By Tim States
My wife and I, along with our then-three-year-old daughter, traveled to Bemidji, Minnesota. The purpose of the trip was to feel out the area and Bemidji State University so we could better make a decision on whether or not we wanted to spend the next couple of years in northern Minnesota. Of course we already knew that the winters were brutal and the summers were fleeting at best, but we needed to know what the town was like.
Upon our arrival, Bemidji reminded me a lot of the town my parents are from in central Wisconsin, so it felt nostalgic. Late May in Bemidji felt good to the touch, a far cry from 100-plus-degree days in Tucson. Since my wife and daughter are Navajo, it was good to see some other Native people in the area. I had done some research on the racial situation before the trip and read about some issues, but over those few days in May, we didn’t see any problems worth noting.
Earlier in the month, upon the completion of classes at Pima Community College in Tucson, I spoke with one of my writing teachers, Molly, about our plans to possibly move north.
“I don’t know. I’m not really sure about it. I think that it might be too conservative in northern Minnesota,” I said.
“You know what? I wouldn’t worry about it much. I think that Minnesota could surprise you,” Molly told me.
We moved to Bemidji and started classes at the end of the month. No issues yet.
Molly sent me an e-mail, asking how things were going in Minnesota. I told her that things had been good, and that it seemed like my concerns were unfounded. There hadn’t been any issues.
About a week later I got a job working at a sandwich shop. Everything seemed fine and the people were nice enough. A couple of days in, I talked with the manager about how long it takes to drive from Bemidji to Minneapolis. He took the conversation in this direction:
“I know, all the damn reservations around here. Red Lake, White Earth, Leech Lake. If we didn’t have to worry about any of that, it would be way faster,” the manager said.
“Well, actually I was thinking more of all the small towns where you have to slow down and go 35 miles an hour.” I was trying to let him off the hook and redirect the conversation.
“Yeah, that’s a pain too. “
A few seconds passed, but like a true people pleaser, he couldn’t let it go.
“These Natives, though. They’re like a different breed. Going to Walmart, buying Mountain Dew and Doritos with their food stamps,” he said.
“Yeah well, my wife is Navajo, so…” and again I try to let him off the hook without embarrassing himself.
And again, he just couldn’t stop.
“Oh, well, she’s not from here. I bet all those Natives down there are loaded,” he said.
“Actually they’re not. The Navajo are the largest tribe in America and they’ve only had gaming for a few years. Basically none of the individual tribal members will get money from gaming because of their population.”
“Oh, okay,” he said and finally let the conversation rest.
A couple of days later my wife came home from work and said, “So today at work everyone was talking about politics and then, out of nowhere, Patricia starts talking about interracial dating.”
“That sounds like a fun conversation,” I replied. I had gone into her store a few times before and met everyone she worked with, and they all seemed like nice people.
“Well, they’re talking about it and then she looks at me and says, ‘I just really think everyone should marry within their own race, ya know?’, and I just look at her like, ‘You’ve met my husband about five times already.’”
My wife met the daughter of one of her professors. The daughter is from Red Lake and is married to a white man in the Air Force. The daughter was having a hard time because people, both white and Native, were giving her trouble about being married to a white man. She told my wife about a time at the wonderful mall here in Bemidji when she and her husband were walking around, holding hands like normal people do. An elderly white man came up to them both and said, “Aren’t you embarrassed?”
My wife and I finished classes around noon. We were both hungry and our daughter didn’t get out of preschool for a couple of hours, so we decided to get something to eat.
“We should try something new. You know, we haven’t been to that bakery we talked about a few days ago,” I told her. “It could be good.”
“That sounds fine,” she replied.
So we made our way to the bakery, excited to try something different. We walked in and there actually weren’t many people there. We sat down and started to look over the menu. And we looked. The menu wasn’t that extensive, so perusing it more than once really wasn’t needed. I took my attention away from the menu and saw some servers walking around, but not near our table.
Meanwhile, a single white man sat down about five minutes after us, and a group of three white ladies sat down about five minutes after him. Still no service for us, so I stood up and saw a couple of servers in the back. I made eye contact with each one of them, thinking that would have been enough to get some service. A couple of minutes later a server conveniently scooted around our table and greeted the three white ladies.
My wife said, “Those old ladies came in after us. What the fuck?”
“Maybe they like to serve the elderly before everyone else,” I said.
“Well if that guy gets served before us, we’re walking out of here.”
The white ladies already knew what they wanted, so their order was taken right away. So far, the white man who came in after us hadn’t been served either, so maybe they just didn’t like serving white men.
As soon as the server left the white ladies, the single white man also got served.
“That’s it. We’re leaving. This is bullshit,” my wife said.
“I know,” I told her.
She was out the door before me. As I stood up to put my jacket on, one of the servers slowed down a little bit and looked over. It seemed like she contemplated saying something, but then thought better of it and walked away.
Tim States is a student at Bemidji State. He grew up with a heavy dose of self-loathing and an unhealthy fear of success. He has previously been published in SandScript.