My wife and I are getting around to the restaurants here in Huntington, Indiana. Pizza Junction, which is downtown, offers a strong selection of pizzas and toppings and a great environment. Ugalde’s offers a local alternative to Applebee’s or Chili’s, but not as polished (which can be a good thing) and not as expensive. Copper Kettle, another downtown restaurant, offers a surprisingly inviting atmosphere (I have only had breakfast so I can’t say much food-wise). Great Wall is the compulsorily Chinese restaurant, although pretty generic in its buffet-style, the selection was wide and the fried rice was not orange.
While my wife and I enjoy food, what has interested us in Huntington’s food selection – as well as incited us to continue to eat out – is the ethnic diversity that can be found while dining. Great Wall is the only place in Huntington that we know we will see someone like us (well, like my wife). Although to some it may seem odd, there is something comforting for an ethnic minority to be able to walk into a room and realize that they are no longer the minority – or at least that there is better representation. The sense of, “you are like me” is extreme. It is something of a non-geographical ethnic enclave; we are drawn to one another.
There is a Mexican restaurant next to the Chinese restaurant and although the feelings aren’t quite the same as when we walk into Great Wall, they are similar. In the case of the Mexican restaurant, it is simply the appreciation of something minority. They are like us, even though they are not like us.
Mexican restaurants aren’t the only place where we have the opportunity to rub shoulders with Latinos/Hispanics. Like many towns/cities, many restaurants have Latinos/Hispanics as cooks or as buspeople. While it frustrates me that this reality is rooted in the fact that Latinos/Hispanics aren’t likely to be hired in others jobs, especially better paying jobs, it is an object of excitement when I see someone of some pigmentation behind the counter.
Surprisingly, when we ate at Ugalde’s there were a number of Latinos working both in the kitchen and as servers. I say surprisingly because my first inclination was that Ugalde’s was going to be a local joint where my presence would attract crooked necks and concentrated stares (which has happened); a part of me was a little anxious. As I reflect on my initial reaction, my assumption based prejudices are revealed. Even though I hadn’t experienced the restaurant I “knew” what it was like. Obviously, it was simply one of those rural “white” restaurants where those certain type of “white” people ate. While my assumptions were based in experience, it remained a prejudice and stereotyped view of small town white folk and small town businesses.
While there are no soul-food restaurants in Huntington, I am most likely to see black folk when I go out to eat. Some friends and I went out to Los Amigos, the other Mexican restaurant. As we entered we were welcomed by a brother!! He was as surprised at the tint of my brown skin as I was at his. He welcomed me with the ceremonial (not all black people do this) black handshake (which varies depending on who you are meeting; really, it’s the art of going with the flow) and made sure that I had everything that I needed. We were both thankful to not be the only one.
The unexpectant waiter isn’t the only black person I have run into while satisfying my hunger. I have seen a combination of about 10 black people – including bi-racial children – in restaurants. All in all, I have seen only about 18 or so non-Huntington University-affiliated black folk, in Huntington, so 10 is a fairly considerable number.
Ethnic diversity is scarce in Huntington, but at least I know I can get taco, some fried rice or a Philly cheese steak and have some diversity on the side.