Loving Philly—With Privilege
On Oct. 24, I was positively itching to get out of the apartment, so I texted my friends who had invited me to go into the city with them that day. I’d turned them down initially because I was feeling overwhelmed by school—but then I said, carpe diem. I careened through my school work; having someplace to be is really the best motivator. I got ready in a flash, and an hour after changing my mind, I was in the car, winding down the streets toward Philadelphia.
It had been a long time since I had gone into the city. Philly is special to me. I grew up far from Pennsylvania—when I tell people I’m from Los Angeles, I still get responses like, “Why in the world would you come here?” The decision to make the City of Brotherly Love (and Sisterly Affection) my new home was based in my love of American history, a desire to get away from the town I grew up in and have an adventure—and because Arcadia was a small, private liberal arts college that accepted my AP scores and awarded me a great scholarship. My choice was between this and staying in California, being just one of tens of millions of kids stuck in the same place where they were raised. I wanted to walk my own path, so the thought of staying in L.A. was horrifying. Philadelphia was where I wanted to be. And now with the pandemic that has laid waste to so much in this country, I have had few chances to go into Philly. Glenside is nice, don’t get me wrong, but I start to go crazy cooped up in a little town.
Anna and Owen are two good friends, members of my self-made family here. The drive was energizing, talking about the day’s drama and listening to the new Tame Impala song. We arrived in Chinatown, parked the car, and then made our way to our first stop. Anna wanted to try a few of the Chinese restaurants and Owen wanted to have his first bubble tea. The city was bustling despite the pandemic, perhaps more so than normal, because all the diners are seated outside, clogging up the sidewalk. I didn’t mind though; everyone was wearing masks, and I was along for the ride. I love Chinese food, and I don’t care much for bubble tea, but the fact that I was with friends, in my city, was more than enough. When I say my city, I don’t mean that in the sense that I own Philadelphia in any way. On the contrary, I say this in the spirit that I belong to Philly. I feel like I belong here. One of the most progressive cities in America. The most historic city hands down, at least in this historian’s opinion.
But I am under no illusions. As we walked the three miles from Chinatown to the Art Museum, joined by more friends, Luke and Gabby, I could not help but think about how different Philadelphia must feel to other people. I am extremely privileged. I have had an easy life to this point and I appreciate that more and more as I approach graduation and independence. I ask myself, how does this city, the birthplace of America, feel to a Black woman, to a transgender person, to the many Asian immigrants whose wonderful food we had just eaten. I see the surface. This country was shaped by and for people who look like me, but it belongs equally to every last human who lives in it.
I feel like I belong here. One of the most progressive cities in America. The most historic city hands down, at least in this historian’s opinion.
– Anthony Devantier
The police killing of Walter Wallace Jr., a Black man who was suffering a mental breakdown—whose mother had called the police and pleaded with them not to shoot—happened just two days after this trip. As the sun went down on Saturday, as I walked on sore feet back to the car, I would not have thought that such a shadow would suddenly be thrust over Philadelphia, but, then again, that shadow was always there. I just couldn’t see it before.
My life is enriched by the city; for others, the city is a daily struggle for survival and recognition—recognition of their rights and of their humanity. And some people lose that fight. This is an uncomfortable truth, but something that we must admit and understand nonetheless.