Place in El Paso

Last week, before she and my wife left for our new home in the Rio Grande Valley, my daughter, EGMonty, and I had a short but profound conversation about place, identification, and dwelling. It went something like this:

EGM [to me]: So, you're from Massachusetts.

RWM: Yup.

EGM: And Mommy is from the Valley.

RWM: Yup.

EGM: And I'm from El Paso.

RWM [after a pause]: You know what? You're right.

OK, so perhaps this exchange was more name association than rhetorical investigation, but it did reveal something that I had, up to that point, drastically underestimated: my own daughter's sense of place. More specifically, about her ability to construct a place-based identification.

In "Inventions, Ethos, and New Media in the Rhetoric Classroom," Nathanial Cordova (2013) asserted that "rhetoric has always been the art of inventing, constructing, and cultivating these essential human relationships of dwelling" (p. 161). Cordova's idea, I think, speaks to the concept that individuals rhetorically create the meanings of their locations, particularly when those locations are ones that those individuals associate with their own identifications. Put another way, places mean to us what we say they mean.

I never had the experience of moving as a child. I spent (fortunately, some might say) my childhood in the same house and home that I was born into, and in line with the American mythology of upward mobility, I lived in that house until I left for college. My daughter,conversely, has already lived, over her first five years, in three different places in two different parts of Texas, and as a result, she has been able to develop a much more mature understanding of what it means to leave a place that one has associated as part of their identification. This isn't altogether remarkable - EGM has already visited some four times as many states and places as I had when I was her age, a part of her biography that has unfolded largely by her parents' design - but it was still came as a surprise to me that she had been thinking about our impending move in such a complex and personalized way.

EGM doesn't have much recollection of the fact that she was born in, and that our family used to live in, the Rio Grande Valley, so she doesn't view the move as a move back. For her, El Paso is where she is from. Now, what that will end up meaning for her over the course of her entire life is something I will have to patiently wait for her to reveal to me.