Chicago skyline. I’m gonna miss this. (Photo Credit: Joyce Yin)
This coming Saturday, this proud Chicagoan will be moving to Washington, DC. That’s right, I’m leaving the Midwest. Believe me, I never thought this would happen in a million years [well, not for a few more years at least]. I always figured I’d stay in Chicago a few more years, maybe go abroad for a bit and then eventually make my way back to the Midwest. But things never do according to plan, do they?
As the date gets closer and closer, I keep thinking about what I’ll miss about Chicago: my wonderful friends [of course], the eclectic food scene, the summers despite how sweltering they may be, the skyline, driving up and down Lake Shore Drive….all of it. Sure I’m romanticizing it and purposely ignoring the not-so-pretty side of Chicago [‘machine politics,’ anyone?] but isn’t that what you do when you start a new chapter of your life?
Anyway, I’ve been doing a fair amount of reflecting these last few days and something I’ve been thinking about is the role this city, this region, has played in shaping my Asian American identity. Now I’ll be perfectly honest, as I’ve alluded to in past blog posts, when I was applying to colleges, it wasn’t my original intention to stay in the Midwest. In fact, I was pretty ready to get the hell out of here. But of course, things change and I ended up staying in Chicago for school. Trust me, I was not a happy camper initially. I spent my first year applying to other schools to try and transfer out. Clearly that did not go as planned. My thinking at the time was that I needed a change. I’d been born and raised in the Midwest and I was ready to experience something new.
In the midst of trying to escape, I made attempts to connect with the Asian American community on campus. I knew there was no guarantee that I would be leaving so I figured I might as well give it a shot. I talked to different Asian American student organization representatives, got a job at the Asian American Resource and Cultural Center on campus, learned about the struggle for an Asian American Studies major and so many other things that helped me better understand my identity as a person of color, all within the framework of discovering the unique struggles facing Asian Americans who grow up and/or live in the Midwest. To be perfectly honest, up until that point, I really don’t think I had an adequate grasp of just how much location could shape a person’s identity, not just in terms of your own life experiences but also in the kinds of people you meet and the ways of thinking and value systems you encounter. The struggles of Asian Americans in the south are similar but also so, so different from the experiences of Asian Americans in the Pacific Northwest; your environment, your location plays such a large part in those differences.
Learning all of this gave me more insight into the world I’d grown up in and allowed me to appreciate and critically analyze where I came from. Turns out the Midwest was more complex than I’d given it credit for. When it came time to decide if I wanted to stay in Chicago, I decided that this city was for me. It seemed like everyone always flocked to San Francisco or New York City but I was more interested in figuring out this ‘second city,’ a place that always seemed to be ignored. From these moments on, I fell in love with Chicago even with all of its flaws; there was almost no place else I wanted to be.
But then the time came to look for a job and to start thinking more seriously about my career. Believe me when I say that I wanted so badly to stay in Chicago and work. With me moving to DC, I feel like I’m leaving a piece of me behind. I may have lived in Chicago for close to six years, it’s only been recently that I’ve finally felt like I’ve settled in, put down some roots. I don’t feel like my work here is done, whatever ‘work’ means exactly.
But in the end, DC looked to be the place that offered the most growth in terms of where I am in my professional career right now. So as much as I love my Midwestern Asian Americans, I need to meet other Asian Americans and people of color in other cities who are also doing amazing work in their respective communities. I need to build my network, broaden my scope of understanding of Asian American issues in other parts of the country.
But regardless, even though I’ll be a DC resident for the unforeseeable future, you can bet that I’ll be reppin’ the Midwest/Chicago all day everyday. These East Coast experiences will undoubtedly continue to shape my Asian American identity as I move into my mid-twenties but I am first and foremost an Asian American Midwesterner. So Chicago, it’s been a wild ride and I will miss you terribly, but it’s time for me to try something new out for a little bit. But no worries, I’ll be back.