Small rural cities exhibit a form of nativism that is easier to encounter than it is in larger urban centers, though it is certainly there also. The kind of nativism I mean is the sort where a self-described native expresses surprise that you would want to continue living in their town after your assignment is completed because, “…after all, you are not a native. Remind me of where you came from. Why wouldn’t you want to go back home?”
I don’t think there is anything particularly mean-spirited about that, but it’s always made me curious. Is it a turf thing? This is my turf. You can sojourn with me for a season, but then you have to go. Is it a social status thing? Because I am a native I have certain rights and privileges that you cannot have. Sometimes it seems like simple wonder. I’m here because I don’t know where else to go, but you’ve chosen this place and I don’t get it. I’ve wondered about their parents, grandparents, or, in the case of some Eastern cities, their 17th and 18th century ancestors. They came as strangers to a strange land. Some combination of adventuresome spirit, need and courage either drove or seduced them into the unknown (in some cases it was the law chasing them). Does that spirit and courage die out after a generation or two?
Perhaps we are more a people of the land than we realize, and that deep roots are more than metaphors. Perhaps there is something within us that needs to be deeply rooted in some particular soil. Maybe that’s why so many rootless Americans are seeking out a real or imaginary ethnic heritage they can call their own, or trace back generations of ancestors until simple geometric progression has them related to a person of note they can now claim as theirs alone. Most of my ancestors, so I”m told, were Puritans, and I have no desire to adopt that ethnicity. If I had a choice, I’d just as soon discover Abraham, that old wandering Aramean, to be the ancestor I could claim. He seemed to know that any place where he was in companionship with God gave him all the roots he needed, and he was able to live comfortably among a wide variety of native peoples.
Maybe a future topic will have to be the sort of nativism that has serious political consequences. I’m talking about the semi-hysterical fear of large groups of new immigrants, whether legal or illegal. It might be interesting to make some guesses about what drives that hysteria.
In the meantime, let’s get back to celebrating the Resurrection of that guy from Nazareth (can anything good come from there?) to whom the authorities said, “We don’t know where you came from or who your father is, but why don’t you go back there and leave us alone,” shortly before they hung him.