November 20, 2007
Native and Invasive Species
Before I came home, I emailed a friend to say I was coming into town and ask if she was busy this past weekend. She emailed back to say, "Yes, I am busy, and now you're busy too." She took me to a couple of really cool events, one of which I plan to write about more. At both events, there were plenty of people I didn't know, and she was very gracious about introducing me to her friends and colleagues, but she kept saying, "This is my friend Holly, from Pennsylvania." And I would have to say, "No, I'm not FROM Pennsylvania; I just live there right now. I'm FROM Arizona--Thatcher, Arizona, to be exact."
I realize this isn't a big deal to everyone, but it's a big deal to me. In a way that is deeply important, I really truly am FROM and OF the Southwest. I was born in Arizona and raised Mormon at a time when Mormonism was still in many regards a regional religion, and my sense of self is thoroughly tied up with a sense of place, as well as a sense of community and spirituality that derives quite specifically and literally from the place I was taught to call both "zion" and "home." It MATTERED that I was not only born in Arizona, but born in Arizona because my ancestors walked the distance from Illinois to Utah, then headed south for various reasons. Frankly, it matters to me still.
So to introduce me to people by saying that I'm FROM some place without no real mountains to speak of and a great lake and lots of rivers instead of pervasive and profound aridity is akin to introducing me as "Heidi" or "Heather," both of which I get called from time to time: even though you can see how people make that mistake, it's just not right, and it's annoying to have to correct someone on this.
And then there was what happened when I asked other people where they were from.
I realize I'm being proprietary and finicky, but really, is it so hard to understand what it means to say you are FROM somewhere? I asked one woman, "So, where are you from?" and she answered, "Here."
"Cool," I said. "What part of the valley did you grow up in?"
"Oh, I grew up in Chicago," she said. "But I've lived here for twelve years, and that qualifies me as a native."
"Actually, no, it doesn't," I said. "Three of my four grandparents were born in Arizona before it became a state, and they lived here their whole lives. Spending twelve years here doesn't make you a native when there are people who are born here and die here 80 years later."
She was miffed by my response, and while I can see why, I also think I'm right. And I don't see what's so hard about saying, "I grew up in Chicago, but I've been here for 12 years and I really love it--it felt like home as soon as I got here." OK, it involves more words than just answering "here" when someone asks where you're from, but it's A) more accurate and B) more informative.
My brother-in-law was born and raised in Gilbert, which when he lived there was a farming town but is now on of the fastest growing areas of the valley. He has a job that involves meeting a lot of people, most of whom are shocked to realize that someone in his late 30s could actually have grown up in the Valley of the Sun. It's true that natives of a certain age and generation are relatively rare, which is one more reason we prize our status and grow resentful when others usurp it.
And I also realize that although *I* might be a native, my race is not, and that white western culture has imposed a way of living on the southwest that isn't the least bit sustainable or wise. One reason I have always preferred to Tucson to Phoenix is that Tucson has always had less water to irrigate with, so it's more deserty--people in Tucson just couldn't manage the lawns people in Phoenix could, so Phoenix has always felt to me even more artificial and fated to die a miserable death than Tucson does.
I wish people wouldn't move here if they aren't really willing to deal with what living in the desert involves. Living here doesn't just mean that you don't have to own a coat; it means you can't use a lot of water. But swimming pools and golf courses abound, and increase.
I hope someday to move back here, and I hope that when I do, it still feels like home.
Posted by holly at November 20, 2007 10:20 PM