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  • Nia Alexander Campbell

Virginia is for Lovers


What You’ll Find in This Post

  • Reflections about my hometown and country


Mr. McGregor’s garden at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

We’ve made it to the last post in my collection about Richmond, Virginia, USA! This post is a wrap up of what it was like for me to explore my hometown like a tourist, something that at the time was coincidental but now, in the age of worldwide travel restrictions, has taken on a new meaning. First, I will list my most significant reflections:

During this trip I began documenting how unique the intersections of Richmond’s streets and buildings were

The most satisfying part of the experience was seeing Richmond in a way that I had never seen before. Murals, traffic patterns, roller rinks, greenery, fried Oreos: these were things that I knew were unique to Richmond in a lot of ways, but I often forgot about their uniqueness because they were my norm of two decades. However, seeing my partner’s reaction to these things made me reflect on them and I found myself feeling excited, proud, and curious.

Striking a pose inside of a giant Barbie Doll box at the Carytown Watermelon Festival

Writing about Richmond was really fun. I enjoy writing about all the places I travel to, but writing about Richmond was special because I could add in the things that I knew weren’t going to pop up on a standard “What is Richmond like?” Google search. In doing that, I felt like I was genuinely honoring my hometown and sharing a part of myself with you. I think the best word to describe how I felt about this collection is enthusiastic.

Postcards of places and things around Richmond

When I first began writing this collection, I realized that I have been to more countries than I’ve been to states in the U.S. I think that in itself says a lot about, well, a lot of things. It suggests things about me as a person, the environment I come from, the opportunities I’ve received, and even norms in the U.S. With all that floating in the back of my mind, I am overjoyed that my first collection about traversing the United States is about Richmond, Virginia.

Proud to be an American?

Sitting at the Virginia Civil Rights Monument

One thing I have gathered from my international travels is that many people see the U.S. as loud, white, wealthy, unhealthy, and often problematic. I don’t blame them for these perceptions; after all, the U.S. does present itself in these ways through our politics, lifestyle norms, and even the films we put out (#oscarssowhite). That in mind, a big part of me is glad to represent the U.S. as something other than what it typically presents itself to be when I — a Black woman artist — travel abroad.

Here’s the thing, though: The U.S. is a mess right now.

Granted, the U.S. has had issues for a long while, but the past four years — and 2020 especially — has mutated my country into a bizarre Black Mirror episode. I find myself doing double takes, thinking that’s not serious, that must be a joke and feeling irate, sad, frustrated, confused, disappointed, and embarrassed. Right now, the U.S. is like that family member who can’t get its shit together, that person who you love dearly but are also embarrassed by because damn.

Sunset in downtown Richmond

However, as embarrassed as I am for the U.S. right now, it feels good to say that I don’t feel that same about Richmond despite it being in the United States. Though Richmond has a lot of work to do along with the rest of the country, I feel as though the city—and perhaps the state as a whole—is trying. Gun control, women’s rights, race relations, LGBTQ+ issues, marijuana legalization—these “things” on the country’s to list—are all in flux, but Richmond and Virginia is actively trying to work through these issues. Could they be more active? Yes. I can’t help but think about how the city/state took their time pondering over removing the Confederate statues only to suddenly expedite the process this summer. One can’t help but think, if they had the power to figure this out in a month, why have they been waiting all this time? That’s what I mean when I say they could be “more active.”

However, right now—looking at the state of the country—I can be proud that at least my city and my state are trying because it feels like much of the federal government isn’t.

Virginia’s slogan is “Virginia is for lovers,” which means that whatever you love — be it history, art, food, etc. — Virginia has it. And as I grasp for straws of positivity in the midst of the contagious powder keg that is the United States right now, I have the desire to take that slogan to heart. Remove the capitalism, remove the corniness, then squint really hard, and what you are left with is the idea that people can love different things and love each other without it being seen as a threat.

A threat to democracy, a threat to one’s voice, a threat to one’s body, a threat to one’s very existence – there is a version of the U.S. out there in the future that understands people and ideas can coexist peacefully when one isn’t trying to overpower the other. These ideas can coexist peacefully if we can all just empathize with others.

And to empathize is to show a little bit of love.

“Virginia is for Lovers” buttons and stickers


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