How A Place Can Shape Identity
Many people may assume that their own identity is created based on their actions and personality that they reflect towards others. However, people do not recognize that a certain space or place can shape one’s identity over years time. Certain factors in life can give you a different perception on life and impact your future. People have many influences in their lives, some voluntary and involuntary. Some parents choose to raise their children certain ways, like following a certain belief, or raising them to be vegetarian, those children have no choice in their upbringing. Some people don’t have enough diverse influences to challenge everything they believed before. Environment can play a big role, even when one might not realize it, in developing a person’s identity, like where someone grew up, where they went to high school, and where they live now.
A place that has major importance to me is my hometown, Chester, a census-designated place in Chesterfield County. Chester had a population of 20,987 people according to the US Census in 2010 and is 20 miles south of Richmond. This place is where I was born and grew up my whole life, along with my two brothers. Chester has established a feeling of comfort ability towards me with a connection to my friends that I have been with majority of my life. This place is somewhere I am very familiar with, I know all the streets, neighborhoods, and restaurants. Everyone has gone off to college or started their own lives recently, but everyone comes back to Chester for their breaks. Chester gives me a feeling of acceptance because this place is everything I know and has made me included within its community.
Chester has two high schools, Thomas Dale High School and L.C Bird High School. I attended Thomas Dale High School, the bigger of the two high schools. Chester gives me memories when I see or go to spots, like the local Sonic Drive-In. After any sports event at my high school majority of the students would go to Sonic Drive-In to enjoy slushies A lot of my favorite memories have been formed at this high school since I had spent more time there than just learning. Certain spots in this high school have a sentimental meaning towards me, like the football stadium since I cheered on that sideline every Friday night.
Chester is where my mom, dad, two brothers, and I have lived, me being the oldest out of the siblings. My brothers are twins so they have always had each other to socialize with. I have developed a more professional and serious personality being the oldest and socializing with my parents more than my siblings. My family has shaped me to be very closed minded, because we did not have a lot of different influences in our social lives. My household was very male dominant, my dad supplies the main income for the rest of the family and my mom is a stay at home parent. I have become very dependent on my family when I am challenged with difficult tasks because they are always in my reach. Chester is a very small and close knit community, still following a male dominant environment, making me less independent and relying on others
In Chester, I have observed that there are two ideas your identity gets boxed into, either an African american with democratic views, or a Caucasian with republican views. Politics are a big part of someone’s identity in this place, however nobody speaks about politics, or even dare ask what your views are in fear of stepping on someone’s toes. I believe nobody talks about these politics because it is more of an older southern idea to not speak about them. My views changed on these two concepts of identity when I started my government class senior year of high school. This government class created a safe place to discuss politics for multiple views rather than just two identities. People’s identities are formed based on their physical appearance of race in this place, and I realized it shouldn’t be that way once I attended this government class.
Over the years, this place hasn’t always been the same, new restaurants, houses, and students have come along. McClay talks about the ideas of how multiple places have shaped her own identity. The author shows the importance of place by showing how if one person is no longer submerged within that place anymore, it has still formed their identity. These new things do not make me fearful of the unknown, because Chester still has that comfort feeling. An elderly couple used to live in my neighborhood around five years ago, and I used to watch their cats. Once they got older they decided to move into a assisted living home with their cats, and I never knew that I wasn’t going to see this couple again. I felt sadness that I didn’t get a chance at a formal goodbye, and this has formed me to be more grateful for the short time you have in others lives. Chester had changed and it still makes me feel grateful to have a place that brings me comfort. I fear that something really big or hurtful will happen at this place and take away my comfort.
Chester has made me grow and formed my identity more as I realize these traits I have. Recently I have noticed I don’t like to be pushed out of my boundaries or challenged. I feel uncomfortable when I am questioned or forced to dig deeper into topics, this place made me close minded and within my comfort zone. Even today in Richmond I find myself looking for places that I know well, like restaurants that are in Chester. Going to similar places gives me a presence of familiarity to an environment. I now notice that this place has shaped me to have introverted traits.
When establishing an identity for oneself they often think it’s their own characteristics that shape them, however they don’t take into consideration places. Places that have important meaning, or have left a lasting impression can shape anyone’s identity. If a space has established a feeling when you go there that may be the reason why it has shaped your identity. Certain places give off a feeling when it is of relevance to your own life. My place is Chester and it has shaped me to become the person I am today. Looking back at myself today, Chester has shaped me from the good and bad things it has to offer. Place is a strong introduction to shaping your own identity as you develop over the years.
McClay, Wilfred M. Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Civic Life in Modern America. Encounter Books, 2014.