Why Boston

A photo I took the last time my parents were in town.  The Boston church where they were married.

Patriot's Day is coming up this Monday, and it's one of those holidays you're completely oblivious to unless you live in Massachusetts.  Celebrated annually on the third Monday of April, this holiday commemorates the first battles of the American Revolution that took place in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts.  So imagine my pleasant surprise when I realized that the Blogging While Brown Boston Meetup I am hosting on Friday is being held in the Crispus Attucks Room! Crispus Attucks, a black man (although I'm sure his racial classification was probably much different in the 1770s), was the first person shot and killed by the British in the American Revolution. In fact, the site where he died is a five minute walk from my apartment building.

Considering the serendipitous confluence of these two events, I thought this would be a good week to tackle the age-old question asked of every black person who is not from Boston and moves to Boston of their own volition:

"Why the $#$@$#%! would you move to BOSTON?!"  

I get it, the city still has quite the public image problem, especially among adults of a certain age group who continue to circulate the common refrain that Boston is "a racist city."  Now granted, about 95% of the people I've heard this from a) have never actually visited Boston or b) were in Boston for 48 hours for a work conference and base their opinion on bad customer service at a restaurant.  But I guess a subjective opinion is subjectively valid.


Well, see, what had happened was, back in 2004, one Sunday morning after church in Durham, North Carolina, I met this guy who grew up in Woburn, Massachusetts.  After a year of friendship, nine months of dating, seven months of engagement, a year of marriage, we gave our friends and family the shock of their lives and announced our move to Boston for my husband's job.  In their minds, Boston had nothing for us: no family, no friends, no sweet tea.  Sadly, I don't recall too many expressions of excitement or happiness; just projections of insecurity and fear masked by a whole lot of questions:

"You've only been married a year, what are you going to do for a support system?"
"How are you going to find a church?"
"Is it safe?"
"You're not really going to raise children in the city are you?"
"Isn't the cost of living really high?"
"Why would you move up there to rent when housing is so much cheaper in the South?"
"You don't expect me to visit do you? It's too cold up there..."
"Why don't black people up there speak to each other?"


Fast-forward four years, I'm still growing in my appreciation of our adopted home.  It has less to do with surviving winters or dealing with the infamous lack of warmth Bostonians display to each other than my amazement at how much a family can achieve in just one generation.

My parents emigrated to the United States from Nigeria in the 1970s.  They came for the same two reasons as the rest of their friends: educational opportunity for themselves and their children.  After spending a year sleeping on a friend's couch in New York, my dad landed in Boston and brought my mom over.  They studied at Northeastern and UMass-Boston full-time, worked full-time, and raised two children full-time.  Living in a rental owned by Haitian family in Mattapan, my parents depended on the kindness of neighbors, friends, the church, and the government welfare system.

What they lacked in material wealth they made up for in deep relationships among their tight-knit, immigrant community.  So now when I walk around the city, the fruit of their sacrifice, labor, suffering and pain, I walk with my back a little straighter, my head held a little higher.  Because I know that the hotels and office buildings where I now run meetings and attend cocktail receptions are the very places my mother and her friends cleaned as a hotel maids and where my father and his friends worked graveyard shifts as a security guards.  And without them, there is no me.

The fact that so many people make blanket statements about places they've never visited speaks more to our propensity to fear the unknown, usually masked as "regional snobbery."  The West Coast is lazy, unproductive, passive aggressive, inclined to smoke weed, and way into their feelings.  The East Coast is anal retentive, mean, cold, violent, expensive, crowded, dirty, and not getting enough sunlight.  The South is S-L-O-W, overweight, hard to understand, not as intellectually engaged, and just straight country.  The Midwest? Well, it's just really cold and desolate.  And the Northeast is a den of abomination and seafood.

But what moving to Boston has taught me is that places are more the same than they are different.  It doesn't matter if the New York Times reports that the South or the North or Mars is the new utopian Shangri-la for interracial families, because in two weeks there will be another article, or study, or interview that says the exact opposite.  People will be people.  Racism and ignorance cannot be limited to a particular ethnicity, geographical boundary, socio-economic status, level of education, or profession.  And who knows, maybe a year from now--heck maybe even a week from now--I may be so fed up with snow and exorbitant heating bills that I start planning a defection back South.  But what I do know, at least right now, is that I love this city.  So when people ask, "Why Boston?"  I simply respond: "Because it feels like home."

3 comments:

  1. Monday is also Boston Marathon Day! Best wishes to everyone running! It's truly inspirational to watch!

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  2. Awesomely wonderful article!!! I plan to move to Boston next year. As a young black female, I think that it is so important to have an inspiration to hold you close to your dreams. I am currently in MS but originally from Chicago, so I guess you could consider me well balanced between the north and the south, however, I am DYING to get back to the north. I miss my snowy Christmas, and my mild summers, culture, and exposure to new things for God's sakes! Whereas here, everything seems so dull, and transparent...I know that this post was like a little past a year ago, but do you have any advice for someone like me in terms of the nervousness of moving to a new place?

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading and your comment EG. Great to hear you are moving to Boston next year and great question. So I'm somewhat notorious for being a long-winded writer (whether a sentence or an email) so I'll just give you the short version of my answer here:

      1. Release.
      2. Embrace.
      3. Persevere.
      4. Repeat.

      I'll get the longer version up in this weekend.

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