I never expected to still be living in the Washington, DC area at this point in my life. When I came to DC for college, I realized early on that my interest in politics was not strong enough to land an internship on Capitol Hill. It turned out that I wasn’t all that interested in policy-making. I was, however, interested in people and culture. So, how fortunate that my academic education was supplemented, nay enhanced, by the education I received from exploring all that city has to offer. Yes, the monuments and museums are great. But, honestly, if I had to name the one place in DC that has left the greatest impression on me, it would be the stretch of 18th Street in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. It was here where I went to my first underground jazz club my freshman year of college. It was here where I had an internship my sophomore year at an immigrant advocacy organization and discovered the awesomeness that is Peruvian chicken while on a lunch break, and later bonded with my bosses over the communal experience of eating Ethiopian food. It was here where I spent multiple summer nights dancing to Eighties music at a club called Heaven & Hell. It was also here where I spent many nights at the various clubs along 18th Street – learning to salsa at one, tango at another, and twice dodging bar fights at two others. It was at the intersection of 18th Street and Florida Avenue where, walking home from a party one Friday evening, I ran into a guy I had a crush on as we passed each other in the crosswalk. We said hello to each other, paused for a moment, then he pulled me towards him and kissed me. Ah, those were the days.
After graduating from college, my friends ended up with jobs in offices on lettered streets like K and L, state avenues like Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, or patriotic promenades like Constitution and Independence Avenues. I, however, stayed on 18th Street. My part-time Starbucks job turned into a manager position at the location on 18th Street just south of Dupont Circle, which itself was just south of Adams Morgan. It was here where I worked with people from Mali, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Eritrea, El Salvador, Tibet, and the Dominican Republic, as well as those born and raised in Washington. It was here where I hired someone who needed the job to help pay for the rest of their gender transition procedures and prepared myself for pushback from my staff, my boss, or my customers, only to encounter none. It was here where we hugged each other after 9/11.
I’ve made my way to end of 18th Street many times, where it meets the National Mall just between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. I’ve spent many hot summer days at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, many humid summer nights watching the fireworks on the Fourth of July, many lovely spring afternoons at the Cherry Blossom Festival and Earth Day celebrations, and one very cold winter day at Obama’s first inauguration. I’ve attended marches alongside thousands of other people, all full of passion and always respectful. And in all the years I’ve been here, there has never been a time when I’ve failed to be captivated by the symbols of our democracy.
When I first moved to DC, I expected to be around for one administration, thinking that I’d head to the West Coast after college. And then one day I turned around and realized that I had been here for three administrations. I eventually moved out of the city and now live between Washington and Baltimore. Occasionally, I return to DC for an event or exhibition. Sometimes I’ll note the location of an event and be surprised, thinking that it’s in a precarious part of town. Then I arrive and discover how much the city has developed, and how this neighborhood I had been warned against as a college freshman was now thriving. I’ve had moments where I think, perhaps this is not my city anymore (my Fran Lebowitz moments, for those who have watched Pretend It’s A City). Perhaps this city belongs to the next generation of young idealistic college freshman, entrepreneurs, and leaders. Perhaps it is time for me to move on.
But two Wednesdays in January made clear how deeply I care about Washington. To see the arrogance on the faces of those who assaulted the Capitol pained and enraged me. But then to see civility and maturity step forward to assume the mantles of leadership renewed my sense of optimism. When I first came to Washington, I admit I was naive. Not just about politics, but about life in general. My time in Washington has shaped my journey through adulthood. This lovely, complicated city, with its layers upon layers of history, where some families pass through briefly and others stay for generations, has been my home for longer than I planned. In fact, moving out of the city has given me the opportunity to appreciate it even more. Whenever I drive into DC, I enter the District on North Capitol Street, then follow the road until I can see the Capitol in the horizon, appearing like a welcome beacon before me. But when returning home, I always take the long way, so I can drive along 18th Street. I’m happy to see how much has not changed, as it brings back great memories. But I’m also excited to see new establishments, as it assures me that the city endures.