Don DeMaria, Summerland Key
We are reprinting this Letter to the Editor that appeared in the Key West Citizen on September 1, 2018, with permission of the author. We’re reprinting because it exemplifies the unique Key West culture that is at the heart of OIRF’s mission: “To celebrate and sustain Key West’s unique architecture, culture and history.”
Spread Key West Tolerance
“It was 1979 and I find myself standing in the checkout lane at Fausto’s with a cart full of food for a five-day fishing trip to the Tortugas. Clearly visible are two whole chickens, several batches of collard greens, a case of Busch beer and a watermelon.
An older black lady behind me is eying my cart with a big smile on her face. Finally, she bursts out laughing and exclaims “Oooo eeee — there be one white boy sure do know how to eat good!” I laughed and everyone around us began laughing. When we both finally caught our breath we joked around — then got down to serious matters — exchanging recipes for fried chicken and collard greens. Despite our obvious differences, we both learned that we had much in common.
Growing up in North Florida in the 1960s, blacks and whites did not associate, much less joke with one another. Tolerance was not a word in our vocabulary and we seemed unable to laugh at ourselves. Key West was different, and I liked it — black/white, gay/straight, Latino/gringo — they all seemed to not only tolerate one another, but got along fairly well and could joke around without getting into a fight. Isolated from the mainland and crammed together on a small island — everyone had no choice but to tolerate one another.
Key West has always been different — the only southern city that remained under Union control and loyal to the Union during the Civil War. But, Key West has never really been part of the South — more Caribbean — more eccentric and more tolerant of differences. It is just a Key West thing, I suppose.
I hope, with all the other changes the Florida Keys are experiencing, that Key West can retain those qualities of tolerance and humor that has made this city so unique. Much of mainland America could learn a valuable lesson from the Key West attitude in today’s turbulent times.”
Help OIRF celebrate and sustain this culture by becoming a member at www.oirf.org/join.