Archive for the 'Assignment 1' Category

Assignment #1

Emily C. Nunez
American Studies
January 17, 2008

I was born and raised in Colonial Heights, Virginia. I grew up with my parents and three sisters. Colonial Heights is just over the river from Petersburg, Virginia, a city that is steeped in history, tracing its roots as far back as those of Williamsburg. While the colonial period is a big part of the history of Petersburg, the Civil War garners the most attention. For many of those who live in this area, the Civil War is still very important. Major battles were fought in Petersburg. Robert E. Lee for a time had his headquarters in Petersburg, and there is a picture of Lincoln touring a local cemetery where people can still be buried today. My family, being perhaps a little strange, would often visit the cemetery and look at the gravestones and monuments. As a child, I also remember going there to attend the reinterment of a Confederate soldier, done with much solemnity and ceremony by Civil War reenacters who took their job quite seriously. There is a Confederate Memorial chapel at the cemetery with beautiful stain glass windows by Tiffany, one for each state that was a part of the Confederacy.
Colonial Heights, first occupied by Englishmen around 1620, to a large extent shares Petersburg’s history. The first inhabitants of the area were Algonquin Indians, and Indian names and legends still abound. When my family was looking for a home, we were cautioned not to buy in a certain part of the city called Conjurer’s neck, because that is where the medicine men practiced, and evil spirits still roamed. My friends lived in a house that overlooked the river, and a sign in their yard reported that in 1781 Lafayette had his headquarters there, and from that overlook fired down and across the river on the British in Petersburg. This gave the city its name- Colonial Heights. During the Civil War, when Petersburg was under siege, Lee moved his headquarters to another house about a half a mile from us. People who grew up in the area, especially the older people, are very proud of this history. It helps shape their sense of identity.
My family came to Colonial Heights when my Dad accepted a pastorate in Petersburg. We had no roots in the community. I grew up as a pastor’s kid, which for a large part of my youth was my identity. The ministry is often transient in nature, and I knew we might move at any time. My parents chose to homeschool us, so I had no real connection to a school. Because we were heavily involved in competitive swimming, my sisters and I often traveled on weekends and did not spend much time with the other kids in our neighborhood. Although my Dad eventually left the ministry and we settled in the area permanently, I am really not that connected to the place where I grew up. I believe others in the neighborhood always to some extent saw us as outsiders. Most of the families in our area had strong generational ties to the community, and my large Mexican American family did not really fit in.
Although I am not particularly connected to the area I grew up in, I am connected to my family and when they are around I feel comfortable and connected to my environment, whether we are at home or on family vacation. Growing up home schooled played a huge part in the shaping of my identity. Being home schooled comes with many stereotypes from “socially awkward” to “inadaptable,” yet I grew up with two of my best friends in an environment where I felt comfortable and connected. I think being home schooled shaped the part of my identity that allows me feel at home wherever I am, either at school or at home. My sisters and I would always study in our rooms and I am the same way now. I can go to the library to socialize but I cannot study in the library. I study best when I feel a sense of relaxation and comfort, and I feel most comfortable in my room, just as I did when I was home schooled. I think to feel at home in a place you have to be able to feel relaxed in the environment and comforted by your surroundings. For me, that sense of comfort is more dependent on familiar things and relationships than on geographical location.

Part 2: Williamsburg and You

Williamsburg is a strange place; it is a college town, a tourist venue and an old and respectable community. On the one hand you have Colonial Williamsburg which demonstrates the beginnings of our nations history, and on the other hand you have new developments like New Town, which epitomize the search for the perfect trendy community. Williamsburg is as old as our nation, yet at the same time pieces of Williamsburg are brand new. My mother, who has never lived in Williamsburg, often remarks that for some reason it feels like home. I feel the same way, though I cannot say why. In many ways, the city is an enigma. When I look at the colonial section of Williamsburg, it reminds me of a movie set frozen in time. It does not seem real. Instead, the Colonial Williamsburg we see is more like a façade that covers over the way Williamsburg was in the twenties, before the Rockefellers came and “remodeled”. Colonial Williamsburg, in my mind, is nothing more than a tourist attraction. The college town stands separate, even though connected geographically. The college community exists along side Colonial Williamsburg and as a part of the rest of the city, but it is a separate community. There is no shared history of place and geographical belonging, yet the two communities intersect and interact.
For me, Williamsburg starts in Colonial Williamsburg and moves out from there. I have no real sense of where the true boundaries are. Even though it is not where most people really live, the center of the town in my mind is mostly definitely Colonial Williamsburg. I love the excitement and movement of the place, and at the same time I have trouble with some of its more touristy aspects. I know that the real Williamsburg, the Williamsburg where people are born and grow and die, is probably very different from the Williamsburg that I experience. The Williamsburg that I am most familiar with consists of tourists that come and go but students who remain here for four years of their lives, forming their own little temporary families. Often in winter, after the holidays, Colonial Williamsburg seems almost deserted. There appears to be no one left except for the students and a few locals doing their jobs. As soon as the weather starts to warm up, herds of people flood to Colonial Williamsburg to experience everything that they think defines life in the colonial period. Colonial Williamsburg attracts a variety of people that contribute to the unique face that disguises the Williamsburg that often goes unnoticed. I would like to learn more about that Williamsburg. When I look at Bruton Parish church, I wonder what role faith has played in the lives of the people who call Williamsburg home, not just the white residents but also the African Americans ones. I also wonder how race has affected the way people experience life in Williamsburg, today and in the past.
I do feel connected to Williamsburg, to the college and to the area. Still, the Williamsburg I know is probably quite different than the Williamsburg that many local residents call home.


The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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