What does it mean to belong in a place? I’ve lived (for at least a few months) in nine communities across six states and two countries. No matter where I go, I seek connections between myself and the people who live there. I may identify with certain aspects of a culture or appreciate what makes the area unique. I find a long history of these moves throughout my family tree.
My parents met in California. My mom’s family immigrated to the united states from sri lanka. My mom recently shared a story about growing up with what her parents called american food. To them, american life was full of the kinds of processed food that became widely consumed in the 1960s and 70s. Her mom, my achchi, purchased these treats as a way to integrate her family into their new culture. In turn, my achchi prepared “special meals” for my sister and me as kids. To my achchi, being a kid meant shake and bake chicken with kraft macaroni and cheese. It was only after I became an adult that I came to appreciate the rice and curry she made for the rest of the family.
For some children of immigrants, integration can feel like a good thing. It can help them acclimate to their new culture. But it can separate them from the culture of their ancestors. Integration can dilute what makes a family special. By contrast, inclusion can help bridge cultures and remix old traditions.
My husband and I have lived in Washington for six years now. What drew us to the area was the progressive ideals of the state. We both lived in red states our whole lives, in the rural strip-malled suburbs of other cities. The Pacific Northwest carried an allure: of environmentalism, progressive politics, and community solidarity. We sought from our community a sense of belonging. In many ways we’ve found it. But activism and real rejection of the status quo is still a struggle here. The WTO protests in Seattle were a long time ago. Much of that spirit still lives on, but power still entrenches the white and wealthy.
No matter where we live, we have to support and include others in the communities we’re a part of. As recent refugees from Afghanistan move to the area, they too become part of our community. Inclusion is essential for the evolution and growth of a community. We stagnate without it.
My mother-in-law was born in Georgia, but her father’s family is from Maine. She passed away last year when everything else felt like it was going to shit. Last weekend we drove to Maine to honor her wishes of having her ashes scattered there. She traveled there as often as she could, visiting cousins and other family members. She dreamed of moving there one day.
As we drove single-lane roads through winding woods, I could tell why she loved the area so much. The world around us was transforming from deep green into brilliant red and orange. The cool air smelled briny and clean. Though she didn’t grow up there, my mother-in-law felt a connection to this place above all others. Even through the ache of loss, it felt good to share it with her.