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Shanna B. Tiayon

Vacation Memories Marred by the Indelible Stain of Racism

Illustration by Olivia Waller

Shanna B. Tiayon | Longreads | June 2019 | 9 minutes (2,384 words)

As I looked out the bus window I was awestruck by the magnificence and vastness of the canyon that stretched farther than my eyes could see. I stared at the brown hues with hints of red, orange and blue, and the rock textures that were still visible even from a distance. The Grand Canyon was breathtaking and I was taking it all in for the last time as the bus drove by.

A loud voice disturbed the peace of my window gazing.

“There’s no eating on the bus,” it said. “The kid — she dropped the paper and there’s no eating on the bus.”

My eyes never left the window. When the disruption passed, I turned my thoughts to our trip. It was March, 2018. Hailing from the DC Metro area, this was the first trip we took as a family after I completed my PhD program in May, 2017.

My husband and I, with our four kids ranging in age from 2 to 20, had just finished the arduous but magnificent hike of the canyon’s Cedar Ridge Trail. The hike was challenging, but we made it. As I sat on the bus returning to the Visitors’ Center, I could already feel my muscles starting to tense up from navigating the trail’s 6,120-foot elevation gain.

“The paper,” the voice interrupted again, “somebody needs to pick that paper up.”

This time I turned my head towards the front of the bus, realizing that the person spoiling my daydreaming was the bus driver. The National Park Service bus driver glared at us through the rearview mirror, gesturing towards a Kind bar wrapper my 2-year old had accidentally dropped on the floor. We weren’t the only ones eating on the bus, but we were the only ones being admonished for it. Also, we were the only Black family on the bus. In fact our family represented 6 out of the total 8 Black people on the trail at all that day, among dozens of White visitors.

I bent down to pick up the paper just as we arrived at the second stop. The bus driver pressed the brake. Still partially out of my seat, my body lunged forward with the momentum of the bus. When it came to a complete stop, my back jolted to the back of the seat. I looked up and the bus driver was now out of her seat, coming towards us with her hands flailing. She was a thin-framed, older White woman, I guess in her early 60’s, with long, straight, bleach blond hair hanging down her back. Wide-framed, tinted glasses sat on her face. She had on dark jeans and a red puff vest, and she reeked of cigarette smoke.

She stopped within a foot of my family. “I need you all to get up and move to the back,” she said. “I need those seats so the passengers can board.”
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