People in New York live their lives in the towering shadow of New York City, and the relationship between the upstate cities and New York City is love/hate on the best of days. At its worst, well, there are secession movements in both parts of the state. Upstaters resent the association between New York state and New York City for a lot of reasons.
Almost 20 million people live in New York state, and only around 8 million live in New York City. Even so, those upstate believe – not without reason – that the state government is concerned primarily with New York City’s interests. I’m known for being anti-tax to an extreme, and my often fiery rhetoric against taxation began when I learned that tax money from Buffalo was being funneled into New York City to pay for sports stadiums.
I thought I had escaped the shadow of New York City when I moved to Chicago, but it turned out that Chicago has a lack of self-worth which should come off as sickening to anyone from New York.
Buffalo is a city which, since its decline, has been searching for itself, trying to carve out its new identity. People from Buffalo have a fierce pride in their hometown and are very quick to cut any ties to New York City attributed to it when they travel. Buffalonians want to establish the fact that their hometown has a distinct identity from New York City and will go out of their way to make sure you know the difference between downstate and upstate.
After doing that, Buffalo people tend to wave off New York City as a fact of life. They don’t care about us, and we don’t care about them. We’re comfortable in our own skin, doing our own thing the way we think it should be done.
Chicago is the opposite. Chicago already has an identity, but is hell-bent on ridding itself of it. Mention you’re from New York – doesn’t matter what area – to someone from Chicago and watch their eyes glaze over in awe. Chicagoans see New York City as a kind of exotic destination akin to Tokyo or Paris and constantly aspire to be more like those places.
Chicago isn’t aware of the fact that it is already a well-known, world-class city. People know about it. When you tell a traveler about it, they can make immediate connections to the Sears Tower (and no, no one calls it the Willis Tower), the Chicago Bulls, Al Capone, and a lot of the city’s other attractions.
One of the things that truly struck me about Chicago is how often the idea of being more like New York City came up. The reference to New York City was always – and I do mean ALWAYS – made. Forget the Chicago has a cultural identity all of its own. Architects talk about the Chicago School of Architecture and economists frequently defer to a way of thinking known as the Chicago School, which is popular among libertarians. There is a style of blues music called the Chicago Blues. Forget the role Chicago played during the prohibition era as one of the capitals of bootlegging, which played a big role in getting prohibition repealed. Forget the great fire, which resulted in Chicago rebuilding itself in its current form, the 1893 World’s Fair, Upton Sinclair writing The Jungle, and the role during the Civil Rights movement.
Maybe Chicago is just too spoiled and whiny to realize what it truly is. But no matter what, it’s this attitude is that made me see that Chicago’s famed broad-shouldered toughness was simply a propagated myth. Maybe it’s just where I’m from; a friend of mine who had moved to Chicago after living a spell in Seattle said she was a little intimidated by how tough Chicago is. But to someone here in blue collar central, it will take maybe a week before Buffalo native in Chicago says “Is this it? Whining about how they don’t resemble New York City? THIS is the broad-shouldered attitude of the big, tough Windy City?”