Friday, December 07, 2007


What is an expatriate? Who is a member of the Pittsburgh Diaspora? An expatriate is a person who lives in one place but longs for another. James Joyce is a famous example, Dublin serving as his muse from afar. As for the Pittsburgh Diaspora, your center of gravity only needs to be located not too far from the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers (I work north to south since I'm really an Erie boy).

The common thread is the difficulty in answering a simple question, "Where are you?"

On Thanksgiving Day, Alan Paul was far from his true coordinates in Beijing, China. He was in Pittsburgh celebrating the Last Supper in Squirrel Hill:

Living abroad has largely lightened my attachment to places and things and made me realize how much it is the people that matter. I thought I would long for our house in Maplewood, N.J., and that it would be weird to return for visits, staying on the same street (at my aunt and uncle's house) and staring across the cul-de-sac to the house that is no longer our home, occupied by a tenant. That has been surprisingly easy. We have crates full of belongings in storage somewhere in north Jersey and I've never thought about any of it. I thought I had moved on to a higher plateau. Then my parents' house was actually sold.

The house has been our family's gathering place and refuge for most of my life. It's hard to imagine it being gone, and doing so made me reconsider many of my assumptions and stood on its head my conviction that I was not attached to places. But as much as I already miss that pile of brick and mortars, what really hurt me was being absent from an intimate family gathering, one that felt important to me. When they heard the house was sold, my brother and sister -- in Delaware and New Jersey, respectively -- changed their plans and headed to Pittsburgh for one last holiday together in the Tudor house where we all grew up. I wanted to be a part of it. And I wanted my kids to be a part of it. Suddenly, China felt a long way from home.

Places help us make sense of the "people who matter." The "people who matter" help us make sense of place. In Paul's article, the people who matter to him defined where he was on Thanksgiving. No matter where he was at the time, Pittsburgh was important.

Paul thinks Pittsburghers are unique in that regard, and I agree with him. But I also concur with Mike Madison that Pittsburgh is not so special. Is Paul's lament capable of animating Madison's vision?

I'm betting that the answer is yes and that's why the group IntoPittsburgh now exists. IntoPittsburgh isn't an organization or a marketing campaign. It is a collection of people (and existing initiatives) who matter and who are into Pittsburgh. Feel free to self-identify. I did exactly that.

Blogging is an exercise in humility. I didn't invent the idea of leveraging the Burgh Diaspora for purposes of regional economic development. But not only do the like-minded fail to find each other, we fail to do something once we connect. My vision for IntoPittsburgh is doing by connecting.

What IntoPittsburgh will do depends on the people and organizations involved. I'm part of IntoPittsburgh to help people motivated to return to Pittsburgh to do so by becoming entrepreneurs or freelancers. I'll continue to advance this initiative via this blog.

But I will also link the world to other IntoPittsburgh projects, many of which are already in the pipeline. Alan Paul is a Pittsburgher thriving in China. We should celebrate his success. He's sharing IntoPittsburgh with the rest of the world and I want to take this opportunity to say that all you natives should be proud.

No comments: