In the piece, Laura Dunn, who recently made a film about Berry (The Seer), “can’t really say where she’s from,” according to the transcript. Both she and Berry seem to see that as a bad thing.
But while I admire much about Berry’s ideas, I’m not so convinced that the focus on the place where we’re from is the right one for our times. Some of my reaction to this is personal; some of it is based on the way places change, whether we like it or not; and some of it is based on a realization that the place I’m from has other history that has nothing to do with me.
I was born in Houston, but the place I think of as my hometown is Friendswood, where we moved when I was seven. It was a tiny town then – a few hundred people at best – and we lived on fifteen acres a couple of miles out of town. We had horses and room to roam. My parents helped organize an Episcopal church. It was in many ways an idyllic place to grow up.
And I couldn’t wait to get out of there. With the exception of my family, there was almost no one there to talk to. Yes, there was small town friendliness, but there was no substance.
I left at eighteen and never went back except temporarily or to visit. Even if it still existed as it was when I was a child, I wouldn’t go back today. I have always been extremely grateful that my parents sold their property before they died, because neither my sister nor I would have wanted to live there.
And it doesn’t still exist as it was when I was a child. It’s now a large suburb of Houston, known for its right-wing politicians, and has lost the small town virtues that were its only asset. It represents everything I detest about the suburban growth of U.S. cities.
Austin, where I lived when I left home, has more of a place in my heart, but it, too, is no longer the place it was when I first knew it. The small city that represented an oasis of ideas and culture in Texas is now a large and ever-growing one, with much of the same sprawl of Houston. I still like it, but it doesn’t hold me as a place. It may be trying to stay weird, but it doesn’t give me the same chills it did when I was young.
I feel attached to Texas because I have generations of ancestors from there. There are parts of the state I truly love, and some of them aren’t even all that beautiful. But I don’t want to be there, not just because it’s changed, but because the Texas of my ancestors was always too narrow a place for me: too Anglo, too conservative, too dismissive of other places and cultures and ways of being.
I wrote last week about the Amah Mutsun and the land trust they have developed to bring back some of their culture and help preserve the land in appropriate ways in this era of climate change. But I can’t see doing this myself in Texas, in part because the Anglo culture that defined me is less than two hundred years old and – unfortunately – writes most other people out of the story and represents a lot of bad decisions about how to use the planet.
I can’t say that I yet feel like I have a “place” in California. I’m new here, and while there’s a lot I like about it, my ties are more to people than place at this point.
But what I do see in Oakland is a mix of cultures coming together to try to figure out good ways to live going forward. Last weekend I went to celebration event for a local activist group now called Rooted in Resilience (they just changed their name from Bay Localize). People of all ages and ethnicities were taking part in this celebration.
That’s the place where I want to live, the place I want to be from: the one where everyone is involved, with a stake in the outcome and opportunities to develop things that matter, a place where the culture isn’t built on exclusion of most people or the extraction of wealth for the few.
The place I’d like to be from doesn’t exist yet, and building it is a process that will last well past my lifetime. I don’t think I’ll ever get to live there, but I would rather help create a better future than hold onto troubled roots.