On Identity and Detroit
Earlier this week at Bamboo we held an event that honed in on the shifting narratives of the city and the people in it, called Native <> Newcomer. The conversation was meant to engage those new to the city with those existing to foster more open discussion and collaboration. This is good. It’s what we need and hopefully those who attended saw Bamboo as a safe space to create and converse in.
When we broke out into groups one of the first question asked was: do you identify as a native or a newcomer? But there was no box to check that said both pease, or maybe neither. Maybe I am just visiting here. I find myself looking for my Detroit identity somewhere in my tangled family history sprawled out across race and geography. This is where I am, searching for something else.
But this “Detroit identity” tied to physical place is so strong, so prideful, and almost so absolute. As if you haven’t lived in one area long enough you can not claim it home. Perhaps in a city that’s lost so much and faced so much backlash from outside of it’s borders, the name, the place, the idea of what the place means is treasured and protected so much more. The discussion we had this week reminded me of something I wrote not too long ago:
But yet something has changed, shifted as most things do, from a decline to a potential rise again. More and more of these suburbanites or city newcomers began to carry with them an energy of exploration and sometimes a focused effort to understand and recreate the city. But understanding and recreating can be very different languages. One is observant, listening, finding a time and a line of sight that aims to accept the entirety of the matter. The entirety of the Detroit matter is difficult to grasp. This sort of patient understanding requires the making of time and space to create empathy and respect. The other does not always listen. It is sometimes a fire of creation on its own, for its own endeavors or motivations, whatever that may be. Creation without understanding can lead to a hollow or disconnected function of a greater identity, in this case, a segregated and intensified collected experience of the city that teeters on tension of “new detroit” versus “old detroit,” with fears of loss of identity in the mix.
For me the box of native or newcomer is just one of hundreds I struggle to check off so easily. Identity is dense and shifting. Choosing or rejecting a label can also be an escape, a way to find an excuse for what I fear that I want most from myself.
I struggle to see myself as many things. I am focused on being a creative writer and a business owner. I am a: woman, a writer, a business owner, a partner, a friend, a leader, a community builder, a sister, a daughter, a student of life, a person personified into all of these drawn out roles, seems scary.
When I list them out it feels like a lot to carry and address. What does the woman in me say about this issue? The business owner? The artist? What do others want me to say, or expect of me in this role, is the real question.
Because who said I could be anything at all? And certainly, who said I can fit in and live up to any of these expectations of the boxes someone else labeled and placed out for me? It is those expectations that live inside the fear that can pull down at our heart.
Who gives us permission to create our own identity, if not ourselves?
All of those identities are what I choose. They are who I want to be and it is who I am. Telling myself that I cannot be a multitude of things, or that being one has limits from the other, is an excuse. That I cannot be a native and a newcomer at once, is too absolute, too limiting of a certain truth inside of me. There doesn’t have to be absolutes. The soul does not have these limits unless you allow them. But it is certainly able to feel the shadow selves, the projections of what other expect your identity to mean for you, reflecting back at you inside the mirror of the place and community you want to fit into.