October 13th, 2023 – Outsiders and Belonging in my Hometown

Growing up in a suburb of Chicago, it’s easy to assume that all of the kids of my hometown Joliet, Illinois are the same because we come from the same city. However, there is a divide socially, and physically between what is considered the West Side and the East Side of Joliet. Kids from the West Side go to a different High School, we have different social arenas, sports teams, neighborhoods, and different experiences in general. What makes this harder is that there is a literal river that divides the East and West side, so there’s a pretty visible divide between us, as you literally cross a bridge to get to the other side of town. We were rival teams in sports, they had their downtown area, and we had ours, they had their school, we had ours and they had their people and we had ours. There was also a pretty prevalent socioeconomic divide that fell upon these lines as well, as the West Side was considered the better off side of the city, and the East Side was said to be worse off. All of this culminated to pretty harsh feelings of “us and them” when it came to the city lines drawn in my hometown, which made it really hard for the two groups of students to connect. Though these divisions may have occurred, there were still occasional times when you did cross that bridge and you went to the other side of town to see friends, for an event, for family, etc. Crossing that bridge to the other side of town definitely puts you in an “outsider” mindset, as its quite literally like a different city. In my experience, whenever I’ve been to the other side of town to be with my friends from the East Side, as I’m from the West Side, and we’re talking about school, at least once in the conversation it’s brought up that I go to West and don’t understand what its like to be on the East side, which is fair, and this very much works both ways. When my friends from the East Side come to the West, there’s always the occasional joke that they’re “not from here” even though they are literally from the same city. Either way, no matter what side of the city you’re from, there’s a constant sense of not belonging in the space where you’re not from. Thus when answering the question of who was an outsider and who I experienced as a group of people rather than individuals , it would sort of depend on where you are and who you are at least from the perspective of Joliet. For me, I was a West Sider so I very much felt like an outsider when in the East Side and sort of saw all of the East Side students as a specific group of students, apart from myself and my peers. However, the East Side students would say the same about life in the West Side. The perception shifts that West Side students normally had about the East Side students wasn’t anything extreme, we didn’t think they were below or above us in any way or had some sort of hatred toward the other group of students, it was more so that we saw them as not understanding what our lives were like going to a different school and just having different experiences of the city overall. Im sure if you asked a West Sider what they thought about Joliet their answer would be a bit different from an East Sider in that they would say that Joliet is a more urbanized, downtown landscape with a wide array of people and students, where as someone from the West Side would say its more suburban, with less of a city scene and everybody knows everybody else. Though these different details seem minute, they do add up to bring a different experience of Joliet to those living on either side of the city, and its fairly obvious in the way that people from the West see those from the East as outsiders when in the West and vice versa, and in how there’s always a sense of not belonging when your outside of your area.

All of these difference occur at a very local level for me, but this “us versus them” ideal is pretty easy to apply and recognize throughout the international system. The issue with having this outlook within the realm of international politics is that it tends to lead to major tensions and conflicts between states simply because one state doesn’t agree in another states way of living, or they don’t agree with another states policy, etc. Taking on a very self-centric view, especially as a state amongst others, can be potentially dangerous, and makes it all the easier to automatically assume that another state is your enemy, and thus for issues to rise. When working within the international system, it’s very important to be able to see from another states perspective, and do be able to understand why exactly states function in the way that they do. However, when you can only see from your side, and when you only look inward instead of outward as well, it becomes majorly difficult to resolve conflict, to understand and communicate with one another, and thus work as an efficient, helpful system. One of the major pros to international politics and systems if that we can all work together ¬†for the betterment of everyone, yet when states outcast, isolate or alienate each other based on senses of beginning, the system ceases to function as it should.

Joliet IL Map - Town Square Publications
Map of Joliet, you can see an overview of the river and how the city is divided East and West. (Town Square Publications, 2023, https://townsquarepublications.com/joliet-il-map/)
(Marinas.com, 2023, https://marinas.com/view/bridge/rgu51_Jefferson_Street_Bridge_Joliet_IL_United_States)

The bridge you cross to get from one side of town to the other, you can sort of see the more urbanized landscape of the East Side from this image.

One thought on “October 13th, 2023 – Outsiders and Belonging in my Hometown

  1. This is a great example of how different one’s community can be, even within the same city. While you are still in the same city, you feel like an outsider when interacting with the East-siders. It’s very interesting the dynamics between the 2 sides where the only sort of distinction is a river that “separates” the two sides. One thing that could be interesting to look at is things such as religion, ethnicity, income, political opinions, occupations, etc., to see if any of those factors have correlations with either of the sides.

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