What does it mean to be "From Chicago"?


Here at moss, we proudly label our creations as made in Chicago.  We support our city (and neighborhood) businesses, artists, events and activities. But are we “from Chicago”?  That’s a complicated question.

The Ineluctable Pull of the City

Young Matt, aged 12, lived in the West Suburbs of Chicagoland but dreamed of urban living.  He wrote away for a plan book of the downtown rental apartment stock.  He laid out his future existence in the center of the city, living in a “Convertible” – a studio apartment –  and attending IIT but his Chicago orientation was temporarily derailed by a scholarship offer from the New School in San Diego.   However, After five years of study and three years of pracitce (and a license) in architecture, he returned to the midwest and to the city he’d always planned to live in.  Here’s how he identifies:

“As far as Chicagoness goes, I guess about three quarters.”

Our office mascot, Bosco, is a transplant from So Cal.  But he’s here to stay.  He’s a Chicago cat now. And he still won’t take any of your shit.

Sweet Home, Chicago

Chicago is the Midwest’s undisputed heart (more than any state capitol) and draws in the urban-oriented youth of all the surrounding states with absolute confidence both for school and for opportunity after they graduate.  Young adults make Chicago their city and claim it with pride.  Their out-of-town parents come in for visits fearing muggings and refusing to drive in downtown traffic.  I’m told by a friend in Nebraska (a little outside the main watershed of the city) that Nebraskans regard Chicago as “The” city … but not their city.

Of course, people do come to Chicago from much further afield than Nebraska.  People immigrate to Chicago from all over the world and come flying in from far flung parts of the country.  Our own Lety hails from Texas but has made Chicago her own.

The rest of us have a more regionally elastic relationship with “The City.”  Matt, Laura, Chris and I all have parents or grandparents born in Chicago.   And all of us grew up in its near or far flung suburbs – Chicagoland, if you will.   As Matt puts it, his parents certainly knew that the city existed and that “you could live there” but didn’t really believe they could raise kids in it … so they migrated out as their family grew.

We’ve all come to (or back to) the city now but are we here to stay?  Many of the community of young people who come in from suburbs and nearby states don’t turn out to be permanent Chicagoans.   I for one, still identify as a Wisconsinite and would lay odds I’ll be living north of the border again within ten years.  Many of my other Chicago friends have already rebounded back to home states or suburbs as they couple up and settle down.

How to Come To Chicago

Some are clearly here to stay, though.  Over the years this city has grown by leaps and bounds – and largely by a process of new people coming to stay.  Neil Steinberg, Chicago Sun-Times columnist muses on the Chicago identify in his recent urban memoir,  “You Were Never In Chicago.”  As he puts it, “those who are born here have a natural claim, the automatic ownership that emerging into the world upon a certain spot has granted people at least in their own view, since time began.  But those who come here also have a claim to the city, eventually, and some even become its icons if they stick around long enough.” (page 30, 2013 paperback)  In summary:

“There are only two ways to get to Chicago.  

“You are either born here or you arrive.” 


Simple enough, in concept, more complex in execution. That’s because simply being in Chicago doesn’t mean you belong here according to many.  And its a membership that’s surprisingly easy to void.  Mayor Rahm Emanuel had his “Chicagoness” temporarily revoked by the Illinois Appellate court for the Crime-Against-Chicago of leaving the state for 18 months to work in the White House.

“From Chicago”

Perhaps the surest answer is that if you say you’re “from Chicago,” you’re probably not.   Most true Chicagoans identify with their city second (pun not intended, honestly) and their neighborhood, or at least their side, first.  Each of Chicago’s three sides (that’s South, West and North, for those not from around here) seem regard themselves as the only true caretakers of Chicago’s legacy and look on the others with extreme skepticism.  Everyone dismisses the loop which is generally regarded as “home” only to day-time only commuters despite its residential towers.

Ultimately it takes all kinds to make a city.  And wether you root for the Cubs, the Sox, or for baseball season to end so that traffic can return to “normal,” there’s a place for you here in the Windy City.  We’re glad you are here.  We’re glad to be here too.

What’s your Chicago story?  Let us know in the comments below!