Gentrification of the Soul

May 1, 2022 / Carolynn Solorio

Home is where the heart is. Where do I go now that I don’t recognize mine anymore?

When I think of home, I think of green.

I think of the dewy grass stuck to my sneakers after my mother and I went on our secret adventures. I think of the soft, mossy field where I watched my brother play football. I think of the slippery algae at the bottom of the creek where I told my first crush that I liked him. I think of green. Of things that are alive, things that are breathing alongside me.

Now, the park where my mother and I took our walks is marked off for a shopping center development. The field where my brother played is now a parking lot. The creek where we used to swim backs a sewage plant. Nothing breathes anymore. The grass

no longer holds my hand. Instead, it's used as wallpaper in the new trendy restaurant down the street, and it's fake.

Gentrification is an invasion. It's disorienting, and it's unfair.  Outsiders looking in decide on a place  and change it completely, without the consent of those who actually live there. You begin to feel like a foreigner in your own neighborhood.

Here, in Austin, it started small: road construction here and there, a new library on the west side — the “good” side — of I-35. Then, one day, I woke up and it seemed as though they’d robbed me; blindly and unapologetically.

The Austin I once knew as a kid isn't the one I live in now, the city I grew up in is morphing into something I don’t even recognize anymore. It's almost as if these people who came in from the outside were waiting in the rafters, watching, for the perfect moment to rip out the foundations of my childhood. I began to resent the change. This fundamental opposition to my surroundings filled my heart with such angst — made it heavy and dark. I’m trying to turn that darkness inside out, to erase the pain. But they’re still here, and they’re not going anywhere. The only difference now is that I’m not a child anymore.

My adulthood is hurtling towards me, like a greedy Californian fresh from the coast looking for an “east-Austin gem” to rip down to the studs. Sometimes I wonder if I should just give in. Let myself be gentrified along with the rest of it. Maybe it would be easier. But, if I did that, there would be no more green. Nothing would breathe as it used to. And what terrifies me most is to think that none of it ever will again.

I thought that going to UT would help; that attending college in the epicenter of my youth would ground me, help me to retain a sense of familiarity among the everchanging streets of my youth. Even if it wasn’t the Austin I used to know, I would force myself to be a part of it. Force my presence onto those from the outside. Sure, the city had changed. Sure, they’d robbed me without remorse. But I wasn’t going to leave. I was going to dig my heels in and stand my ground.

I wanted so hard to channel the strength necessary keep up the fight. Instead, I was plagued with insecurity and the notion that no matter where I live, I  would be lost.  I was caught between the comfort of my childhood and the fear of losing it against my will. I tried to tell myself that I was going to be fine, that it was the same anger I’d felt when it all first started to change, and that it would eventually end. But this time was different than when I was a child. The resentment I felt wasn’t because of what was changing on the outside – the anger was coming from within. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had missed something, like everyone around me has been briefed with this secret knowledge on how to find themselves and I was left to wander all alone.

So, for a long time I wandered. I floated around the coffee shops and upscale ‘thrift’ stores that stood over the green I used to know. I accepted invitations to the bland, overpriced brunches and bought my groceries at Whole Foods. I pretended to feel comfortable. But, deep down, I knew that I could only float for so long. Sometime – and sometime soon – I wouldn’t just be pretending to let them win; eventually, they actually would. I became so disappointed in myself, terrified at the thought of giving in to the invasion that I had fought for so long. This fear kept me away from my childhood home, away from my family. I felt that in order to gain the autonomy I craved from college I couldn’t ever leave. But, eventually, I decided that the only cure for my wandering was a freshly cooked meal from my mother.

That’s the strange thing about returning to the house that raised you; somehow it always silences the background noise in your life, all the worry, the doubt. Once I made it out of downtown, I remember exiting the highway early and taking the scenic route back to my mother’s house. I rolled my windows down and started to feel like I wasn’t wandering anymore. I knew exactly where I was, and I knew exactly where I was going. It was the first time I had felt that way since before I left for college.

Once I arrived, I hugged my mother hello and snuck a tortilla from the hot stove before making my way to the backyard. Back there, I sat alone for a long time. I greeted the potted plants that stood along the edge of the house, let their soil get under my fingernails. I don’t even exactly remember when the tears started to flow – I just remember tasting the liquid salt on my tortilla. My mother came out to sit with me after a while, and we were silent. She knew. I didn’t have to say anything, and she still knew. That night, I was welcomed back to the green I had forgotten — what little was still left. I

It was that night that I realized I wasn’t looking for grass. I was searching for my home. I had been torn between two guttural sensations that night: grieving the green I had known as a child and wanting to grow more. I was once physically sick at the thought of accepting the fact that the green didn’t exist anymore, that my home was gone and my childhood over.

Because once it’s gone, it's gone. Because once all the grass is dried up and the high-rises are mounted, I truly won’t have a home. Because once the things that raised me stop breathing, I will, too.

I don’t think I’ve ever really stopped grieving the home I once had, but I’ve had to learn how to be happy without it. I’ve come to understand that home isn’t a place, but rather, the comfort I grant myself amid the confusion. The security I must now generate from within as I figure out a new way to grow the green.

I’m my own home, my own familiarity, If for no other reason than that I have no other option.

There’s still green all around me. It just looks different now. It won’t ever truly be paved over, because now it grows on the inside.■

By: Carolynn Solorio

Layout: Olivia Ceasar

View the full spread as it appeared in Issue No. 18 here.
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