The drive over Santiam Pass was unexpectedly glorious. The morning sun cut through the mist-filled air, casting Mount Washington in an iridescent glow. Despite my strong desire to “get out of Central Oregon,” and move to a new place, moments like that, full of unexpected beauty, remind me that for now, I'm where I belong. It was a fitting sensation as I made my way to Newberg for the This Place Gathering, a daylong event devoted to discussing power, place, and belonging with folks from across the state.
Arriving in Newberg, I became self-conscious. My sense of belonging suddenly was more complicated in the company of strangers than in the mountains. Unsure of what to expect from my fellow Oregonians (and myself), I proceeded with cautious optimism.
The day kicked off with poetry readings that illuminated experiences of Native Americans and minorities in Oregon, including the subjugation of people, gentrification of neighborhoods, and celebration of cultural tradition. With each reading, my guard softened a bit and I could feel the room exhale, an empathetic response to the stories shared. The poetry inspired me to be brave and vulnerable, especially in an era characterized by the use of coded language, killings of Black Americans, and discontent across the country.
Next, we broke out into small groups and shared our unique relationships to belonging. Some participants said they have always felt that they belonged. Others, myself included, shared the contrary. Unpacking the reasons why such significant differences existed would take time, time that we didn't have that day. I struggled to share briefly and honestly about my barriers to belonging—the color of my skin, the place of my birth, my introverted nature. I refrained from sharing the exasperation of constantly being asked to cite evidence to back my claim that I belong to Oregon, and that it belongs to me.
Driving home, Mount Washington was obscured by clouds. At that moment, it would be easy to drive right by, doubting its existence. Similar to the complexity and diversity of relationships to power, place, and belonging, we sometimes don't know what we don't know and need something to illuminate a new view. The Gathering did that by encouraging us to look into the obscure. However, it was just the beginning, and the conversations must continue to evolve. In hopes of continuation and deeper discussions, I will engage with my community and seek out those moments of unexpected beauty that remind me, I belong here.
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Thank you for the work you are doing in Central Oregon, Kerani, and for welcoming new people to the community. When I moved to Sisters last year, you helped me to feel like I belong here, something I've tried to do for others in turn. Thank you.
Maesie | December 2016 | Sisters