To Be of a Place

What does it mean to be of a place?
Is who we are, where we are?
How can we know ourselves otherwise?
What does it mean to be of a place, of a country?
Is the man next to me just me again,
Because we stand in the same place?
Can I not be as a man who is far away,
Because he stands in a distant place?
I have stood at the mouth of the canyon,
And contemplated my place in the world.

If where I am in any way makes me who I am,
Then the more places I go;
The more of me there is.
I am enlarged.
I have stood on the bank of the river
And looked across at another country.
I have stood at the mouth of the canyon,
And contemplated a larger world in me.

February 2020

Who Am I to Say?

Below a bright, white sun there were clouds
     Scudding across the clear, sharp sky,

First white and puffy, then flattening and smearing,
     And now faded into a grey obscurity.

I know who I am – says the Black girl.
     Yo sé quién yo soy – dice el abuelo.

We know who we are – say the Grange men.
     We are who we have always been – say the Lakota.

I am not who you say I am – says Samira,
     But I know who I am. So who are you to say?

Who are we? And who am I to say,
     If we have faded into grey obscurity?

January 2018

Embrace your cultural identities

The connection between culture – heritage and history – and individual identity is definite. We are our histories, our experiences and how we have been given to understand values. We may reject or deny, but rejecting or denying something still brings it into our existence. Only ignorance can create that which is not. Knowing and understanding our own personal and familial histories is clarifying, if not actually defining of our knowing and understanding of self. Discovering more of our history, the historical context of the place we grew up and spent our formative and the stories of the people who surrounded and influenced those years, expands our knowledge and understanding of self, who we are and how we got to be us. More knowledge and understanding comes from knowing and understanding the further back history of the place we grew up and the histories of the people who came there, those histories that created the historical context of or childhood and youth and peopled it with people such as they were.

All this knowledge and understanding of where we came from and how we came to be who we are, for good or bad, forms the layers of our culture—personal, familial, associative, local, regional, national/ethnic and global. We are to a greater or lesser degree a product of all of this, and the better we know it, the better we understand it, the better we know and understand who we are as an individual in all of this. And the more empowered we are to do something about it if we wish, or not, possibly depending on how comfortably fitted all the parts of our self are.

This knowledge and understanding is also very empowering for changing our relationship to others. We may walk away from some things and toward others. We may capitalize on our strengths and bolster our weaknesses. (Yes, I used that word – humbling, yes but not humiliating and not euphemistic.) We may share what we know with others to help them understand us, and we can better understand others and truly appreciate their differences, differences that can teach and enrich us as encountering new histories and new people do, when those encounters are equitable. Self knowledge is self empowerment. Shared knowledge cast light on the shadow of ignorance. Ignorance, observed a nineteen year old sociology student, leads to fear and fear leads to hatred. Then doesn’t knowledge lead to security and comfort, and don’t security and comfort lead to acceptance and love, love in the sense of loving thy neighbor, love and the binding force in community?

We should study and discover our on histories and heritage and the histories and heritage of as many others as we practically can, certainly those with whom we must live and work and learn. And I think this is particularly true for those in the dominant positions in a society. Whiteness has no privilege when we know its history, class has enormous, too often unmet responsibility when we know its history, and affluence has a counter balance whose history suggests to possibilities of a future price, a consequence. What we don’t know is perhaps what is or will be hurting us. We can start to make a better world when we learn everything we can about the individual piece of the world that we are.

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