When Rebecca J. Nunziato — the creator behind the “Decolonize Everything” podcast and a first-year graduate student at the Harvard Divinity School — thought about living in a recreational vehicle, she envisioned it would progress naturally from her growing interests in leading a nomadic lifestyle. In an RV, she could move with the seasons and learn, as Nunziato describes, “what it means to share the ground, to not have to own the ground,” by only renting water and electricity access as needed.
But now Nunziato finds herself in a furniture-filled, book-lined, snug apartment in Cambridge. She shares it with her partner, dog, cat, and hedgehog. And yet she shakes her head, red earrings catching the glowing light, at the very thought of calling this her home.
“I’ve never been this far northeast in my life,” she says. “I have no idea where I am.”
From 2017 to the fall of 2020, Nunziato and her partner lived in an RV on the outskirts of Denver, Colo. An acceptance letter, a pandemic, and a 10-day, 2,000-mile road trip later, Nunziato finds herself at Harvard, living in an apartment once more and working toward a Master’s in Theological Studies at the Divinity School. Even as she is grateful for the newfound space to study and grow, she hopes to one day soon pull out the RV and hit the road once more.
The thought that she would be free to move from one place to the next and explore the United States was in fact a romanticized view of reality. “I was working full time, my partner was working full time, and we were getting evicted [from the property where the RV was parked],” she reflects. “We were living, but it was just so hard.” As a result, Nunziato and her partner spent most of the 2020 summer living in their RV in a friend’s backyard.
While these practical challenges gradually lessened with time and patience, Nunziato grappled with larger questions about her future. The main debate was “settling” versus living in “nomadic motion.” After working in community organizing for many years, she had developed strong opinions on the housing market, and has tried to resist suburban sprawl and settling down.
This process, of questioning comforts and assumptions, is a familiar one to Nunziato. At the Divinity School, she studies the decolonization of spiritual consciousness through ancient indigenous practices. When applying the pillars of decolonization to her spirituality, the ideas of interconnectedness and of questioning everything are central to her thinking. In her podcast, “Decolonize Everything,” Nunziato strips away assumptions and standards. She hopes to explore how ancient peoples have “learned to live with the Earth for thousands and thousands of years.” In comparison to this long-standing history, “our U.S. American project is very young and childish in lots of ways,” she says.
As Nunziato spent more time living in the RV, though, especially during the pandemic, she recognized the small joys of staying in one place: she could appreciate the rhythms of nature, from the jumping grasshoppers to the flitting birds to the sprouting weeds, and take necessary, valuable time to understand the land and speak to its people.
“There is just layer upon layer to understand about each person, let alone each neighborhood,” Nunziato notes. She often wonders about tracing the history of the land: “How do we excavate neighborhoods and understand all the social implications? Maybe you start with gentrification or homelessness, and then you go deeper. Who was here before that, how did that play out, what kinds of plants grow here or don’t grow here?”
Rather than settling and staying content at rest, Nunziato aspires to be “rooted,” what she calls a more active form of settling that integrates ideas from an open, nomadic lifestyle. “Becoming rooted,” Nunziato describes, “is a very active process of pushing down into the dirt and questioning our own comforts. Part of being rooted is trusting that there’s something good here in the soil, but there might be other things going on above.”
“In my experience, in a lot of Christian spaces, so much has been set up with this separation between humans and all other types of creation,” Nunziato says. “The kind of ancient deep rooted connectivity of this decolonial path is one that actually decenters the human in a really uncomfortable shocking way that maybe we’re not above any other form of life.”
The scope of points of inquiry is wide, ranging from manifest destiny to lavatory layout. Nunziato finds herself wondering, “Why do I have an assumption that I should be able to do a whole host of things just in the bathroom,” thinking back to the time when her RV’s shower housed both her work clothes and her hedgehog.
When Nunziato considers her unconventional pandemic living situation, questions of privilege and agency abound. As a community organizer, Nunziato became friends with a lot of unhoused people. “Most of them had very nomadic lifestyles, not by choice,” she says. “So I always have to contend with the fact that I had a lot more privilege in the way that I lived the nomadic lifestyle.”
Within the RV community, Nunziato has always seen herself as wedged between “Instagram van life” and those who are nomadic out of necessity, not choice. When Nunziato and her partner first moved into their RV in 2017, they — like Denver’s homeless community — did so as a result of a hot housing market. But in the end, they were able to move into an apartment in Cambridge, parking the RV elsewhere.
Nunziato is not sure what to do about that privilege, but she knows for certain what she should do with the RV: provide housing to people in need. “So often they literally sit in storage units,” she says. “I cannot tell you how often now I started to notice the amounts of RVs just in storage.”
In an attempt to “decolonize” the discourse in her podcast, “Decolonize Everything,” Nunziato works towards amplifying stories from marginalized communities. In this process, she has found that “the funny thing is when you turn the mic off and stop recording, someone says something brilliant. And you say, ‘Wait a second, I knew there was more.’ How do we stay longer, earning trust of the place and the people to hear those stories?”
— Staff writer Felicia Y. Ho can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @HoPanda007.