An exercise in understanding.
The University of Minnesota’s Global Programs and Strategy Alliance and the Center for Educational Innovation developed an activity called "I Am From." They were inspired by the classic poem "Where I’m From" by George Ella Lyon. The purpose of the exercise is to "foster student interaction in the classroom," but countless adults and writers have found benefits to the activity as well.
The following is my exercise as a Twin Cities native. I've traveled world over many years, but I will always count Saint Paul as home.
I am from the many lakes in Minnesota and Nordic countries in Europe. My blonde hair and dark eyebrows garnered unwanted attention for most of my life.
I’m from one disappointing apartment complex after another in Saint Paul. The kind with washing machines that eat your quarters, Wednesday night drug busts, and discarded condoms on the floor. The usual stuff.
I’m from welfare and food stamps long before there was EBT. Food shelves and commodities filled with tinned beef, powdered milk and government cheese. Plus surprise(!) labeless cans.
I’m from generations of secrets and lies, stories about sexual abuse, and parents with real life munchausen syndrome. Wheelchairs, braille, and walkers all used for sick attention.
I’m from the open arms of strong and cheerful Hmong people who never once made me feel bad for my white skin.
I’m from a whole world of helplessness displayed by adults who never got their shit together.
I’m from PBS and hour-long Sesame Street before afternoon kindergarten. The pinball machine and the pie man counting segments had me cowering behind the couch in fear.
I’m from playing outside all day with no parents and the neighbor across the street from the park chasing us down with a rifle because some kid made him mad. When my sister and her friends climbed over the fence he pulled me down, the straggler. Shaking me he said, “Look what you did, you made your sister cry.”
I’m from the Minnesota Messianic movement in all of it’s good and bad glory. UMJC, Jews for Jesus, Blue Like Jazz.
I’m from getting all of my music through Columbia House by pretending I was 18 back in the CD days. Sorry you went bankrupt, guys.
I’m from weird food like tuna patties, 5 can hot dishes, and lime jello-cottage cheese-cool whip “salad.”
I’m from a family where food was the most important thing especially at the holidays and now you wonder why I have issues.
I’m from wanting to love and be loved--only and always but never enough.
I’m from Saint Paul Saints, Hungry Mind Books, and artwork on both sides.
I’m from once a month grocery trips, smoky cab rides and bus lines all waiting on MetroTransit in the snowy cold.
I’m from abusive love, name calling, and busted down doors, not to mention shoving, slapping, and slammed cupboards shut.
I’m from the idea that all of this was as normal as the cheese curds at our state fair (which is probably 100 times better than your state fair if you have one btw.)
I’m from usually no cable TV, never a family vacation, and always a lecture to not tell anyone about our family.
I’m from secretly listening to Madonna at home to secretly listening to Matchbox Twenty in the Texas cult.
I’m from dating in secret when I was 16, to dating in secret at 18 in the cult. Secret D&C at 25. I graduated to an affair with a married man at 31. I guess you could say I thought love was all about secrets.
I’m from remembering and forgetting but never knowing which is better.
I’m from the days before social media and back when the internet was AOL. I couldn’t imagine a world where each email wasn’t met with excitement or anticipation.
I’m from 80s cartoons and 90s grunge music. Back when thrift stores and bookstores outnumbered Starbuck’s and Caribou Coffeeshops.
I am from trauma, from religion, from dysfunction. From mental illness and regret.
Yet even so, i’m still here.