Yesterday my father purchased my round-trip tickets home. I’ve committed myself to over 5 days in Toledo and I’m a little nervous about that. The last time I went home was for my grandfather’s funeral. I was there for a long weekend. The combination of family stuff coupled with the short amount of time and my undeniably adorable nephew made the time seem to fly by. There wasn’t enough time for me to realize that I was smack in the middle of, well Middle America. Land of churches as far as the eye can see.
Have you ever been to Toledo, Ohio? Have you ever heard of Toledo, Ohio? You may have. We have a few claims to fame. The newest, and some would consider most notable is Katie Holmes. I actually attended high school with the girl prodigy turned Scientologist. We also have Jamie Farr-he has a golf tournament in Ohio dedicated to him. He was also on the TV show M*A*S*H which I never watched as a child. Most of the glass in the United States is made in Toledo. If you look at the bottom of any of your glassware in your cupboard I would venture to guess that half of them has a small script capital L inscribed. That L Stands for Libbey. Libbey Glass is made in Toledo, “The Glass City” A lot of Jeeps are made in Toledo, too. Toledo has its own minor league baseball team as well as a hockey team. Toledo has a lot of malls, too. And a lot of churches. The street I grew up on as a child, Collingwood, has on average two churches per block in certain parts of the street.
Folks in Toledo are pretty conservative for the most part. They’re pretty Christian, lots of them are Catholic. There are pockets of Muslims and Jews and a fairly large “Hispanic” culture. I use Hispanic in quotations not to make small of it, it’s just that there’s no defined Cuban, El Salvadoran, Dominican, Mexican identity celebrated there-most ethnic groups tend to be all lumped together. This is why for a long time I have refused to refer to myself as “African American.” In Toledo black folks and white folks use “African American” just like “Hispanic” those who are black are “African American” when you move to NYC and have friends from Ghana you soon realize that they are African Americans. Or on the other coin you meet a black girl from Jamaica or the DR an accidentally refer to them as African American and are quickly reminded that they’re Caribbean or black Latinas.
When I first moved to New York I was shocked by the need to label. Since my African American post 1920’s Literature class in college I stopped calling black people “African American” and started calling us black to the dismay of many classmates. So coming to NYC I was shocked that my answer for my racial identity wasn’t sufficient to the mass majority of people who wanted to know. They’d ask “Where are you from?” and when I said Ohio they wanted to know where my parents were from and their parents. I realized they weren’t looking for states but a rather a county of origin. A country I unfortunately couldn’t give them. Like so many blacks in the US-living outside of the very culturally diverse Metro New York area I have no idea where my “people” are from. For all I know I could be Jamaican or Dominican. When you’re a black person and a descendant of slavery your identity is completely lost in the lack of paperwork. We can look, we can try but the task at hand will be very difficult. I’ve been told that I have “Chinese” eyes (from folks in Ohio, of course who still refer to most people of Asian decent as Chinese). A New Yorker would be more direct-you have Korean eyes, or Japanese eyes. I don’t think my eyes look Asian at all but that’s what I was told as a kid…I know I’m bashing my home town.
Truth be told there was nothing blatantly fucked up about my childhood. There wasn’t anything overtly horrible or racist that happened to me. (although there are a lot of confederate flags on bumpers there) That said I would never in a million years even consider spending more time there than necessary. Like going home for the holidays. I usually try to limit my time there to 5-7 day periods of time. Like next week. 5 days. If you pray, pray for me.