New Yorkers have a reputation for being very proud of their city affiliation. That’s not untrue of me. And, as a native Brooklynite/New Yorker,* I am always deeply frustrated to hear people call themselves New Yorkers or say they are “from New York” when they’ve only lived within the boroughs for, say, three years of their lives. Sometimes I wonder if this deep, immediate annoyance I feel is unjustified. Or, rather, unhealthy, because I do feel it is justified in certain circumstances. For instance, when someone asks you where you’re from, I believe that ninety percent of the time they are asking where you spent the majority of your formative years. In which case, living there for three years does not make you a New Yorker. You’ve got to earn that title!
Anyways, if we ignore the above point, then I find that the unhealthy part of my annoyance often stems from jealousy. I miss New York, I really do. I go back often enough to quash most tides of homesickness, but I still find it difficult to read media about living in NYC because it is a reminder that I am not there. Oftentimes such media (for ex., listicles) also reduce the experience of living in New York to this image of glamour and superficiality, which is so frustratingly contrary to my own memories. And to hear people claim to be “from New York” when they haven’t put in as much time as I have makes me annoyed and sad. I end up wondering if there will be a day when I’ll have lived outside of my hometown longer than I’ve lived in it.
This mix of jealousy, frustration, and sadness has been brought up to the light the two times M. tried to call me a Chicagoan. My instinct was to buck fiercely against that label, which seemed to surprise M.. He didn’t quite understand why I care so much about differentiating between being a Chicago resident and being a Chicagoan.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Chicago a lot. It has some great things going for it (more relaxed, not as pricey to live in, great craft beer scene). But I don’t have the same ties to this city as I do to New York. For one, I have not lived in Chicago long enough. Yes, I went to college here, but I spent almost all of that time holed up in Hyde Park dealing with backbreaking academics. Many of the opinions I hold are also more typical New York than Chicago (ex: my preferences for NY-style pizza and NYC tap water). Plus, I think how I hold on so strongly to my hometown affiliation already suggests I’m not quite a Chicagoan.
I think, at the heart of it all, M. was using that label to suggest that I belong here, with him, in this city. I do appreciate that. But it’s another way that our differing ideas about our futures manifest, which brings another kind of sadness to these thoughts.
Even with my New York/Brooklyn pride, I do feel at home here. I also feel like I don’t belong here. I’ve experienced this same weird mix of sentiment before, in many other places of significance to me, including Brooklyn. I wonder if this is a result of having a family that is spread across various continents. My roots are in such disparate locations that sometimes I feel unrooted.
For instance, I have strong, fond memories of summers spent as a child at my maternal grandmother’s house in the Malaysian countryside. I have not been back there in almost a decade and, in my adulthood, my sense of being tied to Malaysia is much dimmer. Yet I still feel like a part of me has been left behind there. Sadly, my grandmother passed away before I could make another trip back. I’ve spent the time since mourning this loss and the miles that have always been between us. My paternal grandparents are fortunately still with us, but they live in Singapore and it has also been almost a decade since I last saw them. No matter where I live, I will always have loved ones miles and oceans away.
All of this introspection is probably a result of my nervousness about my future. As I age, I’ve come to appreciate my family more and, consequently, want to be closer to them. I’m also more prone to experiencing nostalgia for my childhood: for afternoons spent rollerblading with my brother on the cracked pavement in front of our house; for mornings eating pastries from a Chinatown bakery in a kitchen lit by the winter sun; for the way the moon shone on short walks with my mother in our bustling neighborhood.
Not that I’m not happy where I am. I have loved ones in Chicago too (looking at you, M.), including a bevy of valued friends. I’m still here for a reason. But, as a transplant, the strong pride I have in my roots is a way to keep myself from feeling as if I have floated too far. New York, Singapore, Malaysia: they have formed the core of me. I may live somewhere else right now but I carry those places in my heart.
As always, thanks for reading.
— S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)
* Another pet peeve of mine is calling Manhattan “the city.” This may be where I differ from many of my hometown denizens. But, as someone born and raised in Brooklyn, it irks me that Manhattan always gets the attention.**
** Although Brooklyn’s recent surge in popularity posts its own problems. I want to make it clear, Brooklyn is NOT all hipsters. Sigh.