To be honest, I love where I grew up. And I don’t mean Kansas City, although I think it’s great. I mean Johnson County, Kan., home of great schools, beige neighborhoods and strip malls. Stereotypes aside, I still get a pang of nostalgia every time I go home.
I want to visit the Price Chopper down the street, where I got lost driving out of the parking lot even though I’ve been going there since I was four years old. I want to go to the public library where I spent my (antisocial) teenage years, and if I were ever home for more than two days, I would visit it. I want go with my mom to the Sonic down the street for Happy Hour—it doesn’t matter that Overland Park alone has at least four Sonics or that Liberty has one, too. I take pride in the schools—I truly believe they gave me a great education. I think there’s a lot to love about where I’ve lived all my life.
I know this isn’t a popular opinion. I’m supposed to want to escape from the soulless suburbs as fast as possible and move to an urban center full of unique stores and great nightlife. There are those who would say I should feel ashamed of where I come from or at least have some vague disdain for it.
There’s no doubt that a huge portion of JoCo is quintessential rich white—my subdivision once threw a fit about an orange house (in the HOA’s defense, it wasn’t a great shade, but still). Everyone I knew spoke only English until I was 15, and even then, most of the people I knew still did.
The “ghetto” school I attended was still 65 percent white. Last Friday, I left the car in the parking lot of our local CVS, lights on, running, unlocked (not on purpose), and it was still there when I came out. Yet I know that many of those so-called negatives are also the reasons my parents moved to the suburbs to raise their children.
As a member of my generation, I think I’ve felt in the past like it’s bad or wrong not to want to escape my birthplace. I don’t necessarily dream of living in Johnson County forever, and I’ll be fine with wherever life takes me, but I don’t feel an urge to get as far away as possible. There’s no use in hating where I come from. For better or for worse, it made me.
This is where the social message comes in. It doesn’t matter how boring you think your hometown is. There is still something to love about it, if only because it has special significance to you. To love where you come from is to love yourself. Your place of origin doesn’t lock you into one life or another, but it does matter. It does shape you, even if that’s just because you try so hard not to let it. It’s time to find things about the place where you grew up that you love, and to be okay with the fact that we love them, no matter how strange they may seem to others. That doesn’t mean you have to think your town is perfect, but appreciate it for what it is. Strip malls and all.