A week back or so, I had an interesting exchange with a woman who had grown up here. She was adamant that somebody who came from the county couldn’t say he was “a Charlottesville native,” citing, among other things, the Commonwealth’s practice of separating cities from their counties jurisdictionally and the distinct identity separations between the two locales. I grew up in Washington, D.C., born in Georgetown Hospital, swaddled and taken home to a crib on Capitol Hill. In high school, it was great sport for us city kids when someone from Arlington or Rockville said they were “from D.C.” So I understand the sentiment.
Nativeness is a poetic notion. It means that the sweat and blood of your forebears has mixed with the dust and seeped into your pores to create some kind of cultural memory in you that shapes the way you see yourself and defines your sense of place. Your accent and the cemetery are your bona fides, but there is no pure claim, unless you’re an enrolled tribal member, to being native. Localness is an even more slippery concept, the relational value of a set of concentric circles. Since the days of Localz Only, the idea has evolved into a marketing principle and a battle cry to resist the great metropolitan magnets that have drained their surrounding landscapes of power, youth, and personality.
Our city is growing fast, has been, and that kind of growth changes people’s ideas about place, identity, and boundary. Let’s say you grew up in Free Union or North Garden and you’re mountain biking in British Columbia and someone asks where you’re from? Or let’s say you grew up on Pantops and attended city schools? Maybe you’re a Double Hoo from Lynchburg who’s been in the city for decades. Or maybe you’ve only been here six years, but your two children were born at Martha Jefferson Hospital.
This week’s feature is a fun change of pace, a kind of photographic scavenger hunt to test your local cred. It’s a reminder, also, that while everybody is born somewhere, being from a place is about choosing where you settle.