You know the type. You might even be the type. These self-appointed judges perpetuate an interlocking set of arguments about who or what counts as Authentic Chicago.
Some of these arguments are geographical: You cannot be a Real Chicagoan if you live (gasp!) in the suburbs rather than in the confines of area codes 312 and 773, as though an existential boundary separates the city and adjacent municipalities, even if the physical, economic, and cultural environments are indistinguishable.
Other arguments are biographical: You cannot be a True Chicagoan unless you were born and raised in Chicago itself. People who come here for college or a job? Not true Chicagoans.
Other cadres of the Chicago Authenticity Police claim that only their part of town is the Real Chicago. These folks, ironically, live all over the damn place. From their roosts in Hegewisch to Edgebrook, they insist that only their neighborhood captures or expresses the essential Chicago identity, which they self-reflexively define as being whatever their neighborhood has, whether it be defunct factories or lots of cops or densely populated streets or wide tree-lined boulevards. South-siders disdain north-siders, north-siders rarely give the south side a thought, and west-siders wonder what they have to do to get into the conversation. On various sides of town, other divisions fester: Canaryville disdains Beverly while Chatham gives South Shore the side-eye. (But everyone agrees: Wrigleyville is the worst.)
Then there are the food-related arguments: Deep-dish is just for tourists, they say. Real Chicagoans prefer thin-crust square-cut pies, delivered from a neighborhood joint that’s been there so long the phone number listed on signage still starts with an obsolete alphabetical exchange abbreviation.
The ultimate Chicago Authenticity Police torment: the no-ketchup-on-a-hot-dog nonsense, which has been periodically pronounced dead over the years only to rise from the grave like a zombie Mike Royko shambling down Milwaukee Avenue in the sizzling light of a Vienna Beef neon sign.
If I may contradict myself, here are a few attitudes I believe actually signify Authentic Chicago: the True Chicagoan doesn’t waste a nanosecond’s thought on what other people think about her food preferences. She has deep-dish or thin-crust—even a New-York-style pie-cut slice!—if that’s what she wants. She puts whatever condiments she pleases on her hot dog, because it’s her goddamn hot dog. The Real Chicagoan also welcomes anyone who wants to climb onto this crazy wagon. Lifelong resident, born here? Great, good for you for picking the right parents. From the suburbs but love the city and identify with it? The Real Chicagoan can take a compliment, and he greets you warmly. Just moved here from some Big Ten university town and want to make Chicago your own by exploring all it has to offer? Fine by him.
Please, just don’t become an authenticity cop. Chicago has enough of those jagoffs already. v