NauenThen

The lure of the exotic

February 29, 2016

It's something that immigrants & nonwhites face, but I think of it in terms of being from South Dakota, which gets its fair share of being exoticized. I know this because I have so many times heard "I've never met anyone from South Dakota before!" followed by questions like "Did you grow up on a trading post?" "Did you have electricity?" "Are you Native American?" And that followed by huge disappointment to find out that Sioux Falls is just a (very nice!) town & my dad was just an accountant.

I'm fascinated that when Bob Dylan tried to enhance his early biography, he chose Sioux Falls to pretend to be from. How is it that Sioux Falls was more glamorous, more exotic, than Hibbing?

I recently read a story called "Sioux Falls," in which the narrator traveled to the apartment where his brother had died. I couldn't help but think that if the (true) story had taken place in Cleveland, Sacramento, or Montclair, NJ, the author would have called it "Brother" or "Belongings." I felt he had gotten an unearned thrill as though real people don't live in my hometown.

A new friend and I were doing the where-ya-froms, and her eyes got huge when I said Sioux Falls. Turns out her dad had been stationed there during the war, fell in love with a local girl, and had always spoken of Sioux Falls as the most wonderful place, so much so that it had never even occurred to her that it was real.

Maybe I do it too. I think it's a little glamorous to have connections in South Carolina, which so many people here in New York seem to view as a scary place with someone in a white sheet on every corner. Maybe there's not a huge line between exoticizing the other and fearing him.