What Are We About?

Today, I had a unique conversation with a woman at a certain cohousing community in Atlanta.

She was telling us about the community and how different aspects of her life had a sense of integrity that I had to admire.

For instance, she and her partner lived with two children in a townhome that was quite cozy (i.e. small), but she was still wanting to scale down. In her co-housing community, she knew all her neighbors, shared communal dinners often, and gardened vegetables in a community garden. She spoke of how her next door neighbor was a Muslim, but how she didn’t have to worry about her dog offending him since they had rescued her from such abuse that she didn’t like to be  around people period. A Buddhist lived a couple doors down and a Episcopalian priest married to a Presbyterian counselor was in the other house. They all got along well and worked to live in community. She talked about “unschooling” as opposed to homeschooling, and how her five-year-old son had a natural curiosity and propensity for peace. She was into nonviolence and had taught her son to think about the brands they bought (not Converse or Nike, but Vans were OK), and to connect how the yucca root they bought at their local farmer’s market could teach them about the political system in Brazil. She said she strived to see peace on earth through the conscious efforts in simple, nonviolent living, reducing the amount of commercialism and television in her life, and being politically active. The cohousing group knew all the candidates and worked for change by voting and with their dollars.

“I could learn a lot from them. Growing up as a son of an immigrant, I never was politically active,” I told her. “I don’t know if we ever thought we could impact the system, or took the time to think it through in that sense, we were just glad to be here and go to school and work here. I don’t think I was ever exposed to the viewpoint that I could participate and change the system or make sure that the system was fair to others.”

“Oh, you’d definitely learn that here. We are all about change.”

It showed from her lifestyle. She was true to what she cared about and it showed in her simple life, her dedication to community, and the ways in which she acted, voted, and encouraged others.

I’ve visited two other communities like this locally and found no Asian Americans.  Do we care about the cities in which we live? Is it possible that Asians might care more about the environment than Asian Americans? Do we care about not just taking advantage of good schools, but making schools better for everyone? Do we care to broaden our definition of community — to educate others about the beauty of our culture and to learn about others? Do Asian American Christians just care about pursuing the ‘American Dream’ without dreaming of what America could be? Do we care to make a change at all? Or just as a hobby from our large suburban homes?

If a cohousing community like this is all about change, what does that say about our churches? What are we about?

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Comments

  1. Joseon_Illin says:

    If you go up to Boston there are some Asian-Americans active in such communities. I really admire their passion and commitment to the people in their neighborhoods…

  2. Raines Cohen says:

    Check out Swan’s Market Cohousing in downtown Oakland, California (12 minutes from downtown San Francisco, the most urban cohousing community in the U.S.) The nonprofit East Bay Asian Local Development Co. EBALDC developed the mixed-use project (where I used to live and helped develop as a member-resident-investor) a block from Oakland’s chinatown , preserving a 1917 public market building and creating retail, restaurant, office, museum, public space, affordable rentals, and a 20-unit cohousing community where at least 30% of the units have Asian-American residents (and other minorities are represented as well).

    Also, there’s a Troy Gardens, a cohousing project in Madison, Wisconsin, being created by a affordable-housing community land trust specifically aimed at supporting a community of Hmong refugees who make a living by farming the land there.

    In general, cohousing has been popular among less-recent (generationally) immigrants who are seeking a return to community that they don’t find in their mainstream lives; people who grew up in large extended-family communities packed into dense households are less interested in choosing to live in close proximity to unrelated folks, sharing resources, and to sacrifice privacy for community.

    Raines Cohen, Cohousing Coach
    (and cohousing resident)
    Planning for Sustainable Communities
    Berkeley, CA

  3. David Park says:

    Thanks Joseon and Raines, very encouraging comments. I definitely look forward to seeing more of us begin to invest in an expansive definition of community and all the facets of society that it entails.

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