A recent stay in Hilton Head

When I was in middle school, my parents purchased a time share condo on Hilton Head Island off the coast of South Carolina. While my parents have taken this trip each year, it’s been many years since our entire family has gone to Hilton Head. This summer was unique because my brothers and I coordinated our schedules to accompany our parents on their annual vacation spot.

As far as vacation spots go, Hilton Head remains pretty white. The last time I came here, about three years ago, I became pretty claustrophobic without seeing another Asian family or person of color, who wasn’t hired help, or doing lawn maintenance work. This year I learned about the Gullah community and their struggle for self-determination and preservation of culture, an integral piece of African American history that was (obviously) not taught in the Georgia public school I attended. Unfortunately I couldn’t garner any interest from my family to attend the Gullah tour with me, so I perused the internet for more information about the history of Gullah people. I was happy to find several websites citing local efforts of the Sea Island region to coordinate the documentation of Gullah history and ongoing traditions. In contrast to the pervasive multi-million dollar homes and golf courses I pass by, I found this reference to a United Nations speech quite refreshing (and sobering):

Hilton Head Island is the epitome of development run amok…[it]is a prime example of native islander displacement and erosion of Gullah culture…When people come to Hilton Head they golf, they play tennis. They don’t know the Gullah people exist. If the other islands end up like Hilton Head, no one would know the Gullah culture existed.

I can see how disappointing it is to lose this island to overdevelopment. During my stay, I was surprised to find myself in awe with the scenic beauty of the island. The landscape appears very simple — spanish moss draping over tree branches, wetlands hugging the island, dolphins swimming close to the shore. And while the beaches aren’t anything like the luxurious white-sand beaches of Miami, there is a peace and calm that comes from the water and land.


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