Next month marks two years since my husband and I moved to Durham. That’s quite a feat for me, because I’ve moved seven times since college graduation five years ago.
A lot has happened during that time, including getting married, renting an apartment, and finding jobs downtown. Over the past two years, we’ve really enjoyed living in Durham.
We’ve wondered, though: Can we officially call ourselves Durhamites?
We visit Duke Gardens, attend Bulls games, and shop at the co-op downtown. We browse on Ninth Street and sweat through Festival for the Eno. We eat at trendy new restaurants, and we buy locally when possible, even if that means paying more at Letters Bookshop for a recent release than for the same book on Amazon.
If it’s on a BuzzFeed list about what makes Durham great, we’ve probably done it.
But I’ve also realized that Internet listicles do a poor job of conveying the full Durham experience. In working with Durham nonprofits, I’ve learned about the Durham that hasn’t gone viral. The nonprofits have helped me better understand local issues and how they affect me. I’m well versed in the city’s issues, like homelessness, affordable housing, and education, and I try to follow local news.
Yet at other times, I’m plugging an address into my GPS to find landmarks that natives have frequented for years. I find myself reading Wikipedia entries about Durham and squinting at archived photos online of downtown that I hardly recognize. The pictures aren’t from 1905 but 1995.
I’ve tried to get a grasp on the city’s history. I wonder who lived here before us and what they would think about what grabs newcomers’ attention. More and more, I understand that the Durham the Internet fawns over doesn’t represent Durham as a whole. If it’s all you pay attention to, you’re missing much of what the city’s natives adore most about their home.
While I’m glad Durham has plenty of attractions to get newcomers here, I’ve become more interested in why they decide to stay. What do natives and those who settled here permanently know about Durham that I haven’t yet learned about?
Native Durhamites I know are fiercely proud of having grown up in Durham. My local friends share insights and wisdom about Durham’s constant growth and transition through a native’s lens. They speak with humility and love about their hometown, and they’re eager to see Durham continue to flourish. I’m a newcomer to Durham, like thousands of others. I’m hopeful that over time I’ll continue to feel less like an outsider and more at home. Most importantly, I hope I can continue to be proud of where I live and acknowledge Durham’s strength, grit, and resiliency.
I’m grateful for my handful of friends who grew up in Durham and continue to live here. It’s up to transplants like me to learn from those natives how to take pride in the entirety of Durham.
I get the chance to talk about living in Durham frequently. Almost every time we visit friends and family in Raleigh, someone asks if we like living here. I sometimes hear a note of hesitancy in their voice; they’re curious to know about my experience living in a city that many Raleigh residents heard scary stories about growing up, or are told to avoid.
“Where do you live?” they ask. “Do you go downtown at night? Is it safe? What about the schools?”
People are curious about our lives here and how long we’ll call it home. In those moments, I start to feel the same pride I see longtime Durham natives express so often. When I talk about Durham, I feel a duty to best represent how I truly feel about a city we’ve grown to love.
Am I a Durhamite? I honestly don’t know. Two years isn’t a very long time to live somewhere, but we have no plans to leave. We’re thankful to have landed here. Friends and neighbors we’ve met help us feel welcome. We found a community eager to share its enthusiasm for its past and plans for the future. And regardless of being true Durhamites yet, we’re happy to call it home.
Elizabeth Poindexter is marketing coordinator at DurhamCares. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.