“Where are you from?” I used to hate that question. My answer was always bumbling and awkward, some variation on the following: “Um, I was born in San Francisco but I went to junior high and high school in Minnesota, then I moved to Chicago for college, so yeah I’ve been here since then. Yeah. Um. So, Chicago.”
Even more than my answer, I hated the responses:
“Oh, so you’re from Minnesota.”
Kind of. I mean, some formative years were spent there. I don’t think that “formative years” means “high school”, which a sizable amount of people seem to believe. I hated high school, and when I wasn’t LARPing or getting barked at in the hallways (I accept that one of these may have contributed to the other, but being told you’re dog-ugly every day doesn’t do wonders for the old self-esteem), I spent my time dreaming about how I would leave. I did leave. Because I hated it.
Sorry, Minnesotans. I don’t hate it now. Minnesota is a beautiful state with a lot going for it: affordable, great music, and one of the best state fairs I’ve had the pleasure to attend. But San Francisco to St. Paul at an age when you’re just starting to get as awkward and pimpled as you’re ever going to be is a rough transition. Add in the beginning of the end of your parents’ rocky marriage, “Minnesota Nice” (it’s real and it’s awful), and incredibly cold winters, and…yeah. Let’s not forget that before this, I’d never seen snow or the thermostat dip below 40. Also, my new classmates had been friends in the womb, shared the same zip code, and got bug-eyed at the idea of humans that fell outside of that category. I cried when I went to college, and they weren’t tears of sadness.
Hometown implies affection and possibly a desire to return. While I like Minnesota much more when I’m not seeing it through a haze of cystic acne, asshole classmates, and my own deep and painful awkwardness, it wasn’t the only place that shaped me. Which brings us to:
“You’re from San Francisco then?”
Not really, though I spent some formative years there too. I loved it, but loving a place as an 8-year-old is very different than loving it as an adult. It’s still pretty wonderful, if about a billion dollars more expense and filled with tech workers. The early and mid-90s of my childhood is no more. San Francisco doesn’t work either. So I answer Chicago, which results in my favorite:
“But I mean you weren’t born here, so you’re not really from here.”
This is bullshit logic – a weird, macho form of faux-authenticity. Cool, your mom gave birth to you here. Oh, there’s more to it than that? You have a lot of emotions and associations with Chicago? Me too. I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else, almost 12 years. I turned into a halfway decent grown-up here. And I chose here. My 17-year-old reptile brain wasn’t into deep thoughts or good choices, but it made an exception one very important time. It remains one of the best decisions I’ve made to date. And it’s my new answer:
If you don’t agree with that, I don’t care. I think my hometown would approve.