On Place


It’s going to be another scorcher here on the front porch. 97 degrees yesterday, and already into the 80’s this morning. This kind of heat is more suited to the locusts of late August than the robins of May. It made for a restless night of sleep here in the un-air conditioned halls of 20 Prospect.

Laying in the hammock after dinner last night, my son asked me where our family came from. A simple question for which there is no simple answer. We came from Wisconsin, and Upstate New York. But even those places were just recent stops on a long emigration. My folks grew up in Buffalo during the middle part of the 20th century, only relocating to small town W.N.Y. during the 60’s to raise their kids, and own their own home. My grandparents moved to Buffalo during the depression, and World War II, to follow the work from Pittsburgh, and Syracuse. Their parents had been born there, the children of immigrants from various corners of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and Franco-German locales (the parts that are traded back and forth to the victors of the most recent war). Throw in some Irishmen that came via Texas in the late 1800’s, and I think it’s safe to say we are a band of wandering gypsies that have gone wherever the promise of bread led us.

This is no different from most families I know. Rare is the 2nd or 3rd generation American that lives in the same town as his Grandparents. Maybe this history is more common to the immigrant urban working class, than to the rural farming class. But even then I am reminded that more square miles of this country were home to Bison, than plow up until 140 years ago. Which leads me to wondering which direction this much lamented age of globalization will take us.

Will the technologies that have led us to a global market, lead to further global immigration and movement of peoples? Already I have traveled farther, and more frequently abroad than the last 2 generations of my family ever dreamt possible. Or, will the very technology that has enabled globalization lead instead to less movement of peoples?

Despite my travels, and several job offers to move abroad, I have elected to stay here in my new adopted home. That doesn’t mean that this town, or this state will be my final resting place. I confess that I still day dream of future moves to a place in the rolling hills along the river south of here. I have the luxury of freedom from needs, and most of my wants, and can allow myself to think about where I want to be, not where I need to be to feed my family. This is a luxury that few in the developing world can attain. Even with the movement of manufacturing jobs to places like India, and China, I have a suspicion that if given the choice most of the workers there would still leave China to seek a better life elsewhere. Earning $100 / month working 12 hour days in a factory in coastal China, may be more lucrative than living with their parents in a small village in Western China, but the global media has already shown them how much more wealth is out there beyond their borders. As a 21st century American it is hard to imagine ever facing such a choice as they face, or as my immigrant great-great grandparents faced. Our middle class, despite our self-loathing, is still the goal for many in Asia, Africa, the Americas, parts of Europe, and the Middle East. On my block are first generation immigrant families from Somalia, Lebanon, and Mexico. Living the American dream.

So I wonder is localism just another indulgence for the blessedly comfortable and wealthy? Or is it paradise lost in the pursuit of affluence?

If you could sit on the Front Porch with a 24 year old Chinese factory worker what would you tell them?

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One thought on “On Place

  1. Pingback: Riverside, Buffalo « 20 Prospect

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