve learned that in actuality the stark contrasts between demographics here are no different from anywhere else in the country.
Before I unravel my realizations and examinations from this summer, let’s first rewind back to November 7th. As a white girl from a middle upper-class family from Jersey who recently graduated from liberal University of Vermont with a degree in Natural Resources, it is safe to assume I fall into a certain microcosm of beliefs. Therefore, it is safe to assume that I was shocked and horrified to learn who was going to gain access to the nuclear codes. The way I saw it, everything that I had the liberty to care about in my sheltered life was at stake: the health of the environment, women’s rights, equal opportunity. As a young person who evolved into consciousness during a democratic era, I took for granted the way things were run on a political level, and was under the impression that the majority of our country saw things the same way that I did. Perhaps many can agree that this perspective fostered an era of content apathy. In other words, I was barely paying attention at all.
After graduating college, my best friend and I hopped in a Honda Civic and drove from Vermont all the way to California. First and foremost, for those who have never ventured too far from the sidewalk, I highly recommend drinking in all that this beautiful country has to offer. Forget a million dollar trip to Ibiza. The hidden wonders of the world are located right here in your very country. We got to explore eight different national and state parks for a whopping grand total of $486 each. But the lasting and more important impact this trip had on me was the striking and ironic contradictions that lie within the “United” States.
We drove through three straight days of farmland. Think about that. Actually try and conceptualize how vast that landscape must be if it took three entire days of back to back driving to get through. The scenery melted into itself, and the poverty in these places was striking. The farm country is an island. There is not equal opportunity here. No matter how hard one works, the life of a third generation farmer in Omaha is not going to end up with the same opportunities as someone who has connections and geographical proximity to New York City. And where do we get most of our food from? The third generation farmer in Omaha. Another irony I found here is the prevailing reliance on wind and solar energy throughout these Trump-supporting states. And speaking to a badass farmer and beekeeper out in the boondocks or Oregon, I learned that she had no idea why her bees weren’t returning to their hives.
I was given access to education. I understand that the bees can’t find their way home because their natural navigation systems are being poisoned by pesticides. I know that the “colony collapse disorder” knocked out a third of all honeybee colonies in the U.S in 2007. I also know that bees are responsible for 1/3 of all the food in the food system. And I know that Trump failed to pass the insecticide ban on chlorpyrifos, one of the most lethal pesticides on the market for the bees.
Now let’s get back to my experience as a waitress. Everyone who comes to the Hamptons to work for the summer has one overarching goal: to make some money. But the money people walk away with varies drastically across the board. I had the luxury of working at one of the most beautiful restaurants in the Hamptons. For those who have never worked in the service industry, I will state the obvious: the higher the bill, the higher the tip. The way most restaurants work is that the server makes the most money, and the “back of the house”, or the bussers, food runners etc. make a smaller percentage of those tips. As a “fine dining” operation, the majority of the people I served were well dressed and ready to drop multiple hundreds of dollars on an experience.
As the nation is questioning everything right now, I am questioning whether I got my job as a waitress because of the color of my skin, or if I was genuinely the hardest worker in the room. To take it a step further, I had the luxury of living in my parents house this summer. Many young people rent houses for the summer and the majority of the money they earn goes to rent. And many people come internationally, largely from Colombia and Jamaica, to earn as much as they can this summer. Many of them rent. Many of them are working two jobs. And many of them are working back of the house, perhaps because of a language barrier, or perhaps because business owners want to make people comfortable during their dining experiences, having waitresses and waiters reflect the leading demographic of patrons. Microcosms are protected by reinforcement of interaction, much like the way I sheltered myself from the beliefs of the rest of the country by interacting with those who already believed what I believed in.
Stephen’s Talkhouse threw a party one Sunday night which was at first labeled “White Trash Party”, until people spoke up and the name got changed to “Hampton’s Trash Party”. A coworker of mine voiced that she was uncomfortable to go to this party because she was black. The decorations of the party were clotheslines and the attire was what one would imagine to be trailer park attire. Perhaps this was bad timing because it was the same week as the Charlottesville riots, pronouncing the ongoing clash of demographics in the country. To mock that certain demographic felt like award timing to say the least. But here lies the rub: the whole country exists right here in the Hamptons. And if we are trying to patch up a nation, perhaps we should start by at least questioning the contrasts of our local ecosystems.