Setting Down Roots and Building Community…again, and again, and again
I have moved 11 times in my life. I am only 39 years old and I was not raised in a military family, so I think this is a little weird. From the age of 17 on I have been like a rolling stone, never staying anywhere long enough to gather moss, and always excited for the next adventure.
The level of flexibility required to be a military spouse can rival a Gabby Douglas routine. My spouse is lucky and often says he’s glad the tables aren't turned. But I relish the opportunity to make new friends and keep the old, find new work (I get restless under bad bosses), and try on new houses, like I’m renting the runway. I am adept at learning new cultures and new languages. I’m open to trying new cuisines and love finding new places to hike. But I always complain about the weather (except in Seattle, Colorado Springs, and Florence, Italy).
However, I was inadequately prepared for was moving to a community with very few People of Color. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve lived in predominantly White communities before. Side bar: I’m Black. I identify as African American from Creole and West Indian descent. I grew up in Wheaton, IL and went to a small Catholic university in rural Minnesota. So, I’m used to living in mostly White spaces. But this time, was different. I was older. I knew myself better and my culture was more important to me than I previously realized.
When I was younger, 12, 17, 21 years old, my ethnic identity was not as salient and central to my life as it is now. Maybe it is because I am a mother to biracial children and I want them to understand their heritage. Maybe it is because, 15 years ago, I started doing research on racial and ethnic identity and I haven’t been the same since. But for whatever reason, my eyes are open to the richness that my ethnicity brings to my life.
Now with moving, sometimes we can find ourselves in homogenous communities with few people who look like us or understand the cultural norms with which we were raised. For me, this is usually a result of my racial and ethnic background. This could also be true for individuals raised in more urban environments who find themselves moving to small towns with no urban center within several hundred miles. This may apply to people raised in vastly different social classes.
So, as I find my culture being ever more important to me, I also notice when it’s lacking. I currently live in a community where many see my culture and body as a stereotype or exotic, something to be petted or observed with curiosity. In circumstances like this, I find it helpful to surround myself with things that remind me of my culture. I also surround myself with people who appreciate my culture because they share a similar culture. I had to find my people and we had to take up space.
It started with a relationship with one dear friend who is also a Black woman. She shared my pain of feeling alone and exoticized. Like there was a spotlight on us and at the same time, we were invisible. We shared and cried and laughed and hugged. Then we decided there had to be more of us out there. We reached out to a couple of people here and there, and before we knew it, we had developed a community. It’s still fresh and new, but provides us with a physical, visual, auditory, reminder that we are not alone, that we belong. We gather at least monthly to share food, wine, and conversation. We share our skills, knowledge, and experience. And we take up space. Loud, beautiful space.
Moving every 3-4 years can be exciting, but it can also be isolating. Finding your community can be necessary and life saving. It can help you ground yourself and reconnect you to your roots when you’re feeling lost in a sea of change. I’d be lost without my Sista Soirées.
Irene Summers Temple, PhD is a licensed Counseling Psychologist in private practice at Irene Summers Temple, PhD LLC in Rapid City, SD. She specializes in multicultural counseling, coaching, and consultation, serving helping professionals, People of Color, and LGBTQ+ individuals, fostering mental wellness and identity development.