This past weekend, after the Next Gen Leadership Team meeting, I had the opportunity to visit my friends and family in my hometown, Crown Point, Indiana. Crown Point is an “exurb” of Chicago and depending on the day, we claim to be Chicagoans or Hoosiers. Lately, with the Blago scandal, folks are definitely leaning toward the Hoosier side, but as soon as baseball season comes around we will return to cheering for the Cubs or the Sox.
It’s a small town – Crown Point – with a very particular culture. Everyone knows everyone’s business; at parties grown men and women sit at opposite sides of the room; and racism, while often frowned upon, is more than prevalent. Ever since I moved to Washington DC in 2003, I have looked forward to these hometown visits with equal parts of excitement and trepidation.
Visiting my hometown, I always feel the pull of these two very different worlds that I have lived in. I feel more than comfortable at my somewhat progressive hometown parish – the non-gender inclusive language they use doesn’t make me cringe the way it does when I attend Mass in DC. However, during the social hour (or two) after Mass, as some of the older folks in the parish tease me about being so liberal, I am reminded that while this is where I grew up, I no longer quite fit.
Playing dominoes is a favorite pastime in my hometown. Again, sitting around our dining room table, playing this game with my family and friends, is a comfortable place for me. I feel at home. And when people start to discuss moving out of our neighborhood because there are “worried about the value of their homes” (read: worried about the growing African American community in our neighborhood), for a second, I am back in my hometown mindset – a mindset of, albeit subversive, racism. Then, I remember my DC community and how problems around racism, gentrification and housing have torn my new town apart. And I am reminded that, while I appreciate the value of a good game of dominoes, I no longer share all of the values of my hometown.
When I visited Crown Point a few years ago, I challenged, and at times looked down upon, the values of my hometown. I tried to explain over and over to my friends and family why things they said struck me as offensive. I wanted them to understand the injustice that still prevailed in my hometown. And I always left feeling exhausted, disappointed and disconnected from the place where I was raised and the people who raised me.
Now, I am starting to take a different approach – namely, listening. I try to really listen and hear people’s concerns about our new president, the economy, the value of their homes (even if I don’t always agree with them). I try to feel out those rare moments when people might be open to dialogue, but mostly I just listen. I try not to get stuck on the words that hurt my ears, in order to hear the good parts of my hometown values. I try to listen and apply the things folks say to my understanding of the world and my activism.
And I have found that by listening, I do not leave my hometown in an angry huff. Rather, I leave feeling connected to and appreciating the community I grew up in – while still recognizing the ways in which I don’t align with my hometown community.
It is hard to live in the tension between hometown and new town. I know many people in our generation struggle with it. I’m sure we all have stories about our first holiday back at home during college or after we moved out. But, hopefully, if we are open to listening, to continuing to learn from the people we grew up around – we can find healthy ways to live in that tension.