Place and Identity – Time and Home

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I’ve lived, worked and gone to school in Pomona for almost a year now. Very slowly, it’s becoming HOME; the train whistle, the dry empty lots, a few massive walnut trees leftover from its ranching past.

Childhood was so different. Moss draped over towering pines, snow and slush and thunderous rain that came down hillsides in muddy torrents. Salamanders flashed and disappeared between the ferns.

But for almost a decade in between the fragrant clay soil of that past and the golden hills of this present, another set of senses was turned on and tuned in, in the heart of the concrete city, downtown Los Angeles.

And this is exactly the feeling and thought that struck me recently on a visit to downtown. As we topped a hill on the I-10 West, the city’s heart came into view and instantly I felt as though I was arriving home.

HOME.

This was the central vein running through that evening’s event, “Place and Identity: A Poetry Slam” hosted by a group of student urban planners from USC. Held at The Last Bookstore, the place had extra significance for me as it stands directly across from my most recent apartment building. Unfamiliar people in a familiar place stood up on stage and spoke with passion about what made them who they are.

Rejecting stereotypes, rejecting definitions and neat stories summing themselves up, they spoke about their ancestors, the places they were born and the places they grew up, about the times they loved and the places they loved in.

When it was over, the room was exhausted, united, and finally energized. What brought us together was Los Angeles, in that time and that place, but also ideas and universally shared experiences – not our cultures or languages.

We walked out of that cathedral of books onto the night, and I looked up at my old building, my old apartment, saw myself, and understood that it was just a residual of me, still residing in downtown, like a bright light that the eye still sees after it’s been taken away.

And then we were gone, driving east to Pomona.

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