We moved to this town for a job, when we had looked all over the country and there were none. We had two toddlers when we arrived; we have four young multiracial children now.
In the winter of 2006, I began to look for a place for our family to settle. We had been here several years but it had never begun to feel like home. We looked all over upstate New York: Albany, Syracuse, towns right outside New York City. My husband was born upstate and he spent his early childhood there; we also lived together in two upstate towns after we were married.
Albany was too expensive and too city. Syracuse was too city, and struggling economically; as soon as we looked at the surrounding towns/communities, we were back in the same boat we’re in here–it’s virtually all White.
My husband and I were scouting around on the internet one night, talking about the Syracuse-suburbs issue. I sat with the laptop; he held the atlas–open to New York–in his lap. “How about Ithaca?” he said.
Ithaca, New York is home to both Ithaca College (originally a music conservatory) and Cornell University. Cornell reports that their student body is 29% minority, which is a “combined percentage of self-declared African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans in the U.S. citizen/legal resident portion of the student population.”
Southside Community Center, working since 1934 “to affirm, empower, and foster the development of self pride among the African-American citizens of greater Ithaca.” Offerings include the award-winning Community Unity Music, Media, and Arts Program.
The 6-12 Lehman Alternative School, a free public school!
The Village at Ithaca, whose mission is “to advocate for excellence and equity in the Ithaca City School District by developing strategic community relationships to ensure that students, particularly Black, Latino, and low-income, consistently meet or exceed district and state standards of achievement.”
Northern Light Learning Center, a cooperative homeschool learning center located in downtown Ithaca. They offer a free seasonal list of classes for homeschoolers.
Ithaca Farmer’s Market, 165 vendors inside a permanent structure, open 9 months of the year.
Green Star Coop, with two locations and a commitment to the hungry people in their community.
Full Plate Farm Collective, offering seasonal CSA shares.
Ithaca Hours, the local currency.
Ithaca Festival, the annual family-oriented weekend celebration of the arts.
We visited for a long weekend last fall, stayed in a downtown hotel and walked everywhere. Our kids loved the Commons (a bricked-in outdoor mall) and its playground, as well as a hike with Dad along one of Ithaca’s famed gorges.
We drove up and out into the farm country, scouted out downtown neighborhoods, and found everything as we had hoped. On paper (and the computer), it all looked right.
In person, there was one significant piece that was even better than we had imagined. There were multiracial families everywhere. No one asked nosy questions about our kids or our family the entire weekend. We saw more families than we could count with interracially-coupled parents and multiracial kids, and many parents whose absent partner was clearly of different ancestry.
At home I found Cornell’s new American Indian program, which is drawing scholars from all over the country. (We have been hard-pressed to find a town with indigenous–not student/transient–populations that are Black, White, and Native American.)
Now the downsides: In-town housing is affordable, but the property taxes are outrageously high: 3-4% of home value (Strike 1). I also worry sometimes that everybody thinking more along the same lines (read: more like us) will become stifling instead of freeing (potential Strike 2). Oh, and everyone mentions the cloudy and snowy weather–but the weather is almost exactly the same as our current town, so I’m not counting clouds. Those three are the only big cons so far.
The reality of packing up and actually moving–four children, two adults, and one carsick dog–now that’s another story.