I Am From Baltimore

My name is Jacob, and I am from Baltimore, Maryland.

There, I said it.

Even though I was born in Baltimore City and lived in Baltimore County for the first 17 years of my life, my connection to my hometown has always been strained, at best. I don’t eat crabs, drink Natty Boh, or watch The Wire. People tend to think what they want about Baltimore; that it’s dangerous, that it’s ghetto, but to me, it’s my childhood and adolescence. It’s the little suburb where I grew up and couldn’t wait to leave, yet now look back at it with affection; true, it was stifling, but it was also sheltering. I had a stable home life, which helped, but I also had a stable community life. I resent the school I attended from 1st grade through 12th grade for not preparing me for the real world, a world with Christians, drug addicts, sex, and gangs, none of which existed in that little bubble, but on the other hand, I’m grateful that I never had to make the tough choices that other kids must have had to make in high school and the dangers that they faced both in and out of school. I had no clue that my city had as much crime and terror that it did, and how, as a Jewish and Caucasian person, how much of a minority I was in my own hometown. My Baltimore is Formstone and identical houses, nasal consonants and snowballs. My Baltimore is a nest. My Baltimore is a vortex. Most of all, my Baltimore is boring, banal, blah. And I’ve tried to distance myself from it.

I haven’t called Baltimore home for more than a few months at a time in the past ten years, and I haven’t thought of myself as being from there. When I moved to Israel, I was from Amherst, Massachusetts; when I moved to Houston, I was from Israel; when I moved here, I introduced myself as coming from Houston – which is not a lie, because I did drive up from Houston and spent more time there in the past two years than I did in Baltimore. But the past few days have changed things for so many, including me.

Baltimore has always been ghettoized. North of Northern Parkway, it’s all Jewish; south, it’s all black. In the city, it’s even more ghettoized. Racial violence and murder are nothing new; rarely does a day go by without a lengthy police blotter in the Baltimore Sun.

But for every negative story, there’s a positive one.

Baltimore is just not like that. It’s my home.

My beloved Baltimore.

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9 thoughts on “I Am From Baltimore

  1. Interesting. I did some marketing work for Pepsi with residents of Washington / Baltimore last year, most talked about it fondly with some taking ownership of the more complex and gritty representations of the city too. I saw some beautiful photos of the Chesapeake Bay, sometimes you just take the good with the bad! I’m glad that you had a stable experience growing up there.

    • Yeah, some of the grittiness is inherent in Baltimore life, we all have a bit of “street cred,” even people like me from the suburbs. Just watch anything by John Waters. If you watch Hairspray, see the original, and not the sanitized remake. I don’t know much about an English equivalent, but I do know that people from Toronto tend to have that same feeling about their city (read Margaret Atwood). It’s a sort of weird and macabre yet comforting grittiness, a slice of quirky humanity that tells us that it’s not just a binary of the dangerous urban city and the peaceful/monotonous middle-class suburbia.

  2. I’ve had a strained relationship with my hometown too, and being in college means I always feel a bit out of place both while at school and at home. Glad you’re making your peace with it.

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