The lush landscape of America hides a secret. When the bright lights, bounty, and sin of the city give way, you’ll find that America has an unexpected underbelly. In the suburbs, white people make as little as 100,000 USD a year. They often go without, having to make their own espressos in their homes, rather than making the daily trek to a local Starbucks. Children are often seen playing in the streets, if only to get a few hours of respite from the hardship, such as missing an annual trip to Disney World. The failing economy has hit hard here.
Those we spoke to said that they lived in fear of their Housing Association, a series of American groups that bully the residents who live in their territory and must pay fees to.
“If I can’t put three inflatable Santas in my yard at Christmas (ed: a Christian Festival) than what am I supposed to do?” said Bentley Adams, who agreed to speak with us at a nearby frozen yogurt shop, “Nothing. I can only pay my dues and hope that they do not come to evict us, to sue us. My portfolio can’t take another blow this year.”
Of all the people we spoke to about the living conditions, the schools, and the government’s policies, the person who stood out the most was Ashley Smith-Green. She had been watching us as we’d conducted interviews all over the neighborhood. When we approached her, she smiled shyly and looked away. Her white skin and sparkling blue eyes could be considered beautiful. In America, especially in the more conservative neighborhoods, women are discouraged from talking to men. White women are often cloistered in their homes, doing laundry and watching reruns of Friends, a popular TV program here which has been blamed for giving the normally docile white women unclean ideas about living in the big city in perpetual young adulthood. Ashley’s courage in speaking with us is astounding. We talk together awhile, sitting at traditional picnic table which are made out of wood and tough on one’s derier, but Ashley has been sitting at picnic tables her whole life, she perches herself with grace and an ease that is unsettling. Ashley tells us she wants to go to school and have a career. But what about marriage? She’d like to be married someday, but Ashley says she will not start a family in the suburbs. Instead, she says with conviction, she wants to live in the city. I question her as to whether she’s ready for such a step, having been raised in the suburbs her whole life. Her naivete shows through and she falters. She grows quiet, her blonde hair falling past her eyes.
We leave shortly after that. Before we go, we snap the above photo. Ashley stands beautiful, in star contrast to the harsh world she has been raised in. I don’t know what the future holds for Ashley. Though the city holds numerous economic opportunities, it is doubtful that girls like Ashley will survive long in the hustle of the seductive city. I can only hope that Ashley finds a way out, whether through marriage or miracle.