Tag: moving

More About That Aforementioned Mindset

In my last post, I wrote about my move to California. I wondered if my tendency to take off for new adventures has anything to do with my family’s recent history as immigrants.

Now, I’ve spent some time in the corporate world, and as such, I despise phrases like “paradigm shift” or “new dynamic.” Still, it seems clear that something is up.

Americans are moving less than ever before, a result of the cataclysm we jokingly call our economy. It’s been almost half a century since so few of us changed addresses. Just over one percent of us moved to a new state, which as the New York Times points out, “suggests that Americans were unable or unwilling to follow any job opportunities that may have existed around the country, as they have in the past. And the lack of movement… could have an impact on the economy, reducing the economic activity generated by moves.”

I’ve done my part by selling my house (yes, in this market) packing up, and road-tripping two thousand miles. Granted, my previous employer’s decision to downsize me made this choice easier (thanks for the catalyst, guys!). However, it seemed clear to my wife and me that that we needed to shake things up. So we moved.


You’ll have to ask me in a few years whether this was the right call or not. But I’m optimistic.

Many Americans are not similarly upbeat, of course, or they lack the resources to hit the road. Still, many of us who could move – and in some cases, should move – are staying put. According to the Times, this shows that “the U.S. population, often thought of as the most mobile in the developed world, seems to have been stopped dead in its tracks due a confluence of constraints posed by a tough economic spell.”

I don’t want to extol Thomas Friedman as some kind of wise soothsayer (I’ve got some issues with the guy), but much of his “world is flat” thesis sounds like the simple acknowledgement that Americans whose families go back generations still have to be willing to adapt, because everyone else – whether Mexican immigrants, first-generation Indians, or some other demographic – is willing to do so.

It’s true that immigration is at its lowest point in a decade, another sign of economic meltdown. Still, immigrants (by their very nature) are more willing to ditch their old life and tackle the newest challenge, and they will be the first ones to do it again when the economy picks up.

Meanwhile, we may be exiting the period of history when Americans had the luxury of saying, “This is where I grew up, and this is where my family is, so I’m not budging.” That will no longer be the intrinsic justification it once was.

Americans obviously have the capability to change. People rolled west in the Great Depression. And California didn’t become the most populous state just because of Mexican immigrants (although in the right-wing mind, that’s the sole reason the state has any problems whatsoever).

Even if we stay put, however, we have to accept that our hometowns are inevitably changing in front of us, proving once more that we live in not only a place but a time. Acknowledging this fact makes it less scary to consider going where the jobs and experiences and challenges are.

One thing I love about moving to California is that – despite the crowded cities and governmental bankruptcy and earthquakes and shallowness – the place represents change. But I had to come here to discover that.

An American Mindset

My return to California has been the recurrent theme of many of my recent posts. Packing up my life has me thinking about the many times I’ve relocated. As I close in on forty, I’ve just completed my sixth major move (the first was when I was an infant). Counting all the minor moves within cities, I’m probably well past twenty zip codes.

Looking at it another way, my wife and I have been together for eighteen years, and we figure we’ve spent about three of those getting ready for, or recovering from, a move. And let me tell you, living among boxes and making appointments to get cable hooked up never loses its exotic luster.


So why do I do it?

Perhaps, among the restlessness and need for change, there is a more basic reason. I think it might have something to do with my family’s recent history as immigrants. There’s a willingness to strike out and explore that many people who are fifth or sixth generation don’t seem to have.

I’m not saying this is either good or bad. It’s just a different mindset.

For example, when I graduated from college, I moved to New York City. Many of my friends were aghast that I would just pack up and leave without a job, bound for such a huge and insane place.

But I knew that my mother had also moved to New York City in her twenties. The difference was that she understood very little English and was on her own. In contrast, I was a natural-born citizen, fluent in the ways of the culture, with a fresh college degree and the companionship of my girlfriend (now wife). I correctly saw it as a no big deal in comparison.

This attitude seems to permeate my family. I recently wrote about Cousin #5, who recently moved to Hawaii. She did it because she wanted to live there, which is a good enough reason in my family (it’s working out well for her, by the way).

