I write about the working class because I grew up in Yonkers. Multi-ethnic and multi-racial, Yonkers is the epitome of the working class in America. People often think Yonkers is a funny sounding name for a city. Little weight is given to its Native American roots and to the Dutch settlers who arrived in Yonkers long before the British. It’s been said that Yonkers built its streets on top of cow paths and Native American trails.
Unlike the large, sprawling cities of Los Angeles and Denver, Yonkers is small and compact, measuring only about three miles wide, five miles long, taking up a total area of approximately eighteen square miles. The northwest and southwest portions of the city are flanked by the Hudson River, and on the east by the Bronx River. The Saw Mill River is the natural dividing line between East and West Yonkers. Further divided by natural ridges and valleys, Yonkers is congested with many small rolling hills.
With its narrow streets, hairpin turns and one-way streets going nowhere, it has always been hard to get around Yonkers. The city’s inhabitants often speak pridefully for having so many impossibly steep hills. Like Rome, Italy, Yonkers is often called the city of seven hills: Nodine Hill, Park Hill, Church Hill, Cross Hill, Glen Hill, Ridge Hill and Locust Hill. A popular urban legend claimed Elisha Graves Otis chose Yonkers to build the first elevator because he had been inspired by the city’s many treacherous hills.
Despite its fascinating history as the city of seven hills, Yonkers ain’t no Rome, and has always lived in the shadow of New York City. Yonkers is often considered to be a blue collar town where its inhabitants are known by their unpolished self-expression and heavy accents, a loud squawk that betrays their lack of formal education and money.
It’s been years since I’ve lived in Yonkers, but I was born there and it is where I spent my formative years growing up. I’ve traveled the world, have more education than the standard, and divide my time between two homes, one in downtown Seattle and the other on the north coast of Oregon. I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest twice as long as the years that I spent growing up in Yonkers. Yet every time I open my mouth, people look at me with mild disdain or a confused expression and ask, “Where are you from?”
I just can’t seem to shake that working-class patois, not that I want to; my Yonkers squawk is a source of pride for me, a badge of honor that says: Don’t f__k with me, I’m from Yonkas.
No matter where I go, my roots in Yonkers define who I am. There is something noteworthy about my childhood home that has become more significant as I grow older. Maybe this is true for you too. Maybe you find yourself betwixt and between your world as a child and the world you worked hard to create and live in today. I hope you have your own notes from the working class to share with me. Feel free to write to me! I look forward to hearing from you!