Home (5)

Placecenteredness. Belonging. Your lands.


I have many places that I call home. Washington and Lee University. New Orleans, Louisiana. Muskegon, Michigan. And, soon, St. Andrews, Scotland. While all of these places hold a special place in my heart that often pulls me back, I yearn for them the way I yearn for crawfish from New Orleans or to swim in Lake Michigan again. While I have a sense of loyalty and favoritism for these places, I see them as a part of me, not necessarily me as a part of them.


I do not have the ideology that is rooted in the Tohono O’odham perspective on their land. To them, the land has been there since the beginning and it is where they belong. They do not exist without their land and its Creator. However, I have felt since I was young that I would leave New Orleans and not return. Not because I do not love it, relish in the food, or miss my family that lives there, but because it is not inherently and crucially a part of who I am. I felt that I would find myself in the world outside of New Orleans, likely in lots of different places. No matter where the Tohono O’odham live, whether on the reservation, in a nearby town, or across the country, the feeling is that they are always connected to Baboquivari, to the saguaro, to the desert.


Perhaps in 10 years or more, I will find myself returning to New Orleans the same way that the assistant director of the Tohono O’odham Department of Water Resources did when he quit his job as a petroleum engineer at Exxon to return to his home. However, as of now, I still am content with wandering further from home, though, of course, never forgetting where I have come from.

Heart cactus (unofficial name) on hike
Heart cactus number two on hike

3 Replies to “Home (5)”

  1. Great post. I often hear this refrain from members of both the O’odham and Lakota tribes that they belong to the land in a way that non-American Indians who merely grow up in a place cannot. I am naturally skeptical. I tend to think that it must be more a product of living closer to the land in a rural area and not moving around too much (as I have). But usually their answer is “no”, the key thing is having ancestors who lived in the same place for tens or even hundreds of generations. And maybe they are right. I even hear similar claims from non-American Indians from Lexington who are descended from people who moved to the area hundreds of years ago. “you’re not really from here unless your at least fifth generation”, they say. Apparently these people have access to a sense of belonging inacessible to me – one that my ancestors destroyed by leaving europe and then having children who never settled in one place for more than a generation or two.

    1. Per both of your thoughts, I think that we, as young Americans in the grand scheme of generational connections to land, won’t be able to know such a connection until if and/or when we have been in the states for much longer than we’ve had the capacity for now. I grew up in rural Virginia, and I, similar to you, Kathryn, have never considered going back besides when I visit home. However, I feel deeply connected to my home and the plot of land I had the chance to grow up on — so much so that I wonder if I will come back in time. When my parents talk about selling our Bed and Breakfast post-retirement, each of the Stern kids quinces in some capacity… that place is a deep rooted part of us.

  2. Kathryn,

    This place-centeredness is something that I feel a little bit as well with Virginia, as I have never lived outside of Virginia, whether it be Roanoke or Lexington. The two have a very similar feel to me, and while I enjoy being other places, something usually feels a little bit off. I see myself likely living and settling somewhere else in the future, but Virginia will have a part of me, just like the land possesses part of the Tohono O’odham people and vice versa. I wonder whether I will settle into another place long-term and find that sense of home and belonging somewhere else, or whether I will wander and always feel that Virginia is my true home.

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