So here I am. Back in the city. The city I once loved. The city I defend passionately to all my Californian friends. Chicago is the most beautiful city in America.
Here I am. In the middle of Chicago. A block away from Michigan Ave. The city I know so well and yet feels so wrong. Just a year, I keep saying to myself. You’ll live. You love this place! Think about all the fun times you had here. Now you get to call it your own.
But deep down, I wonder whether I only like Chicago in small doses. I keep reminding myself that I came here for a personal cultural study. That I’m in a sense going back to my roots, that it’s just a 16 year late homecoming.
I hate the California-centric thinking that permeates through the state. Californians think they are at the center of the world. That everything important, in Hollywood, in tech, happens here. That California has a ton of problems, but hey, it’s still a paradise compared to the rest of the country. It wasn’t until I got here that I realized how much elitism I soaked up. While I can easily understand why people don’t like LA, I have a hard time understanding people who don’t want to end up in California. Doesn’t everyone want to go to California? What do you mean people are happy in other places?
Here, in the heartland of America, I’m reminded of a different America. One that has immigrants, hardy immigrants at that, but also has a bunch of small-town folk who don’t venture far from home, and don’t have the need or desire to. I want to unpack this, soak in this experience to cleanse me of my coastal elitism. Understand the lifestyle of people who know they’re not at the center of it all. Appreciate the grit of people who make a home here, so far removed from their familiarity, adjusting to the local charms (potato skins and popcorn).
In the past few days, I walk around and wonder, “is this a place where people stay? People like me, young, ambitious, globally-minded? Why do I feel so claustrophobic in such an expansive metropolis?” It feels so temporary to me. Just passing through and observing.
Also, should I even bother explaining that I am familiar with the city even though I just got here? That I used to kind of be from here? Can you be from somewhere that you haven’t lived in for 16 years? Can you be from somewhere you weren’t born but spent a few formative years of your childhood?
What a strange homecoming.