By Angela Lapin
I never imagined myself moving to Omaha. It was a city I had barely started hearing about since my best friend moved here to start a family. Every time I came to visit, everything looked grey and quiet. The bars closed early, there was no green anywhere, the sounds were dim, people spoke softly and passion was not part of the sidewalks.
And also, where were the People of Color? Every room I found myself in was more homogenous than anything I had experienced before.
I grew up on the border in Texas and lived most of the rest of my life in South Florida. Being Latinx was a conversation about how, not if.
Following love, I moved to Omaha eight years ago. I immediately started making an escape plan. I would move to the west, to the east, /out of the country… I was an affront to everything overtly Midwestern. I am direct, I am confrontational when needed, I am loud, I get deep quick, I take sides and I walk into the world with all of my vulnerability showing. In Omaha that was equivalent to running through town naked with a chainsaw.
People would distance themselves from me with no explanation. I have always been very social and have had groups of people I connected with and I didn’t seem to find a space where that could work. Thankfully my best friend and relationship were here to ground me and see me when others couldn’t. I would get lost and angry and cry often in frustration.
It was the first time in my life that my Mexicanness was questioned so much. Places with a lot of racial diversity have a lot of racism but it is overt and direct. I found a new racism here that was full of willful ignorance:
- “How do you speak English so well if you are Mexican?”
- “Did your mother become a citizen before she died?”
- “But you’re legal, right?”
- “Where do I get “authentic” Mexican food?”
- “Do Mexicans……?”
The questions weren’t intended to offend. It was all this curiosity. It was all this assumption. It was all this ignorance.
I tried to connect with groups of people I thought I would get along with based on my interests and I found that so many people hung out with the people they had known for twenty years and didn’t want to step outside of that bubble.
One day, I was still deliberating about my next steps. Would I stay? Did I belong here? Should I be here? I was having coffee with a group of beautiful Latina women who adopted me and immediately took me into their circle. They provided moral support, food, comfort, kindness, and a general badassery that made me have faith in the roots I was making.
I found a cheesy house decoration that day that said, “Omaha is my Homaha” and I bought it. I went home and told my partner I was ready to buy a house and grow roots into this fertile ground.
It took time but I started finding that all of these impressions of Omaha, although true, were not complete. I started finding my people; the People of Color, the queer, the fighters, the activists, the passionate, the artists, the dreamers, the creators. They were here all along doing beautiful things and they saw me.
What I love about Omaha is this:
- This is a growing culture. Meaning that people grow their own food here. My garden here was the first time I had ever grown anything edible in my life. I found the power of soil and not leaving everything with the wind. I could stay here and nourish myself.
- People here are strong. When there is a problem they don’t leave. They take their roots and make them stronger. They create community solutions. They form coalitions, create groups, have conversations, and connect with each other. They love and get angry when things don’t work and then start all over again.
A year and a half ago the relationship that brought me here ended. Everyone suspected that I would take that opportunity to leave and go on my next adventure. At that point, I was in love with Omaha; with the talent, with the dreams, with all the things that are missed when people disparagingly say “flyover country.”
This is my home now and I am going to fight for it.