Running into racism in Iron Mountain

By JULIO LEDESMA

This is not a cry for help, a plea for attention, or a request for an apology. I am a visitor here in Iron Mountain. My time is limited to just a few summer weeks, so my intention/motive for speaking out is not a personal one. I’ve travelled all across our great country and have met many different types of people across a myriad of backgrounds and cultures. For one reason or another, I find myself spending the summer interning amongst the residents of Iron Mountain.

As a Hispanic, I knew that I was going to be a minority in this small town. I have met many friendly individuals whom have offered me nothing short of their best hospitality. But within two weeks of living here, I experienced blatant, hateful and racist speech directed right at me. I’ve lived around Los Angeles, California, for most of my life and only once in 20 years had I experienced blatant racism. It baffles me that in a town smaller than my university, I’ve experienced hate and discrimination for doing absolutely nothing wrong. If running on a beautiful Saturday afternoon is a crime punishable with hate speech, then fine, I am guilty as charged. But the only thing I did wrong – at least to the individual who sought fit to shout a derogatory and racist word at me-was being Hispanic.

This person had no idea who I was. He didn’t know that I was a computer science and mathematics student at top-tiered and prestigious Rice University. He didn’t know that at the age of 20, I had already started my own company. No one could have known that just by looking at me, and I don’t expect anyone to have guessed that. But this person didn’t bother to judge me by my character or feats but by the mere color of my skin.

I will be leaving Iron Mountain once my summer internship is over, and unfortunately, I am counting down the days. My once-cheerful and excited impression of this town was tainted by the act of one individual. I know that the overwhelming majority of people here are great, and I refuse to believe otherwise, but is this really the legacy Iron Mountain wants to leave behind? Refusing to acknowledge that this hateful behavior exists in this town is no better than actually committing it. Don’t misinterpret me, I did not take this offense personally. I have better things to worry about than someone calling me names while I am on a run. Life goes on.

However, the fact that I can dismiss this hate without being adversely affected does not mean that this behavior is excusable. While my stay in Iron Mountain is only temporary, people will still be exposed to bigotry, hate speech and sexist remarks. I worry for the local school child being bullied for his religious practices; for the workers being treated like second-class citizens for the color of their skin; for all the doctors being belittled because of their sex or gender. There is no excuse for not treating one another like fellow human beings. No one should have to be subjected to hate, and no one should have to live in fear in their own community.

I may be leaving in a few short weeks, but until then I’ll continue to hope for a better day, while always looking over my shoulder for the insecurity and disturbance my skin color poses to some few individual. I hope that my experience has helped shed some light on the darker side of the Upper Peninsula.