When you meet new people at college, one of the first things you’re asked is, “Where are you from?” It’s an identifier. For me, the answer is easy: Westchester. I was born and raised here. I never lived anywhere else until I relocated five hours north, to attend St. Michael’s College, a small liberal-arts school in Vermont.
In the beginning, I thought nothing of sharing that I was from Westchester; I am a proud New Yorker. But I soon realized people would respond with a long, drawn-out “Ooohhhh,” as if to say, “You’re from there.” What people were thinking, but not saying, was the well-known fact that Westchester is one of the wealthiest counties in the United States. I started to worry that a bad connotation accompanied being a Westchesterite — mainly, that I was a rich, snobby white kid.
But while my family lives comfortably in Westchester, my father works two jobs, to support four kids, of whom I am the oldest. Life for a large family is expensive here. What people at school didn’t know was that a large part of the reason I was able to attend St. Michael’s was because I received a hefty scholarship.
I watched as other students from Westchester introduced themselves by saying they were from a place “40 minutes north of New York City” or referenced their specific town, as opposed to the county itself. I, too, began trying to get around it, but saying I was from Valhalla was meaningless; people had no idea where that was. Telling people where you’re from and not contextualizing it defeats the purpose of sharing it in the first place.
My fears were only confirmed as time went on. I was at a family dinner once with a Vermont native I’d dated during my freshman year. When I revealed I was from Westchester, his uncle turned to him and said, “Don’t forget to bring your tennis whites.” My jaw nearly fell to the floor. Is this what people assume about everyone who lives in Westchester? I did not belong to a country club, but I did work at one as a lifeguard for several summers.
I felt as though I had to hide where I was from, but the truth is that I’ve always loved living in Westchester. I would get homesick at school, and I found myself craving the familiar… almond croissants from Jean Jacques in Pleasantville, the gigantic Greek salad from Lefteris Gyro in Mount Kisco, even driving by familiar landmarks, like the Kensico Dam. These things made Westchester home.
Now that I have graduated and moved back, my appreciation of Westchester has only grown. I’ve realized how many great things Westchester has to offer, as opposed to many of my friends from college, who moved back home to some lackluster town in the middle of nowhere. We live in a place with incredible scenery, mouthwatering eateries, artisan food shops, and an unbeatable proximity to New York City. I feel privileged to call Westchester my home, despite what judgments others may have. They’re probably just jealous anyway.