It was an 80’s hip hop song, and the line was right where the beat stopped (or so I play it in my head), so that it was delivered acapella: It ain’t where ya from, it’s where ya at…
So the English teacher in me sees all kinds of wrong in the statement, but that still wannabe b-girl in me is bobbing her head, like, “Word, word.”
The statement is what my students call real talk and has become ever truer to me over the years I have been teaching them the descriptive essay from an exercise I call Where I Come From. They come from a million and one different backgrounds all of which, you guessed it, are the “realest” and most definitely, the “hardest.”
I encourage their regional pride.
I remember wishing I could have the same loyalty and hold my country, state; shoot, my city, in the same high regard as my West Indian and African peers. I probably wasn’t alone; before Septemeber 11th and outside of an election year, how many American flags did you see hanging from rearview mirrors and encomapssing license plates of 18-25 year olds?!
Most of my international peers, flags emblazoned across their tee shirts and hanging from the rearview, had been years removed from their homes and even more often the case was that they had been moved due to dire situations–from poverty to civil war.
It was a loyalty I could not profess for the America nor the Delaware I grew up in. Where I came from; home encompassed a few folks in less blocks. I loved them; would claim them like a set, but I had no pride for the town nor the state; not the country and my loyalty to the latter could be bought with a passport, ticket, and/or opportunity to go elsewhere.
What had made it real and hard –from the good ol’ boy network that were as scary and dangerous to the psyche and body as a blood or crip to the wannabes who were most dangerous in that all they wanted was a rep and would stop at little to earn it to the fairly common sentiment that’s how it is around here didn’t seem the badge of honor my students claim as loyalty. Instead it made it a place to look back on, visit, but never a place to stay.
They tell me that violence and drugs are something to be laughed at giggling at the various names they’ve created to name guns and the way heroin addicts lean; remind me that their cities “go hard;” essentially agreeing with that status quo.
And that is what scares me most–because despite the prevalent violence that claims too many of their peers, the drugs they know all too personally, it is not where they’re from–home–that is dangerous to them, it’s where they at mentally.
Where they at is wayyyyy harder. It is a small scared corner.
I challenge myself to the daunting task of showing them that to have a small mind set is far worse than what they accuse me of–having a small home(town). I’m from the second smallest state in the Union, they laugh, as if it is a liablilty for which I should bow my head in shame. Because they don’t have nothing there–nothing including malls, overcrowded schools (my whole high school held more than some of their graduating classes), gunshots serenading me to sleep.
Every time they do this–about twice every semester when I teach the descriptive essay–I get a little hot and bothered by their loyalty, particualry at the expense of dissing other places–like my home. And it’s why I started using the exercise in the first place.
Regional pride is cool but not when it relegates you to the confines of that region indefinitely-especially if that region is negative and destructive anyway. Eventually you become that place. You become the status quo that says it’s okay; that’s the way things are to every negative and destructive thing that goes on there.
It’s not okay.
While I do not believe everyone needs to leave home to realize this–I am not dissing where ya from I do know that realizing this is essential. The insight of those who live it is essential in fixing it. But if where ya at is that small scared corner you’re gonna find that like bound feet, the growth’ll be stunted.
Now stop the beat and let me kick it acapella:
Small feet can’t make big steps.