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Less than a local, more than a tourist

by Hunter Harris / Beacon Staff • January 17, 2013

It was as I exited Boloco and entered the frigid Boston cold that I began to compose the tweet: “Sassy Boloco worker officially knows my name and order… Could it be that I’m one Red Sox game and North End dinner from considering myself a local?” At 147 characters, it was too long to tweet, but I continued to contemplate the underlying premise: I’d been living in Boston full time for nearly four months and was uncertain of my status. It was listed as my “Current City” on Facebook, and my Twitter bio revealed “Beantown” as my present location, but it still felt unnatural to imagine myself affected by the local news.

“Where in the world are you?” Twitter’s description of its location feature seemed to prod me for an authentic answer, and I was empty-handed. As much as I loved Boston — the music of the city, composed of thick accents; the grating brakes of the T; car horns and crosswalk signals — I could never be a native and was something less than a local. Passing pedestrians on my way back to Little Building, I thought of myself as a collegiate interloper, a glorified tourist that might never be a true Bostonian.

My Boston identity is of a different composition than the one I fashioned for myself at home in Tulsa, Okla. There, my last name was almost a title infused with a sense of distinction. I was Hunter Harris, the daughter of the news anchor and district judge. Here, I’m Hunter, writer and film major embodying what my floor mates refer to as “business sass.”

While preparing to come back to Emerson, I logged into Facebook and scrolled through a plethora of statues featuring some variation of “Back to real life” as users returned to their respective schools. Scanning through the posts and the comments they elicited, I couldn’t help but wonder that, between home and here, in which place do we belong and what identities do we truly inhabit?

The latter is easiest to determine for me, my college persona being merely a heightened version of myself at home. The former is what concerns me — four months in Boston and I unfairly hold the city to the standards of my hometown. Speeding down Sheridan, the street I always took to my high school, bobbing between luxury sedans and back road pickup trucks, almost every building or intersection I pass is some sort of landmark, places or things reminiscent of events integral to my personal history. To the right is the Quizno’s where a friend and I would swap stories of our over-dramatic families over lunch; to the left is Señor Tequila, that one locally owned Mexican restaurant where I’d spent many summer nights eating my weight in chips and queso. These aren’t just restaurants — they’re physical manifestations of experiences that have shaped my upbringing and my friendships.

Places like these exist for everyone and are everywhere — universally, hometowns are permeated with memories, bathed in experience, and I’m waiting for Boston to feel like that. I wouldn’t feel right calling myself a local because it’s not home yet: I’ve built nothing here, enhanced nothing, left no existential mark.

So a Boloco employee knows my order and consistently compliments me when I straighten my hair. Lost tourists trust my misplaced sense of direction enough to stop me to ask how to get to some nightclub I’ve never heard of. My roommate and I have frequented the CVS close to campus enough times to see the same wheelchair-bound eccentric that insists he is married to the mannequin seated regularly in his lap. At the same time, the workers at my favorite Tulsa doughnut shop no longer remember my face, and University of Oklahoma football is no longer the paragon of athleticism for me that it is for my family. Though I’ve achieved enough of a sense of vague familiarity with Boston, I only live here, I’m not of here or from here, and it’s no more affected my sense of self than the city where I went to camp. I may not be a Bostonian, but I’m not an Oklahoman either.