By May Hemmer
Guest Columnist

I am a wife, a mother, a costumer and … a burlesque dancer.

That’s right. I am a burlesque dancer. The shock! The scandal!

But I am proud of what I am. I am also what I call a wonderful concoction of Puerto Rican, African American and Native American. I am proud of my profession of being a performer, proud of being a stay-at-home mom and proud of my heritage. It’s funny that others have a problem with it or think I should not be proud of what I do or what I am.

Since moving to Sanford two years ago from New Orleans, Louisiana, I have experienced a whirlwind of emotions, to say the least. Being told that my husband got his dream job was so exciting, but when I realized that the place that I was moving to wasn’t a town I had heard of … it was scary. My mother and father had been stationed at Camp Lejeune for a long time, and all I really knew about North Carolina was the larger cities.

You can imagine the adjustment when I moved from a city where there was always something happening — meet-ups, festivals, concerts.

However, I was hopeful.

And two years later, I’m still hopeful. But I won’t lie, I don’t put myself forward as I did when I first arrived. As a woman of color, I’ve seen a mix of greetings in this town. On one hand, I have met a few wonderful people whom I consider friends. On the other hand, I have had people ask me if I am the nanny to my children, and my children have been called derogatory names in regards to their complexion. I have also been treated by some as someone who should be ashamed of my profession.

All their attitudes tell me is these people lack knowledge of what burlesque is and have a closed mindset in regards to other ethnicities.

That brings me to the comment made recently by a local man running for office (article on Page 34). I was angry and shocked when I saw the comment and even shared the article from The Rant on my social media.

My first issue with this comment was that he was lumping all Hispanics and Latinos in a broad category. It is just one of the many reasons that when I tell people where I live, they are shocked and genuinely concerned about how I am doing. That is the perception that this town has outside of its community, and I feel that it needs to change.

There’s a lot of movement that has been made since I’ve moved here, but more needs to happen — especially if you want more diverse people to live here, work here and spend their money here. Learn about your multicultural neighbors to understand them.

Second, the halftime show was not burlesque. I’m curious if this person actually knows what burlesque is. The performances on that stage were a mixture of Latin dancing, pole art and other various forms of dances from other parts of the work.

Burlesque is the art of the strip tease that dates back further that most even know or care to learn about. It is a very expressive and empowering art form that is for all genders. I use it to reclaim my feelings about my body and my feelings as a woman and to express either my emotions or to comment on the current state of affairs in our country.

This has been going on for decades and will continue to grow; I can only hope. It is a main reason that I decide to go for it and teach classes in the community to not only educate people on what my performance style is, but to help others empower themselves.

I’ll end with this: I hope that this town grows more socially conscious, so that I will feel comfortable to raise my family here. I’ve heard people say that people don’t spend time here in town, but I can tell you from my personal experience as a woman of color that a lot of it has to do with a lot of stigmas that still exist here.

Don’t get me wrong — it is not the entire community, but just like with anything, a few bad experiences can cause people to have their guard up. Especially in the political climate we are in today.