This weekend marks the first visit back to Illinois since the winter holiday season. Though still in the northern Midwest for certain, the culture of suburban Illinois is quite different than the urban landscape of my present homeland in Minneapolis.
The Land of Lincoln, place of my birth, childhood, and adolescence before leaving for college in Minnesota, was for a long time the only home I knew. However, upon choosing to make a life in Minnesota after finishing four years of college and a year of Lutheran Volunteer Corps, I found that my adopted state and city quickly became more home in a holistic, feeling-of-belonging sense than Illinois ever was.
Minneapolis has art, theater, a surprisingly vibrant music scene, green space and biking adventures galore, and, most importantly community. Maybe it’s that I happened upon both the biking and progressive scenes at just the right moment, but people share, create, and communicate in Minneapolis in a way that feeds my soul. In short, I have become a Minnesotan, or at least a Twin Cities-ian.
I far too often badmouth my place of birth though, especially now that I’ve found a place and people that I feel so at home with. Though suburban Chicagoland is just that- the suburbs, often sprawling, difficult to impossible to traverse via non-motorized transportation, nearly devoid of independent and local businesses- it made me, somewhat in spite of itself. Now that I have extricated myself from the day-to-day elements of living in the ‘burbs, pleasant memories of unexpectedly formative experiences begin to float through my psyche. I remember early morning bike rides around the neighborhood that I committed to for a summer. Explorations of the ‘woods’ in several nearby parks. Scavenging at garage sales. The summer reading program at the library, where I almost always worked my way through all of the sheets and prizes the program had to offer.
Though I entirely intend to never again live in a suburb (I’m a city lady for the present, with rural living as a possible though distant future possibility), who I am and what I love is inextricably tied to my upbringing in the suburbs. Having a safe space to cultivate that self and those joys gave me a nearly limitless future, innumerable possibilities that at the time I could not see (covered of course in the haze of disdain for the place of my upbringing). Choosing college, a semester in India, a number of fantastic summer experiences, and a volunteer year followed by work in the non-profit world, certainly would not have been nearly as easy or obvious without my safe adolescent cocoon.
The Chicago suburb of my upbringing provided both a safe place to become as well as something to push against, an unyielding adversary and impetus for beginning to imagine what life and place I might want for my future. It was home, and though the physical landscape has gone through many (in my opinion, distasteful) iterations, it provided a secure foundation for finding and creating a home to fully embrace and advocate for in Minneapolis.
A place of every emotion: my home for nearly twelve years.