Sunday, January 6, 2008

Madison, WI trip report -- Part Three -- Why We Go

Madison is Husband's hometown. It's also where we met, during junior year of college.

It's been 14 years since I've lived there. When I did live there, I had friends and could walk down State Street and meet people I knew on almost every block.

However, they, like I, were not Madison natives, living there just for college and then leaving afterwards. Now, when we go, I don't know anyone in Madison. Everyone we interact with are Husband's family and friends.

It's interesting to compare and contrast Husband's background with my own. His mother has lived in her neighborhood for 40 years, and lived her entire life in Wisconsin. Certainly she's traveled around the US and to Europe and Taiwan (with Husband and me, but that's another story). And so Husband and his brother have known their neighbors for 30+ years. The only people I have known that long are my own parents and siblings.

During Christmas week, for about 20 years now, Husband's family and three other neighbor families do a progressive dinner. Cocktails at one home, dinner at another home, everyone contributing. It's a lovely tradition that I really enjoy. And now there are three generations, as the kids from Husband's generation have gotten married and had kids.

Of the 4 families involved in the progressive dinner, 3 have only 2 offspring, for example, Husband and his brother, and one has 4 offspring. Of the families that have only 2 kids, in each family, one kid has moved away (Atlanta, Boulder, Chicago) and one has stayed in Madison. The family with 4 kids have only one kid at home and the rest have moved away.

I find this interesting because I grew up living a rather peripatetic life. That is, we moved around a lot. I was born in Missouri, moved to Baltimore while still an infant. Lived in Baltimore for 10 years, but in at least 2 different neighborhoods. Then moved to Houston for 5 years where I finished elementary school, went through junior high, and started high school. Then sophomore year we moved to Taiwan where I finished high school in a bilingual school. Went to college in Wisconsin, and now I live in Georgia where I've lived in at least 3 different neighborhoods.

That's six states (okay Taiwan isn't a state, but it's smaller than Massachusetts) in 37 years.
Contrast that with Husband living in 2 states in 37 years.

I like the thought of providing my future hypothetical children with that kind of stability. But I also appreciate the experience of living in different places, regions and different cultures (each region of the US definitely has it's own culture). This relative rootlessness has made me focus on the present and the future, because you can't go home again. And even if you do go back, that place isn't the same as when you left it. It's continued to change and grow without you because it's a living entity shaped by the people who are there now.

This is an issue for some of the refugees and immigrants I work with. Their image of their home country and original culture is frozen in time, at the moment of when they left. In an effort to "preserve their culture" in a new country and new culture, some immigrants become more conservative and old fashioned that they would have been in their home country.

But that country and culture continues to evolve, shaped by the people, politics, and economy that are still there. And so when the immigrants to back to visit, they are sometimes dismayed to find that their home country is different and that they themselves are viewed as old fashioned and out of step in some ways and Americanized in other ways. Because even as they try to resist changing, they have been living the in the US and have had to adapt their behaviors and thinking in response to their American home.

Complaining Employee was a great example. She used to disdain Iranian-Americans for their habits of drinking bottled water. But last time she went to visit, she found herself being cautious only had Iranian clothes from 5 years ago when she left. And her cellphone was hopelessly out of date because it didn't have this or that feature that everyone in Iran now takes for granted.

It's rather ironic that Iran, supposedly a backward and oppressive Muslim theocracy, was looking at this Americanized Iranian as being the one who was conservative in some

So the saying that you can never go home again is certainly true. And it's something everyone has to learn on their own through their own experience.

Madison is where I lived one phase of my life and my home now is Atlanta. Because this is where I live my daily life. And have my house, where I keep my yarn and pottery :).

Husband and I visit Madison. Husband and I live in Atlanta.

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