“We’re From Brooklyn”

Mike Parish

We're from Brooklyn“We’re from Brooklyn,” is something I’ve been hearing a lot of bands spouting. The phrase deserves consideration; traditionally, when a person or entity declares they are from somewhere, they mean it (just like in the movie Cool Runnings when the lovable Jamaican bobsled team shouts, “We’re a Jamaican bobsled team!”). A notable exception to this idea is when some kind of deception is involved along with it (just like if you were a serf in the Dark Ages and you wanted to marry your King’s daughter, and in order to win acceptance and her hand, you decided to dress up and pretend to be some prince from some far away land). Based on the fact that we know Brooklyn has become the adopted hometown of many young adults, we can conclude that nearly anyone declaring Brooklyn as their hometown is not by any means actually from Brooklyn. True Brooklynites (or Vikings or Romans, for that matter) have no need to declare themselves native to their place; like trees, they are part of the landscape, they are the landscape.

Why is it that so many young people move to Brooklyn, an area where neighborhoods were once defined by their local culture and predominate ethnic groups? Are the newcomers interested in experiencing a variety of cultures, or are they tantalized by the strong independent art scene? Is Brooklyn chosen for its proximity to Manhattan, and if so, why isn’t Jersey City a coveted place to live? Is moving to Brooklyn just a trend, like Seattle was in the 90’s, at the height of grunge music?

There is a certain amount of pride associated with being from a place; most people feel their hometown is a great place to have grown up in. But what happens when this notion of hometown is co-opted? How then is meaning derived?

A band who says, “We’re from Brooklyn,” must make some kind of gain, gain in popularity, gain in image, gain in the hearts of dopey post-college kids wooing in unison after the phrase in question is uttered. Whatever associations “Brooklyn” springs into people’s minds are the associations sought after, just like hearing a band is from “the Yukon” raises its own associations. But if I was in a band and my band moved to Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine, would we declare to an audience of Portlanders, “We’re from Portland”? If so, what (if anything) would we be hoping to accomplish?

This conundrum strikes the casual observer as strange, ironic even. What happens in (and to) a place where no one has any connection to the soil on top of which they lay their heads at night? “We’re from Brooklyn,” is a phrase which simultaneously tells so much about those who utter it, and so little.

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  • greg

    obviously you’re not from brooklyn

  • Andy

    I enjoyed this, but the logic of “Based on the fact that we know Brooklyn has become the adopted hometown of many young adults, we can conclude that nearly anyone declaring Brooklyn as their hometown is not by any means actually from Brooklyn. ” is faulty.

    What if I said, “based on the fact that we know most people like ice cream, we can conclude that nearly anyone claiming that they do not like ice cream actually does”. Just because a lot of people in Brooklyn aren’t from there, it doesn’t mean that most people who say they are from there aren’t.

    Regardless, it seems to me that people move to Brooklyn (or queens) because (at one time anyway) it was a cheap way to live close to downtown Manhattan. As to Jersey City… well… try getting there on a subway.

    Anyway, can’t a band be from a place without the individual members of the band being from that place? Speaking of which, how long must you live somewhere to qualify as being from there? I’ve lived here for 10 years, and I certainly don’t feel like I’m trying to misrepresent myself when I say I’m from Brooklyn. Where’s the cut off?

  • http://onlives.net Mike

    Andy,

    You are correct in saying the logic is a bit faulty there. That sentence should be clearer, say something like, “Based on the fact that we know Brooklyn has become the adopted hometown of many young adults, we can conclude that nearly any young adult declaring Brooklyn as their hometown is probably not actually from Brooklyn.” I’m talking here, of course, about the mass exodus of people who have moved to the area recently, in the past few months or past few years.

    As far as what it means to be from somewhere, it sounds like ten years is a good amount of time to consider yourself native; I’d like to say that a place someone is from would be the place that a person was born in, but obviously there are exceptions: like if a person was born in another country when their parents were on vacation, or if a person was born in one state and then their parents immediately moved.

    Which brings us to an important point. I suppose if a band was started in Brooklyn after its members moved there then that band would be considered from Brooklyn. I didn’t consider that in my assessment. Thanks for helping get us there, Andy.