29 October 2020

A Skip, A Hop, And a Leap

Written by: Bianka Martinez

Every time I tell people I grew up in Chicago, people always rush to tell me how lucky I am. And it wasn't until I left that I really started to see what everyone meant.

I love the midwest; the climate, the culture, the weather, the people. I spent the last few years bouncing around Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. I’ve currently landed in Salida, Colorado for the duration of my fellowship.  One of the things I'm glad I did for myself was to allow myself to experience new opportunities at the drop of a hat. I move every few months because I'm still not ready to plant roots anywhere, and I think it’ll be quite a while before I do, but I'm enjoying it every step of the way. My fellowship placed me somewhere I was completely unfamiliar with, which is exactly what I was looking for. 

My city made me who I am. I grew up in a place with rich cultures and diversity, a blend of every country carefully placed into a different pocket of the city, going to a different neighborhood was the next best thing to buying a plane ticket. I was always surrounded by people who grew up the way I did, who faced the same problems I did, and who overcame them just like I did. 

It wasn't until I was an adult, leaving the comfort of my home city, that I realized how lucky I was. I spent my entire life surrounded by a community that I helped build. But being so far from the comfort of that made me realize how much I stand out. I am not used to being the only Latina I see, or the only Black woman I see. I am not used to being noticed. I am not used to being the only brown face in a crowd every single day. I’m not used to being so separated from my community as a Xicana. While there is undoubtedly discomfort and a sense of loneliness, there is a sense of pride in preserving who I am and bringing my culture with me and displaying it, and sharing it. Small acts like cooking,reading, watching a certain show or listening to a certain song, have been instrumental in mitigating my homesickness.

Even having moved halfway across the country, I have started to build a community for myself. I’ve found a kindred spirit in my coworker who shares cultural roots with me, and always help me keep my spirits high. We had a lot of similarities in our upbringing and there's a sense of cultural familiarity that I think we are both thankful for being so far from our homes. I’ve also been able to find a friend who shared my love of animals. I’m able to share my love of reptiles and herptiles with her and she indulged me with her love of insects and mustelids. We’re able to trade care secrets and  help each other grow as keepers.

Having to create a space for myself in a place like Salida has served as a reminder that I am unique in my experiences, and that I not only have so much to share, but that I also have so much to learn about myself, and the people around me. It's both serving as a grounding experience, allowing me to reconnect with things that I had unfortunately started to lose touch with, and both allowing me to remember some forgotten goals that I had set for myself. I’ve dug up unfinished books, spools of yarn waiting to be turned into something, recipes to share and bond over. I’ve even made time for myself to learn a new language I've been wanting to reconnect with.

Navigating an experience like this in the midst of a global health crisis has presented with some difficulty. However it's served as a good reminder that I’m still growing and evolving as a person. It's definitely helped me put things into perspective. This wave of virtual communication has made my distance from my family easier. It's allowed me to keep in touch with friends who are still in Chicago, but also those who’ve decided to move and immerse themselves in something new.  

I’m glad to have the opportunity to have moved to Salida. And there's still so much for me to see, learn, and experience. If there's one thing I’m grateful for, having grown up in Chicago, it's the importance of carving a place for yourself no matter where you are.

Agency: U.S Forest Service

Program: Resource Assistant Program (RAP)

Location: Salida Ranger District

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