Photo by Brendaly Vega (Photo Editor)
It’s Friday night in Pembroke, a small town, home to only one bar and roughly 3,000 people. Tokyo, the local Japanese restaurant, bar, night club trio, is overflowing.
On one side, is a cluster of intoxicated 20-somethings in crop tops and polo shirts with a drink in one hand and their phone open to Snapchat in the other.
On the other side, a gathering of 30-somethings in leather jackets stand, motorcycle helmets tucked under their arms.
Out of nowhere, two men from separate sides begin fighting. Then two more. Soon it’s an entire free-for-all, and while nobody knows exactly what started it, everybody knows why.
Though the infamous bar fight occurred in 2015, the underlying tensions and catalysts which spurred this disagreement remain incredibly relevant today.
In order to understand where the animosity comes from, it is important to recognize that 3,000 residents are divided by two exceptionally diverse demographics; those of the Lumbee Tribe and the residential students of UNC Pembroke.
While both occupy the same town, the two maintain fairly contrasting attitudes towards their living situation, thus fueling the unfriendly fire.
The Lumbee Tribe are close-knit people who pride themselves on their culture. Native American roots run deep in the town and have since long before the university was even a thought. In fact, the school was originally built with the purpose of educating the Native American population of Robeson County.
Pembroke itself has a rich cultural history unknown to students, who may not bring it upon themselves to register for one of the American Indian courses offered by the university or to visit the Museum of Southeast American Indian, located on campus in Old Main.
More often than not, the students and Lumbees go about their business, only occasionally crossing paths in public spaces like Wal-mart.
While some may see this as a coincidence, it is most assuredly not. The misconceptions students have adopted towards their fellow citizens have, in a sense, confined them to the boundaries of campus and its residential living areas.
Perhaps, this self-inflicted isolation generates itself from the willful ignorance the two groups reiterate when it comes to understanding one another, or finding a solution for the existing divide. Or, it could be the more than obvious cultural differences that lead both groups to believe fostering relationships with one another to be a particularly farfetched idea.
The general consensus among students appears to be: there are simply few reasons to mingle outside of campus with those that are not students.
“I’m friends with other students, ya know. I stay around campus and go to school so that’s who I hang out with.” Cameron Stewart, a senior at UNCP, said. “We just have more in common.”
The locals have little-to-no reason for venturing on campus, aside from stopping at Starbucks for an afternoon pick-me-up or the occasional performance or screening at GPAC.
This distinct isolation from one another fosters further misconceptions for each side.
From the local’s perspective, the once beloved university, which was formed in the history of the Native American, especially Lumbee, culture has been turned into a giant frat house and students are to blame for everything.
Stuck in traffic? Students. Long line in the drive-thru? Students. Can’t get a table right away at the local Mexican restaurant? Those darn students.
Students have a fair share or strongly worded opinions on locals as well. After several times of being approached in a dark parking lot and asked for money, hearing of friend’s cars being broken into and of
course, experiencing the unmistakable “Lumbee call,” an image is painted of the Lumbee people, which does not give justice to their truly caring and hospitable nature.
The issue lies in the fact that these two groups remain so secluded from one another. When they do have a memorable encounter, it is usually an undesirable run-in.
How can two groups with such different backgrounds be expected to behave amicably together, when they have spent so much time apart nurturing their own prejudices? Is it on the Lumbee Tribe to take on a sort of “host” role and extend a truce, in hopes of reaching a copacetic relationship, or should the students, as newcomers, make it their responsibility to educate and culture themselves and gain a respect for the Lumbee people who are now their neighbors?
Perhaps it is both. A mutual understanding is necessary between each group to progress towards amicability.
While a small number of these situations reach the point of physical violence, as it did in the 2015 bar fight, there is an undeniable tension between the Lumbee Tribe and UNCP students, which separates the town. While it is not impossible to ease this tension and build a relationship with one another, this is no feat that can be done overnight. Both sides must be willing to put their differences aside.
Taco Palace, the Mexican Grill, was once named Tokyo’s - the restaurant which held the bar fight of 2015.