Essay: The Road to Kenowhere Leads to Me

Kenosha, Wis. Photo: Marielle Bokor By now, if you're on social media, especially Twitter, you may have noticed that Kenosha is trending on Twitter. In fact, Kenosha made the national news--or rather, an author at Harper's Magazine did. And at least around here (and, in my specific case, here is even closer to the Illinois-Wisconsin line) people are pretty mad about it. To me, it almost feels like someone insulted a member of my family. I sometimes referred to it as Kenowhere, and that's okay for me to do, but not okay for you. And maybe that's silly or even problematic, but examining that made me examine WHY people were so mad about it in a little more detail and I think I have the answer-it's a perfect picture of what's ruining everything. When I first read the piece, I was mad too. The author is extremely condescending in tone, acting almost as though it's a favor he's touched down at O'Hare for his arduous journey to the wilds of Wisconsin. And my immediate reaction was what you'd expect. I was mad. My aunt and uncle lived in Kenosha over by the airport for much of my childhood. I loved to visit them--they're still two of my favorite people. They had a big yard with a beautiful weeping willow in front to camp under, trees to climb in the back, a big swingset to play on and were surrounded by fields to run in with their dog Ceasar. Later on, I'd regularly make the trip to Kenosha to seek out one of the most insanely talented Old World craftsmen who I've even ever read about, Emil Pacetti, who not only had a music shop whose repair shop was renowned from Chicago city limits to Milwaukee and beyond, but who was so intimately familiar with every part of constructing a clarinet and even its reeds that he could shave a millimeter off one side of my mouthpiece and change my tone quality for the better. Going there was an experience I relished, and not just because the shop had an incredible range of products for anyone from beginner to professionals and everything in between, including Beethoven socks I wear to this day.  Pacetti was a treasure, and would often invite those seeking instrument repair down to the workshop with him, where he'd loudly drag a chair across the concrete floor and inquire about what you were working on, then get out his clarinet and play along, giving pointers. Pacetti even unexpectedly showed up to a concert of mine, and seeing him smiling approvingly as he came in the rehearsal/storage space afterwards to say hello was one of the most inexplicably touching moments I've experienced as a musician. Kenosha, WI. Photo: Marielle Bokor I often drive to find a little bit of serenity when I feel anxious or depressed, and one of the places I found myself most often was wandering Kenosha's lakefront marina late at night, sitting on the rocks or leaning against the wall near the lighthouse sorting things out in the peace and calm . And of course, most everyone knows about the Mars Cheese Castle and the wonders within, especially someone whose Twitter and editor's bios both reference cheese. But that's not the real problem and Kenosha doesn't need me to defend it, in the end. There are millions of small towns full of amazing stories like Emil Pacetti's, tons of natural beauty, kind people and big fields to run in. The problem is the toxic, reductive thinking behind that piece. The author came to Kenosha, brilliantly deemed it "gray" in February and did nothing to change his preconceived notion of what the place was or could be. He assumed that he knew, and he wrote from above. He came in with the idea that the people and the place were less than him. And universally, that's the problem right now. Your life matters less than mine. Your jobs aren't as important as mine, until they're suddenly essential. You haven't earned what I have or worked as hard as I am. Your life doesn't look like mine. Your love doesn't look like my love. You live in the suburbs and I live in the city. You're from the South and I'm from the North. I went to college and you did not. The problem isn't really this guy's article--it's that so many of us think like him at some point, and no one stops to consider how they're just like him. So, instead of defending Kenosha, which is, to be factually accurate, a diverse, interesting, lovely place--let's pay them tribute by paying more attention to our own unfounded biases and be better. Because that will change things.
Picture of the author
Marielle Bokor