Problems of Place: Navigating Displacement of Self and Community in a New Environment

There’s a dicho that I can’t seem to get enough of, and I don’t know the origins of it either. “Bloom where you are planted,” the saying goes. That dicho is a reminder that I need to make the best of my situation. And right now, I’m holding it up my sleeve. 

In May 2020, I successfully defended my dissertation and achieved one of my lifelong goals of earning a doctorate in history and becoming Dr. Tiffany González. The months leading up to my defense, I was in a complete state of disarray. I had experienced more downs than ups because I hadn’t landed a position for the 2020-21 academic year. I had a ton of interviews, but nothing to provide security after graduation. I began to wonder if the last five years of graduate training was just a pie in the sky. I questioned the worth of my research, the value of my skills, and my underlining passion for teaching students. A career in academia seemed nonexistent. In the midst of that, I had to muster up the energy to figure out my next steps. I’m not alone in any of my feelings. I know many of my peers also went through a similar cycle of doubt. However, the situation always feels a little more personal because of the reasons why we chose to work towards a doctorate. 

Luckily, the stars aligned, and I landed a stellar postdoctoral position at the Newcomb Institute of Tulane University. In July 2020, I moved to New Orleans and started my new role. Once there, I realized the person I once was was changing because of this new environment. 

Graduate training takes discipline not merely to learn the field but the profession itself. While in graduate school—an advisor, a committee, and systems made up of structural processes with its own culture and modes of operation—direct graduate students to a finish line. I became used to having someone else telling me what deadlines I had to keep in mind each year that I advanced in graduate school. From day one to year two, and then year five, I followed guidelines that told me what I had to do while in graduate school. Once I graduated, I had to navigate my own deadlines and recondition myself to be myself. In essence, I am learning to stand on my own two feet, and it is weird and confusing, all at the same time. I am experiencing displacement of self. Navigating the displacement is now foundational to my identity.

This displacement of self is magnified by a parellel physical displacement. I can’t say enough good things about my new city. Yet, I’m not sure everyone talks candidly about the feelings that come from moving to a new city without a community or family. My current transition phase has me feeling confused. I have a great support system in different cities across the country. And currently, we are all in a pandemic that has limited ability to travel and visit without fear or anxiety. Many of us are Zoomed out and would rather not open up a screen or Google Duo chat after a long workday. As such, I am also experiencing community displacement, and the pandemic has made it harder to create community in New Orleans.

Despite these challenges, I am embracing the positive experiences that come with moving to New Orleans. I am learning how Caribbean, French, Cajun, and Creole culture come together, or clash depending on the situation, to have a lasting impression on the city. This new environment has caused me to think more deeply about research in Latinx History. In August 2020, weather reports projected two hurricanes would hit New Orleans. My identity is rooted in Mexican culture, which is tied to familial and communal networks to survive and thrive. I wonder how Latinx people navigate continual displacement of community during natural disasters in the Gulf South. While I may not have an answer to that right now, I realize that resiliency is born out of displacement and that a new environment changes the self.

I’m currently back on the job market, which means next year, I will go through a similar displacement of self and community. The problems of place can be a magical transition and a cue that I have to bloom where I am planted and embrace my new environment in resiliency. And that’s the beauty of navigating displacement of self and community in a new environment.

*Cover image: Picture by author.

[Cover image description: A brightly colored mural that reads “Greetings from NOLA”, with each letter in NOLA filled with a different natural environment of the Louisiana coast (such as a beach, a sunset, a city).]