It’s so funny to me how people take living in the US for granted. Yes, there are ongoing problems that perplex me even to this day. Why are there homeless people when others are drinking champagne in private jets? Why are there more racist acts lately when we are more diverse than even before? Just to name the top two that come to mind. But even so, I grew up in the most privileged areas of the US- the East Coast; home of the Ivys where hopeful families and tourists flock to it year round. I always appreciated living in Boston and loved it, yet the magnitude of the location did not hit hard until now, as an expat.
I don’t think I fully knew how privileged we were then. Surrounded by mostly white friends who were assigned private SAT tutors, given Lexuses to drive around, owned credit cards and lived in big beautiful houses, I could not help but compare my situation to theirs. I hesitated bringing friends over, especially in Lexington. We lived in a modest setting: one floor of a duplex house where we each got our own rooms, with a kitchen, living room, and one bathroom. But in comparison to gargantuan houses with at least five bedrooms and a pool, I could not help but feel embarrassed. I also did not know how outrageously expensive it was to live in a town like Lexington.
But in all of our years in the suburbs, it was all positive- our street in Arlington had a large playground, tennis courts, and a bike path that stretched for miles. Despite noisy neighbors, our apartment in Belmont was in a neighborhood with a dog park across the street and was walking distance to the center, with a lot of cute bistros. Even our street in Lexington hosted block parties, had a swimming pond, a park, and plenty of kids we could hang out with. Importantly, each town was clean, safe, and offered good public transit. More importantly, each town offered good educational opportunities I did not know weren’t around everywhere.
By the time college rolled around the allure of Boston was lost on me. It was amusing to show my out-of-state or even international friends around Boston, parading off Newbury Street and Faneuil Hall like my own trophies, but the truth was that being under 21 did not make Boston a fun playground. It wasn’t until a few years later, as a young adult, my eyes were opened to the diversity of activities, food, and people that the city provides.
However, the city is expensive (how many times can I say it?). I don’t know how my parents did it. They did not have a lot of friends, endured racism almost on a daily basis, and hustled- juggling 2-3 jobs. Yet they shielded us from all of it. I never felt that we were poor and can’t recall a single time when I had to miss a field trip because of the fee, quit a club after school, or not receive something I needed for school. I was active in sports, played violin in orchestra, took several language classes, and constantly asked for books- which my parents generously gave me. Everything was to enhance our future. My mom, being petite, would often wear clothes I wanted to discard or repeat outfits numerous times, so that my brother and I could take another music lesson, another tutoring session, or pay for our glasses (yes we, both wore glasses then).
I went shopping at Shaw’s for the first time in four years and realized how pricey it is to live in the US (or let alone be organic!). But my parents never denied our ridiculous requests for a science project or food cravings. I was never good at math, so my Dad asked me what might motivate me to study for my Algebra exam in high school. I offhandedly mentioned cheesecake (it was 8pm!). Although the grocery stores around us were closed, he drove to the late night bakery across town to help me study.
I feel grateful and guilty.