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Where You From?

Map of Cicero Map of Cicero Communities Courtesy of the Cicero Public Library.

First off, I never say I’m from Chicago, or the Chicago area, or even Illinois. I always say I’m from Cicero. If a person asks where that is, I tell them it’s by Chicago. I don’t call Cicero a suburb of Chicago even though, by definition, it is. I prefer to think of Chicago as a suburb of Cicero, how about that?

An odd thing happens when you’re out in the world and meet other people from Cicero. A typical conversation might go like this: A few normal pleasantries are exchanged, during which we pick up each others’ accents. So before either of us asks the question, we have a vague idea the other guy might be from the neighborhood. But if we’ve only exchanged a few words so far in the conversation, we might not be completely sure. The other guy might ask, “Where you from?” I would reply, “Cicero.”

Now, there are two ways that a person says, “I’m from Cicero”. I say it with a touch of attitude.

For a better illustration: I lift my chin and say “I’m from Cicero…And?”

The “and” is silent, but obvious. The meaning is clear. We’re really used to people who aren’t from Cicero having a lot of negative stuff to say about us. So our silent “and” is like a dare for those who have any negative comments about where I come from.

The second way a person says they’re from Cicero kind of hurts my heart, even though I understand it. More than once I’ve had people tell me they’re from Cicero (without knowing I was, too). If they don’t reply with the cocky “and”, they look down at their shoes and mumble it.

Saying, “Me too” registers an automatic, beaming grin. But that look is already out there. It’s the one that knows other people are going to judge them based on the street they grew up on rather than who they are. It’s also the reason that being from Cicero automatically makes us connected. We’re an odd, little dysfunctional family and we might talk shit about each other, but we take massive offense to other people talking badly about any of ours.

I could run into someone I’ve never met in my life, but the feeling is still the same. The conversation turns to, “Do you know this guy or that guy?” I always find it funny how I could be talking to someone twice my age and they still ask these kinds of questions. What’s more humorous is that, quite often, I do know this guy or that guy.

Once we determine that we’re both from Cicero, we always get into which part of town we’re from. Cicero has a number of different neighborhoods, and they all have actual names, though residents don’t always use the technical name when they say where they’re from.

For instance, technically I’m from the Warren Park neighborhood. No one actually calls it that except maybe the people who live right across the street from the actual park or pool. It’s a large section of town, and most people don’t spend time studying old maps on the division of the area.

A lot of people will just say their cross streets or use well-known markers. So, someone from my section of town might say they’re from 16th Street, or Roosevelt and Austin, or over by Burnham. There are some sections of town where people use the traditional neighborhood name, like Grant Works or Boulevard Manor. But they can just as easily say they’re from 14th Street – for someone not from Cicero, this one might be confusing. 14th Street runs through Warren Park as well as Grant Works because both neighborhoods are on the north end of town. In Grant Works, though, it’s a main street and, as a general rule, when someone says they’re from 14th Street, they’re from Grant Works.

We’re putting together another article that highlights the actual division of neighborhoods as the town was originally drawn – which should be interesting to some people, because I honestly didn’t know half of it until I saw the maps.

What kind of identifiers do you use when someone asks you where you’re from? Is it the street, or your school or parish, or a favorite restaurant?

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