Back in the IE

November Great Story by Mairany Anaya, 2018-19 Inland Empire Climate Fellow

Recently, a co-worker and I were having a conversation about what we wanted to be when we were growing up. When it was my turn to answer the question, I replied with “I wanted to be a chef in the 6th grade for reasons I am still unsure about.”

“Did you like to cook?” he asked.

“Nope,” I replied. We reflected on how we both didn’t think that we’d find ourselves working for a government agency, especially for a small one tucked away in a corner of San Bernardino near the base of the San Bernardino Mountains. 

Throughout the next couple of days, I continued to reflect on why I chose to return home to the Inland Empire after spending four years for college on the east coast. It was the norm for students to start a “new life” away from home right after graduation at my alma mater. Even though I knew I wanted to start my career back in California, I struggled with accepting this and being ok with not following in the footsteps of my peers. 

Something that I never fully realized existed until I began working at my site was the presence of a “brain drain” in the Inland Empire. Apparently, many students who are from the IE who go to college, especially those who go to college out of state, usually do not return to the IE to start their careers. It’s becoming a huge problem because the region misses out on the intellectual capital of the residents with a college degree that decide to work elsewhere. After graduating, many asked me why I had decided to return to the IE. I was often met with surprise when I’d tell them that I had come back to a.) save money by living at home and b.) (more importantly) to work to improve the region that I grew up in.

When coming back to the IE though, I continued to question whether I still had a place here and if I should have just stayed back east. I felt like an outsider trying to grasp at anything that would validate my return. After joining CivicSpark, much of my worry began to subside. I was presented with an opportunity to support my county in a way that allowed me to learn about the prevalent issues within San Bernardino County while simultaneously trying to address them. Slowly, I am beginning to take back my place here, remembering why I wanted to return in the first place.