The first time I noticed was in San Antonio. I was there for a wine festival, and as I made my way from my hotel downtown to a venue in the outer rings, I saw a Chili’s, and a Home Depot, and a Target. Freeway signs, and lots of cars. I forgot where I was.
Maybe I was tired, but I couldn’t see anything that made San Antonio any different than parts of Los Angeles, where I grew up, or northern California where I was living at the time. It all looked the same. I lost my place – not just what exit I needed to take to get to the tasting but what city was I in? Where did I go?
I’m a child of the 80s and 90s – I grew up in the boom of the big box stores and mega-chains and the appreciation of consistency. “If I go to this Chili’s in San Antonio, it will be the same as any other Chili’s anywhere else!” And that, for the moment, seemed like a good thing.
But when there’s nothing left that’s different – nothing left that’s unique – where do you belong? What’s there to remember? What do you call yourself when someone asks where you’re from? You get lost on freeways.
This country didn’t used to be so uniform. As a little kid, I visited Boonviille – a small town in northern California, where I had the best ice cream ever. Boonville has its own language:
Boontling is a folk language spoken only in Boonville in Northern California. Although based on English, Boontling’s unusual words are unique to Boonville, California. Scottish Gaelic and Irish, and some Pomoan and Spanish, also influenced the vocabulary of the language. Boontling was invented in the late 19th century and had quite a following at the turn of the 20th century. It is now mostly spoken only by aging counter-culturists and native Anderson Valley residents. Because the town of Boonville only has a little over 700 residents, Boontling is an extremely esoteric dialect, and is quickly becoming archaic. It has over a thousand unique words and phrases.
Boontling arose from its place. With trails of languages from Native American and immigrant groups, it reflected the unique people, place and time special to Boonville. How do we keep Boontling alive? How do we tell these singular stories?
Hoping for the Vibrantly Local
I think Portlandia is the indicator that a tide is turning. People are turning on their TVs to watch quirky skits about a city that has an identity. We’re making choices that reject the bland, the repetitive, the big box in order to invest in the things that set us apart.
“Local” is trendy, but if local means gentrification of spaces where affordable housing is needed, or inflating prices for fresh food, or reliance on transportation to access specific services, then we are building a localism based on class. We’re invading others’ spaces to reinforce a new localism that further excludes already marginalized groups.
If we care about fairness and inclusivity, the solution is a localism that makes towns, places, communities more stable, that keeps people supported and loved where they already are (if that’s where they wish to be). This is a call to reflect – on bringing your time, attention and money to your community. To speaking out if you can or wish to, to inviting others to do so, and to listening when they do. Invest in your community by listening to the folks who are already there. Majora Carter says it best in her Twitter bio: You don’t have to leave your neighborhood to live better!
This is an ode to vibrant localism, to lively communities, to neighbors who know one another and to what makes us unique, different and separate. This is a beginning.