When I moved to Phoenix almost two years ago, my first goal was to meet someone I could relate to, someone who looks like me: a black woman.
I moved here by myself and had a lot of questions: I needed to know where to get products for my hair, who has the best soul food in the Valley, and where I can dance to trap music on a Friday night. I was moving from Atlanta, the nation's black mecca, to a much whiter city. But I was confident I could quickly find my own slice of home here. I was excited to feel a dry heat and slightly afraid of seeing a haboob.
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I got caught in my first dust storm driving home to Tempe. And I cooked food in my car during a degree day, because why not? A true southerner, I sampled as much sweet tea as I could and ranked the best ones in the Valley. For more stories that matter, subscribe to azcentral.
There, I could walk around my neighborhood grocery store and nearly everyone looked like me; getting my hair done was as simple as walking into the Weave Shop. I grew up with a sense of security that I could walk around unbothered and unafraid because I was surrounded by people like me.
Everything I needed — from black hair care, to soul food, to bars that don't turn 2 Chainz into techno — was easily accessible and plentiful in Atlanta. My first few months in Phoenix were lonely.
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I felt isolated. Life went from being safe and unbothered to being bothered.
I was the only black person at a bar in Scottsdale and couldn't get the bartender to look at me. Simple things were hard to find, like a hair salon I can walk into and get a sew-in or a store that sells Hicks Edges.
On the first few visits to my local Fry's, I searched for someone who looked like me more than I looked for groceries. The store and its monthly farmers market feature dozens of black-owned businesses. Every first Saturday at the Parsons Center in Phoenix, black women and men set up rows of tables to display their brands, clothing, beauty products, handmade jewelry, food, spices and artwork.
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The room was filled with people who looked like me, who understood me, who saw me. That feeling of being connected to my culture had returned. People came up to me, got to know me, and I was able to ask all those burning questions: People like Erika Alexander, who has lived in Phoenix for 15 years. She didn't know me, but the moment I saw her natural hair bouncing in the wind I knew she was who I was searching for. You come to places like Archwood Exchange.
You can meet people here and find out what other people are doing. Talking to her helped me realize I can't expect Phoenix to be just like my hometown. Phoenix is not Atlanta, and I had to adjust to the difference.
How being black in phoenix made me love my culture more
This city is full of people from somewhere else and many are looking for pieces of home, just like I was. You have to search for it. That's how I found the answers I was looking for when I moved here: Go to Get Sassy or Mane de Jour beauty supply stores for black hair products; Stacy's off da Hook has the best mac and cheese; you can get lit at Brunch-ish, on Sundays; and when the Basement Tapes DJs are at Concierge Bistro, go dance the night away.
Moving to Phoenix made me realize how much I love my black culture. As the saying goes, you don't know what you've got until it's gone — or have to work hard to find it.
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I worked hard to find my culture in Phoenix. Since I found it, I've never felt more black or more proud of it. Elizabeth Montgomery is a producer for The Arizona Republic, azcentral. She is vice-chair of the Arizona Republic's diversity committee and vice president of the Arizona Association of Black Journalists. Reach her at emontgomery azcentral.
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