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Archive for February, 2015|Monthly archive page

Searching for Meaning in the Borderlands

In Creative Writing, Geography/ Spatial Justice on February 14, 2015 at 6:00 AM

Five months after taking the plunge that landed me on the other side of the country, here I am: a newly-minted academic in a place that, for all intents and purposes, is diametrically opposite that of my Brooklyn barrio.

I live in what can be described as an intersection between a large public housing structure dressed in light brown and yellow hues, and a prototypical, suburban cul-de-sac overlooking undeveloped valleys and chaparral. The view outside my building itself suggests the nature of this place: nothing but the ever-busy I-5, a six-story parking structure, and five- and four-star hotels are in view.

La Jolla may as well be as far away from Sunset Park, Brooklyn as Pluto is from Mars. In a time and place wherein U.S. cities are witnessing the invasions of all forms of gentrifiers and speculative capital, and wherein the suburbanization of poverty has reconfigured the age-old dynamics of urban space and race, La Jolla stands out like a relic of an artificial past—a stubborn bastion of old money and white supremacy in the borderlands.

Of course, when looking at the natural beauty that is La Jolla Shores, it isn’t surprising why the rich would choose to build their mansions here. But the irrepressible question: what is this place? Given the extreme artificiality of the landscape, a quiet cookie-cutter spread of white, beige, and yellow boxes, is this even a place at all?

La Jolla Shores

A view of La Jolla Shores

It’s been five months since I moved to San Diego to pursue a doctoral degree, and as usual, I’m at a loss for words. I came here to study space and race—and San Diego, for numerous obvious and not-so-obvious reasons, is a prime location for such research.

The military, the border, the shameless Anglo coloniality in former Mexican tierra that was itself stolen from the Kumeyaay. The wounds in this place are immeasurably layered. And when I think about the larger picture: really, what am I doing here?

What did the Universe have in mind in bringing me to such a place? Being an expat New Yorker wouldn’t be so freakin’ hard if I didn’t bring a chronic condition with me across country. Would it even be this hard had I come here with the security of at least a few close friendships?

But, no, I keep reminding myself—this was the point. The point was to start over. The point was to try living in a new space that wasn’t so indelibly branded with the knotty memories of twenty plus years, spread throughout the various nooks and crannies of a city at war.

So now I’m a transplant in another people’s land, another people’s city, and for what? What is my presence here accomplishing? Was I pushed by an ennui of “more of the same” in New York, or was I pulled in by relaxing promises of a city by the border? The question of agency, and displacement, never goes away.

I honestly don’t know how to approach these thorny questions other than to wrench agnosticism and humility and conscientiousness about where I stand. I feel clueless being so unanchored from place (by definition, a space imbued with cultural signifiers, with life and meaning).

Yet this experiment in graduate school placelessness–a feeling of zero gravity in a haze of detached theories–reminds me of why geography matters. Space and place matter. The land we occupy matters. And there are spatial epistemologies we have yet to illuminate.

But right now, I feel the intensity of this uprootedness and the swirl of possibilities.

Five months in, and still, I can’t decide what this place is to me.

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