The cousins and I all grew up in one city in America’s heartland. Only three of us remain in that hometown. The other five are spread out from California to Texas to North Carolina to Hawaii. One of us actually went back to El Salvador. As such, over half my family’s current generation has said, “Let’s hit the road.”

I compare this to my wife’s family, many of whom still live in the same small Midwestern town in which their original ancestors settled. Most of my friends live in or near to their respective hometowns, be that quant suburb or sprawling metropolis.

Again, that doesn’t make my family oh-so-cool. It’s just different.

So will this tendency to keep moving die down as we age? Will the next generation (my cousins’ children) say, “No thanks, I’m staying here”?

Well, I’d love to discuss that with you, but I can’t right now. You wouldn’t believe how many boxes I have to unpack yet.

Division of Labor

When my wife and I relocated to the West Coast, the moving company that we hired sent a middle-aged white man to perform the estimate and sell us on his organization. He wore a tie and laughed a lot, even when nothing was particularly funny.

The actual movers were four Latinos. They did not wear ties.

The chief of the crew spoke perfect English, but his three assistants communicated with each other in a dialect so thick (deep Central America is my guess) that I barely recognized it as Spanish.

Although they had the far more important (and substantially more grueling, miserable, and labor-intensive) job, their take-home pay could not have approached that of the laughing man in the tie, despite our cash tip and the Coke Zeroes that we supplied to them.

At one point, they carried boxes piled high, Sherpa style, with the weight pressing on their spines. They seemed embarrassed to ask for water, and went about their jobs with a focus that I’ve rarely witnessed in the white-collar world.


Now, I certainly don’t want to get into the whole plight-of-the-proletariat aesthetic. Nor do I want to glamorize their hardscrabble existence in some kind of Steinbeckian ode to the nobility of the working class. For all I know, they’re assholes.

In truth, as movers, they kind of sucked. They were hours late both picking up our stuff and dropping it off at our new place. I can only presume that they are afflicted with Hispanic time (that’s the subject of a whole other post).

More disturbing, there was enough damage to our stuff that we had to file a claim for reimbursement. The scratches, dents, and outright destruction that they wrought upon our possessions were, I believe, direct consequences of the Latino work ethic (I’ll explain what I mean by that in yet another post later).

In any case, my original point is that in an ideal society, these exhausting and humbling jobs would be performed by teenagers of all social classes – kids who are at the height of their physical powers and can arguably be said to be “building character” (although I despise that term). Such jobs would not be done by tired guys just trying to eke by, with little hope of ever going further in life. These men are not going to take anything away from the experience except muscle aches.

Will their children follow in their footsteps and sign on for a lifetime of backbreaking manual labor? Or will they take advantage of their parents’ decision to come to America, and someday be the ones to sit back, negotiate with customers, and laugh and laugh?

California Dreaming

Ever since I stared this blog, about a year and half ago, I have chronicled the Latino experience, with an emphasis on what it means to be Hispanic in the American heartland. Well, there’s going to be a slight change soon.

My wife and I are moving back to California in a few weeks. This means that I will go from being somewhat unique – brown skin in a sea of white – to being pretty damn common… at least in appearance.

The Latino population of the state I currently live in is less than 200,000 (about 5 percent). In California, it is 13 million (about 36 percent). That is, I suppose, a somewhat noticeable difference.

When I lived in Los Angeles, many people assumed that I had been born there or recently immigrated. I’m sure this will happen again, causing me to reflexively defend my Midwestern roots.

Still, on the plus side, once in California, I may be exposed to more interesting stories about Latino culture through daily interaction. Currently, the only times I hear about local Hispanics are if one of us has committed a grisly crime or via a feature article titled something like “Immigrants Bring Change to South Side.”

One of the negative aspects of moving, however, is that my blog updates may become more sporadic, at least in the short term. This is due to the complexities of selling a house (in a down market no less) packing up all our meager possessions, and driving across the country with a perplexed dog and an agitated cat. You try being insightful twice a week under such conditions… sorry, I’m getting a little defensive in advance.

In any case, I will miss the Midwest. But I’m happy to be returning to the West Coast.

And rest assured, once I’m there, I’ll begin looking for investors who want in on “Hispanic Fanatic: The Movie.” I see Gael Garcia Bernal in the lead role.


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