Why do you say you're from New York if you're from New Jersey?

There’s a lot to unpack with this question. First, let’s start with the very basic stuff:

  1. I was conceived in the Bronx, which is also where my mom’s side of the family is from.
  2. I was born in Manhattan.
  3. I visited my mother’s side of the family in the Bronx virtually every weekend until my parents divorced.
  4. My father had a number of relatives who lived in Manhattan, and we visited them plenty as well.
  5. Growing up, we visited and/or picked up my sister from her home in Queens every other weekend (half sister, split custody, yada yada).
  6. Most medical professionals that I visited (dentists, my orthodontist, general practitioners, etc.) were located in the city.
  7. The house I grew up in was a half block away from a bus stop where frequent buses could bring you to the Port Authority in 10-20 minutes, depending on traffic. If there existed a bridge from my front door to New York, it would only be about a mile long. I could see the skyline just by walking outside. I could see the 4th of July fireworks from our backyard. In other words, we were really close to the city.

Some more-in-depth-but-still-relatively-basic things:

My first year of high school was in New York

Yup. As stated previously, I lived incredibly close to the city. My commute was the same, or in many cases shorter, compared to most of my classmates. If you’re curious about why I transferred, it’s because I hated the school and the students, not because it was in New York.

My father worked exclusively in New York

He is a lawyer and is only licensed to practice law in Michigan (where he’s from) and New York. Not only this, but I was a frequent visitor of his office, both as a son and sometimes as an employee. I took the subways, I walked the streets, and I ate the pizza and the bagels. All the time.

You may be thinking, “That’s all fine and good, but so what?” If so, continue to read on!

Something to understand about New Jersey is that it’s culturally fragmented to an extent. Where I grew up is easily the most urban part of the state, since it’s located right outside the biggest and most urban city in the United States. As a result, it’s much more dense, much more diverse, and more politically liberal than the rest of the state. To give an example, check out the 2013 map of the gubernatorial election:

NJ 2013 gubernatorial election results map

Side note: someone may point out that the map became much more blue in the 2017 election , which would be correct. But to that, I say: isn’t it weird that in 2013, the Democrat was a woman, and in 2017, the Republican was a woman? Perhaps many of those people are not voting based on politics, but rather on genitals.

Anyway, moving on. The fragmentation goes beyond politics. I’m sure most people reading this have seen content online titled, “You know you’re from CITY/STATE if…” Every time I read one of those where the location was “New Jersey,” I didn’t understand most of it. I would go down the list of reasons and think to myself, “What are these people talking about?”

It wasn’t until college that I truly realized that my experience was very different from that of most New Jerseyans. Most grow up in suburbs which are never socioeconomically diverse and almost never culturally diverse. I met people who had never seen a roach before. I met people who had never taken public transit. I even met a guy who had never been to New York, which blew my mind into smithereens.

Likewise, I had to learn about certain things. For example, I learned what a Jughandle was, despite it being associated almost exclusively with New Jersey. I learned about businesses which I had never been to or even heard of, because they usually have no locations in New York or my part of New Jersey. It was the most significant culture shock I had ever experienced, and it was only 45 minutes away by car.

All of this is to say that I never really felt like I grew up in New Jersey. Sure, I might’ve paid 7% sales tax instead of 9%, and yes, I went “down the shore” for prom weekend, which most New Yorkers would not do. But for the most part, I had no shared experiences with people from other parts of New Jersey.

If you tell someone, “I’m from New Jersey,” the first thought that pops into their head likely includes one or more of the following:

However, none of these apply to me. I grew up in one of the densest and most urban places in the United States, with unparalleled diversity and a culture that is virtually indistinguishable from that of so-called “native” New Yorkers.

I think the better question is: Why would I say I’m from New Jersey? Aside from my address, there’s very little that someone could point to which would align my life more with New Jerseyans than New Yorkers. That’s the truth of the matter.