We should never underestimate the struggles of finding community especially in a place where the expectation to find people who share in your culture may be low, but that doesn’t mean we have to forget where we came from. In a city like Austin, Texas, here are some helpful tips to help you feel and stay connected to your roots in a new city.
1. Find out where the locals eat.
If you walk into an Ethiopian restaurant and there isn’t an east African in sight… run. It’s just that simple. Though it is imperative for us to make our own judgments and figure out what we like for ourselves, there are some unspoken truths to seeing representation in ethnic restaurants. The food may be spelled correctly on the menu, the proportions may be just right, but does it feel and possibly taste like home? When you take a bite, might you experience a Disney-like Ratatouille-esque flashback to your favorite childhood meal? The ethnic presence will tell you. Are there regulars at that restaurant? Ask them about what they enjoy the most about the establishment. Question the people around you on what their favorite dish on the menu might be. Just talk to them. You’d be surprised how honestly people answer to an honest question. Peep how the staff treats its people, it will give you a sense of how welcome they, and possibly you, are there.
2. Find the stores in your area that cater to your food culture and shop there occasionally.
Food can be a great way to intertwine your roots into your daily life. If you are Indian, simply Google “Indian food market” or if you’re from an African nation,“African Store” and make sure your location is on. Let technology do the rest. Find these places and support their business by buying the ingredients for your favorite soup there. Yes, there will be a mark-up. No, it will not be as cheap as getting your plantain from Fiesta or Sprouts, but supporting your fellow national is a privilege, especially in a place where you are not plentiful. Patronize the business and maybe get to know the owner/staff. Ask them about what is going on in town, where do people congregate, and make your way over to the message board that every authentic cultural food store has filled with flyers and business cards for upcoming events. Don’t forget about the clothing/fabric stores as well. When your country’s Independence Day comes around, it never hurts to get something made so you can show it off around town.
3. Do some research on the local salons/barbershops.
They say that the person who knows you better than your family is your hair stylist. I don’t know who “they” are, but it’s hard to argue against that generalization since we tend to spill (and sip) all the tea at hair shops. Your go-to barber, hair braider, sew-in liaison, or what have you will know a lot of people. Find you a professional that you can trust with your hair and they will tell you who you need to know. This is the power of networking. Create connections with the people you already have relationships with, and in this case, get that crisp fade as a bonus.
4. Find a cause you are passionate about and volunteer.
If you care about something, it’s likely that someone in your surrounding area cares as well. Find an organization, movement, or a non-profit that battles for or against that something. Look beyond your surface and towards the things that make you who you are, the things that tug at your heart strings. Do you care about young girls in STEM, animal rights, do you have a heart for refugees and/or immigrants? Start there. Of course, there is no guarantee that you will find the exact thing you are passionate about, but all you need do is try. You can always go to your local community center to gather information. There are many places that can serve as community spaces, so check those places out as well. If you can’t find an organization in place, maybe start something of your own and advertise in those spaces. There is rarely ever a cause that can’t be backed by at least 3 people, for with supporters any cause can be rallied.
5. If you are religious (or looking to be) go to a place of worship where your people group may congregate.
Places of worship can be remarkable spaces for people to gather. You can make friends there, make connections for your career, and even meet your significant other there all while getting closer to your Maker. Get involved. Get to know the leaders there and see if you could even find a mentor or a discipleship partner in them. When you’re new to a place, it’s easy to find yourself in a dark and lonely place, but youth groups, singles meet-ups, and couple’s classes encourage community. They give you an opportunity to meet people who could possibly be in the same situation as you, making that dark and lonely place just a little brighter.
6. Special mention: Interact with local university cultural groups.
Even after doing steps 1-5, you may not be able to find anything that speaks to you, but universities tend to be hubs for diversity. Look up the local university organizations and see how you can get involved. Those groups are always looking for people to get involved in providing goods/services, volunteers, or investors for their events and causes. Reach out to the group’s presidents or public relations persons (or really anyone on their executive board) and ask how you can get involved.
7. Ride the bus.
I know this one is suspect, but hear me out. I’m not saying to forego your vehicle and dedicate yourself to decreasing your carbon footprint. I am saying that the view from the driver’s seat is different from that of the passenger. When you’re driving, there will be things in your view that you will consequentially ignore, not on purpose, but your focus will be on where you’re going and not what’s around you. Riding the bus, train, or whatever public transportation that may be offered in your city would give you the opportunity to feel the rhythm of the area from a slower pace, a different angle, allowing you to soak in what’s around you. You can learn different routes to places and even discover parts of town that you probably would have never considered exploring if you were busy zipping from place to place. Again, not suggesting you forgo your vehicle, but try riding the bus once a week. You can do it on an adventurous Saturday morning mood or schedule it for yourself once a month. Try it with an open mind: you may be pleasantly surprised about what you discover in your new city.
8. Call and visit home.
Phone home. We all have our reasons for leaving home whether home is our parents’ house, our home country, or something somewhere in between. Yet, there isn’t anything quite like where we are from, it can’t be duplicated in any portion of our lives. Even if you can create one or get plugged into a thriving community, you can’t beat keeping in touch with your loved ones. Call them and ask about their days, ask them to tell you stories of their childhood, or stories of when they were your age. Our families can be the most authentic connection with our roots that we will ever have. If you can, visit your home country. Even if you don’t feel like you can relate or identify with your ethnic heritage, there is something undeniably real about being around those who are connected to the same roots as you. The things you will experience, see, and the people you will meet will likely go unmatched to your current living situation. There is nothing wrong with wanting to move on and establish a new life for yourself, but it never hurts to have sort of a “Sankofa”-viewpoint where we are challenged to look back and give back to those communities we left back home.
Wherever you may be planted, your roots are part of what makes you, you. The healthier our connection to our roots are, the more we grow and can be fruitful!