Centering Myself in Chicago

Moving my family to an unlikely neighborhood has been the good kind of uncomfortable

McKinley Park

I exit the train and look left and right. I try to move quickly because I don't want to look like a tourist, but I am not 100 percent sure which direction to turn in order to get off the platform. I turn and start walking right, and breathe a sigh of relief when I see the exit. It's a left turn to the escalator, but I am quickly stopped; most people are just riding the escalator down and not making room for walkers. When I finally approach the turnstile, I reach into my pocket to grab my fare card so I can swipe my way out, then I remember the train is the same price no matter where you get on and off.

It is slowly coming back to me, but after five years of living away from Chicago in and around Washington, D.C., there is a lot to learn and relearn. While we were gone, Trump finished his building, Maggie Daley built a huge park, and Rahm Emanuel was elected Mayor -- twice. On the other hand, we can still count on the comforts of going out for the best pizza in America -- if we can ever agree on who makes it best: Lou, Gino or my personal favorite, Giordano. At least we can all still agree that the lakefront is one of the city's most precious assets.

When we moved back to Chicago, for my new job at Interfaith Youth Core, the first place we looked was our old neighborhood, Lakeview. It was a lot more expensive than we remembered. In fairness, however, it might have been because last time we lived there, we lived in a one-bedroom on the third floor with no elevator, no air conditioning and no washer/dryer in the unit. With one kid already and another on the way, that setup wasn't manageable anymore. Looking for a multi-bedroom apartment to fit all of us with a few more amenities quickly priced us out of our old neighborhood.

After countless hours of combing craigslist, Zillow and Domu ads and sitting in traffic to drive around and look at different places, we landed in a converted loft building across the street from a huge park. It had the right amount of space, all the amenities we needed and a manageable commute into downtown.

At this point you're probably trying to guess where. Logan Square? Humboldt Park? Albany Park? Ravenswood? Try father south -- a lot farther south.

Our new neighborhood is McKinley Park. It's on the South Side, just west of Bridgeport, where the White Sox play. We had never lived on the South Side, and most people we know have never heard of McKinley Park. Admittedly, it's the kind of place that would've seemed really far to us when we lived in Lakeview, but it turns out that it's the geographic center of Chicago and not that far from places we have lived and spent time in before.

The price was right, but I began to realize we were going to be living in a neighborhood that was squarely outside of the Jewish community and our comfort zone, seemingly far from our friends.

When we started exploring the area and meeting our very friendly neighbors, I noticed that we were in the minority as middle class white people. It was even more apparent when we enrolled our son in daycare, where he is the only white kid in his class. At the same time, I could see how all of this was a really great choice, because it started to help us ask questions about what it means to be privileged white Americans.

We loved living in and around all of our Jewish friends in Lakeview. It's great to build community around people who share so much in common with you. But in some ways, I am little bothered that I never spent more time outside of my own bubble when we last lived in Chicago. Watching my son explore a neighborhood that is diverse across race, ethnicity, language and socio-economic lines while still remaining very warm, friendly and authentically Chicago is a real gift. 

Through my job at IFYC, I was invited to join a march earlier this month to mark the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's march in Marquette Park in protest of housing segregation in Chicago. As we rallied at the end of the march, one leader led the crowd in a call and repeat chant: "This is what democracy looks like; this is what Chicago looks like."

Looking around the park, I saw white people, Latino people, African-American people and more. There were people of different faiths along with those who identified with none at all. It stuck with me. The city holds a rich diversity of racial, ethnic, faith and non-faith communities. We owe it to ourselves to spend more time meeting people who may not be like our own.

For more stories in the "New-ish and Jewish in Chicago" blog series, visit www.oychicago.com/newish.

Newi-ish and Jewish in Chicago photo

"Watching my son explore a neighborhood that is diverse across race, ethnicity, language and socio-economic lines while still remaining very warm, friendly and authentically Chicago is a real gift. "


Andy Kirschner photo 375
Originally from Detroit, Andy Kirschner lived in Chicago for about 10 years after college and currently finds himself just outside Washington, D.C. He has had several job titles throughout his career, including knife seller, recruiting manager, bagel... Read More



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