Kennewick to Tacoma: An Outsider’s Look at Western Washington

If you have lived in Washington state for a while you know about the stark differences between east and west. I spent the first half of my life on the East Side and I’m just starting the second half on the West Side, here in Tacoma. I will always be an East Side kid, but deep down I want to be a West Side kid.

I grew up in Kennewick and blossomed into the adult I am today. On the west side, though, I have found love, a family, friends, and a life. Sure, my blood relatives still reside in the place of my birth—and will until they die — but the family I found lives here in Tacoma.

I miss my hometown. It was simple and easy to get around. Tacoma streets meander and twist, changing names three or four times in a ten block stretch. Kennewick streets are mostly straight and rarely change names, making a trip across town an easy affair that does not need Waze.

The other thing that makes getting around Tacoma hard is the districts. Man, I hate districts. I cannot keep them straight. I live in the South End but not South Tacoma. My sister-in-law and her family live in the university district but also North Tacoma. My other sister-in-law used to live in Northeast Tacoma but was almost in Federal Way. I have friends who live a block away from each other and they technically live in different districts. My hometown had downtown and then the rest of town. No districts, no lines of demarcation, and no names to remember.

In other ways though, I don’t miss my hometown. It is too simple and conservative for me. My parents are conservative but they always taught me to treat others with respect. Oddly enough, I still hear them say derogatory things towards Hispanics and African-Americans. That is something I will never miss about my conservative roots, the hate for the unknown and the different.

When I go home to visit I can never find a radio station that is not country or religious music. My family watches one news channel and ignores the rest. They live in a constant conservative bubble that is impossible to crack.

The differences are obvious when you look and the resentment the East Side has for the West. It is palpable when you talk to those who live over there. They don’t like how our politics affect them and it sort of goes both ways.

My wife is from the East Side and her family still calls all of the west side “the coast” or Seattle. I was the same way as a kid. We would come over the mountains and come to Tacoma for the zoo or to visit distant relatives and we were going “to the coast” or “to Seattle.” It is hard for them to comprehend that Tacoma and Seattle can be different cities because you never really leave the city when you drive from one to the other. When you drive north from Kennewick to Spokane you can go long periods without seeing anything.

I think that is why I was so willing to accept Tacoma as my new forever home. Not to say that there are not conservatives here or people who spew hateful rhetoric, but those I choose to surround myself with and those I meet on the street are open and accepting of everyone.

I was always afraid of the big city and thought I would spend my life living in my hometown doing community theater and working as the manager of some random store in the mall. I had no aspirations beyond graduating high school, so to find myself with a loving family in such a great city is hard to believe. Tacoma is the city my family and I can grow old in.

Illustrations by Nina Hartman

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