CHOOSING CHICAGO

Rebellious Magazine intern Cheryl Wilson just moved to Chicago from New York City, and she couldn't be happier.

How long do you have to live here before you count as a Chicagoan?

Claire Bushey
Tuesday, February 05, 2013

By Cheryl Wilson

Lately I’ve been thinking about what makes someone a Chicagoan. For those of us not born and raised here, what does it take to be able to say you’re from Chicago? Is there a certain length of time you have to live in the city? Are there things you must experience before you truly belong?

I’ve gotten two parking tickets, two red light tickets, a boot and I’ve been towed two times – does the constant headache from dealing with the City of Chicago, not to mention my dwindling bank account, speed up the process of earning the right to say I am a Chicagoan? I’ve paid more than $1,000 in tickets since moving here, so if buying Chicagoan-ship is an option, I think I’ve already done it.

Surviving multiple winters was a go-to answer from many of the people I asked, but this doesn’t really apply to me. You see, I grew up in the Adirondacks, in a tiny town called Saranac Lake. You may have heard of it; we’re the coldest place in the continental United States most mornings. My town is in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, but it’s in a valley, so the cold air settles there, making subzero temperatures normal. When I was in high school, the only reason school was cancelled was if it was too cold for the buses to start. I remember winters with five to 10 feet of snow all season, from November to April. Our parents built our Halloween costumes around our snowsuits. So as much as I complain about hating the cold and snow, winter in Chicago is cake compared to home!

My friends also said a true Chicagoan can navigate the city easily. Unfortunately, most days I can’t navigate my way out of a paper bag. I get lost going everywhere, even if it’s somewhere I visit often. I’ve gotten more comfortable taking the bus or train instead of driving, but that could be from fear of getting yet another ticket.

I think I’m curious about what makes someone a true Chicagoan because I feel so at home here. When I lived in New York, I didn’t have a place that felt like mine. I lived in a dorm, which couldn’t have felt less like home. The city was so large and impersonal that I never felt comfortable living there. In Chicago, I immediately fell in love with my neighborhood. I found a coffee shop that I visit regularly to do homework and a bar where I’m greeted by name. I root for the Cubs, I avoid Michigan Avenue at all costs and I love exploring different neighborhoods.

I’m curious about what born-and-raised Chicagoans think: What does it take for a newbie to be able to say she’s one of you? Are experiences and enthusiasm enough or do the years someone’s lived here really matter?

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