What living in Chicago has taught me about the world
Written by: Keisha Mathew
Photo: courtesy Keisha Mathew
As a parent and a long-time resident of Chicago, I often feel a great deal of conflict toward my changing city. Its natural and man-made beauty, as well as its diversity, are what makes many locals feel so proud to live here. Yet and still, there are things that cause feelings of shame and anguish to surface in many residents, myself included.
I like how Chicago blends modernization and world-class charm with our simple family values. It’s why so many transplants come here. In one part of town, we have our chill, lakefront vibe and a surplus of fun to be had, while other parts are riddled with dilapidated buildings, underfunded public centers and schools, and conflict stemming from unresolved and ongoing trauma. It leaves many residents of this city feeling mixed emotions. When I think about these things, I feel a range of emotions in the same way Chicagoans feel a range of weather on any given day.
I was born and raised mostly in Chicago. If it weren’t for my shy, but adventurous mother and her nomadic lifestyle, I would not have had the privilege of growing up around so many vastly different people. My beginning years were spent in Englewood. Despite what many outsiders may assume about Englewood, it provided so many wonderful childhood memories. My sense of self was influenced by the strength of community I was surrounded by in Englewood. Unfortunately, everything changed with the infiltration of narcotics. I, like so many other residents, witnessed the decline of a community that no longer looked, sounded, or felt like home. Fortunately, my mother had the means to leave an undesirable living situation, which changed my world as a child.
Rogers Park and Uptown were our next places of residence. The level of diversity on the North Side was like tasting a new flavor that made me wonder why it took so long to experience such euphoria. The children in the neighborhoods where I lived were the most open-minded and kind-hearted humans I had ever met. As a result, my transition to the North Side was smooth despite the differences. I grew up learning about so many different customs, foods and religions through my friendship with classmates and neighbors. Through our relationships, my new friends and I expanded our parents’ worldview and made them realize that there were very few differences between us. We were members of the human community.
It wasn’t until I moved into my first apartment in South Shore that I stopped calling the North Side “my side.” After living on the South Side for many years, I repeated history. In 2016, my partner and I took a leap of faith and relocated to the “North Pole” (my side). This time it wasn’t out of fear for our safety, but because of the difficulty in finding a reasonably priced home close to a diverse, level 1+ neighborhood school. Unfortunately (and fortunately), parts of the North Side were still incredibly diverse and economically stable compared to the “prestigious college neighborhood” on the South Side where we lived. I wanted our children to experience the ”world-class diversity” we Chicagoans pride ourselves for having.
Fast forward to now: My daughter has so many friends from different countries, all of which she can identify on our world map. She pronounces their names and countries with ease. As we walk around our neighborhood, seeing a hijab, braids, a spodik, saris, locs, or a burqa is normal to her and a comfort to me. I wish all Chicagoans could experience this harmonious diversity. It might encourage us to easily identify as citizens of the world.
Keisha Mathew has been a youth advocate for over 15 years. She holds a masters in social work, with a concentration in community schools from the University of Chicago. When she’s not exploring the city with her two magical children and partner/husband, she’s planning their next fantastic voyage.
The NPN blog gives voice to our members' thoughts about parenting in the city, and the views expressed don't necessarily reflect our own. Want to write for us? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your topic ideas.
Posted on October 08, 2018 at 2:50 PM