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I surprise a lot of people when they find out that I grew up in downtown Las Vegas. In fact, I like to see the look on the faces of those who know Vegas’ geography when they hear what high school I graduated from. Jaws drop a little as they process the information. Eyes widen as they find a new lens through which to view me. Why? Because I’m middle-class, white, college-educated, and intellectual. I’m not who you think of when you picture inner-city anywhere.

But growing up I had friends who grew up in trailers and in the Projects. They were also really normal people that worked hard with me on school projects and at after-school choir rehearsals. There were definitely challenges with living downtown, and to be honest, my education left me with a ton of catch-up work to do once I reached college, but I’m grateful for it. I learned so many life lessons that you can’t learn in a classroom or a textbook. Like, you don’t have to be nice to the random guy harassing you on the street as you walk home at midnight. (You’d be surprised how many people I’ve met who don’t know this.)

Because I grew up exposed to diverse backgrounds, I know without a doubt that there are so many aspects of race, poverty, and crime that I don’t understand. I know that there were people around me who experienced things I can only ever theoretically grasp. But at the same time, they are known unknowns. In my conversations in life, I’ve realized that there are world-views and realities that I know exist that others have never considered, and I think it helps me be more compassionate than I would be otherwise.

I guess all of this is coming out because my parents moved a few months ago. They moved to the suburbs. And Thanksgiving was my first time going home to the new house and living in the suburbs for a few days. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of really nice things about the suburbs. But I have to say, it was so quiet. It was so clean. And everyone was so nice.

My first morning, I got up and went for a run. As I ran down the street, my parent’s neighbors who were outside said hello to me as I passed. I thought it was a fluke, but then when I got to the running trail (there was a RUNNING TRAIL!!!), every other runner greeted me. It made me feel like I was part of a community of people out trying to be healthier. When I ran at my old house, I kept my keys in my hands just in case someone attacked me. Not that anything happened, but you can never be too careful.

To be honest, it was a little unnerving to have strangers talking to me. But I could see why my parents liked the area so much. And I could see myself fitting into the rhythm there as well.

Which brings me to my next point, how does this transition fit into my identity as a girl whose origins are inner-city Las Vegas, who feels like a lot of her is defined by those experiences, but who now goes home to visit clean, quiet streets 30 minutes away now.

How do I answer the question, “Where are you from?” Because I no longer have a concrete place I can tie my identity to. Instead, my answer has to be an essay: I grew up in Vegas. I go home to Henderson. I live in Salt Lake. I guess that’s the reality of identity: they’re often more complicated than we try to make them. But for the oversimplified answer everyone expects when they ask that question, I’ll probably continue to say Vegas. Because the word “from” denotes the past, and no matter where I end up in life, my past is very much, and will always be Las Vegas.


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