Path to here

28 Nov

If you give a man directions, he’ll know where to go that day. If you teach him how to read a map, he’ll be able to find his own paths for a lifetime.”

(The quote goes something like that, right?)

Public Allies asked us to introduce ourselves to you, the lovely audience, by sharing our paths to here.

I think a lot about paths. Partly because I’m a nerd. Mostly because I spent my childhood on a path I didn’t know I could leave, most of college leaving it without realizing, and a couple of years in a metaphorical ditch crying: “Oh no! Where am I? How did I get here? Where should I go now???” I felt doomed by all the ditches, and inequalities modern civilization had on offer. Then I bought some hiking boots, learned to read topographic maps, borrowed machete and climbed, mapped, and hacked my way onto new paths. Literally. There was no tragedy in any of this:

sawing my way outSonoran Desert HikingClimbing

So where did I come from? Imagine a yellowed ocean chart. The continents are outlined with fountain pen ink and thin arrows draw my great grandparents’ paths from their shtetls in Ukraine to the gates of Ellis Island. But immigration’s not all pretty nostalgia. To the East, there is fire at their heels from the villages being burned in pogroms. To the West, that fire reemerges from their fists as they are blacklisted organizers for workers’ rights.

The fire is powerful and violent. And when I myself finally noticed it – it overshadowed the computer glare reflecting the Google map of my comfortable suburban childhood – it scared me. I had to learn to contain history in my belly. It burns there yet. My dad is a physicist and he would tell you: energy cannot leave the universe. (My mom is French teacher, so she’d say: “l’energie ne peut pas sortir de l’univers”). But I do not spew its violence back out upon the world. I transform it instead to kindle the light by which I bear witness. And draw maps.

Thus my path to here: To Kayam Farm and to Public Allies. Step 1: We’re learning how to draw asset maps- maps of the valuable people and institutions- of the communities we’ll work this year. From there, we’ll organize people on paths to positive change, and leave our maps for the next generations to use.

I’ve had some years to think, and some time to put down the machete to wield the pen, so stay tuned to learn more about how did I get here? and if you like maps so much, why are you doing an Americorps program for little pay when you could be studying GIS technology and earning a salary? … and be part of my map into the future.

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3 Responses to “Path to here”

  1. Curtis Menyuk November 29, 2011 at 4:01 pm #

    You are very loved.

  2. imdelgado December 12, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

    Laura,

    Love your imagery of the map and I also appreciate your candid acknowledgment of the tough circumstances of immigration. It seems that your family history has greatly influenced your current interests and work- looking forward to hearing more.

    P.S. I have a growing interest in environmentalism (and alternative nutrition such as vegetarianism and veganism). I’m interested to hear more about your work at placement!

  3. Michelle Katz December 15, 2011 at 5:40 pm #

    “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

    You’re my hero! 🙂

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