When people ask me “where are you from” while I’m traveling, my response “I’m from Maryland,” is often met with a blank stare. So, I clarify and say “I’m from Washington DC, which is met with an immediate look of knowing. This could seem deceptive to some, but the truth is I am from the DMV (the area known as the DC metropolitan area to include the suburbs in Maryland and Virginia). I reside in the DMV, the cultural meeting space of three different places. Only DMV residents really understand and know that although separately, Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia are known and visible on the map, there are portions of these areas that make up the exclusive and influential space known as the DMV. Ambiguities aside, the significance the DMV name has to our area should be celebrated. The moniker places us on par with San Francisco’s Bay Area or Atlanta’s A-Town. Most significantly, it promotes a sense of solidarity between people of three different regions and unifies us under a shared culture.
So when I encounter the question, “where are you from,” and I’m far from home, I answer “I’m from Washington DC”. The response rolls off my tongue proudly, without hesitation. Not everyone knows where Maryland is, but everyone knows Washington DC and my DMV residency allows me to claim the District, without the bitter aftertaste of a lie of convenience. Yep—that’s my city of Mambo Sauce, Go – Go music, and Capitol Hill! With the District being so small and the area knowledge my DMV address affords me, I easily slip into conversation with outsiders about all things DC.
So where am I from? The closer I am to home, I say Maryland-born and bred. I proudly boast about crabs with Old Bay, summers at Ocean City, Six Flags America and the wonders of living close to the District, but not in the District. The only caveat in this truth is that Maryland is a large state and I know little to nothing about that part of Maryland outside of the Beltway. The silver lining is that now I get to introduce this person to my part of Maryland.
So where am I from? When I am home my answer will Prince Georges Maryland city where I live followed by a major landmark. This simple answer tells the person a lot about me. The first is yes, I am from Maryland, but I am most certainly not from Baltimore or the Eastern Shore. I’m from the DMV, which means I am from the city, just not from DC. The second piece of insight my response provides is that my social economic status will likely match that of the area where I live.. The last bit of information one gets is how much of my time is spent in the dreaded DMV traffic. After my response, the “where are you from” conversation normally moves into finding commonalities and questions arise such as “where did you go to school,” “where did you grow up,” or “do you know so and so?” My figurative DMV badge shines proudly during these conversations.
So where am I from? For my entire life my area code has been 301 and my zip code has contained the digits of a city within Prince George’s County Maryland. To say I am from Maryland only would be an affront to the deep roots I have in the District and the magic that is the DMV. My life in the M portion of the DMV includes the beginning and end of my educational career in DC. It includes summers working for DC Summer Youth Works. It encompasses getting the privilege to follow in my parents’ footsteps and be a Coolidge Cavalier, and run track under the tutelage of the legendary Coach Dixon during the summertime. Swimming at Ft. Lincoln swimming pool, flying kites at Turkey Thicket, and shooting fireworks at Taft Jr.High School on the 4th of July are all memories of my youth that I hold dear. My great grandmother’s longtime home and my family church reside in DC. It’s feeling grown because my parents finally let me go to the Go-Gos. Florida Ave Day was a right of passage for me growing up. I purchased my first gold chain in 8th grade from the yearly flea market at Stadium Armory. Riding the train to Pentagon City was a part of my teenage years. I’m weary of driving into Virginia because you don’t mess around in the Commonwealth, but Alexandria is cool. I met my future husband in DC. I found and grew a career I was passionate about in Washington DC. My children were all born in DC. I love a good carry out chicken wing lunch special with a half and half to wash it down. Yes, salt and pepper and mambo sauce are on my fried hard wings and French fries.
So where am I from? As the Events and Program Manager for 11th Street Bridge Park, it’s my job to keep abreast of the arts and cultural scene of the district, specifically East of the Anacostia River and use this knowledge to create events and access to experience for those residents. With the uniqueness of culture and social norms of the city my job would be near impossible to do if I wasn’t from the DMV. How could an outsider possibly know? How could you begin to understand and appreciate this wonderful and resilient community, let alone provide events that embody the needs, wants and social scene of this city? I am from the DMV that’s how! I appreciate my DC and VA extended family for sharing themselves with me. For making room from and accepting me whenever I make the small hop across city lines. For providing me with a culture and life experience that compares to none. So, where are you from?
Events & Program Manager, 11th Street Bridge Park