By John Hubbuch
Oak Park is a little like Notre Dame football or Morton's Steakhouse. Lots of people love it. Lots of people hate it. I only recently became aware of the depth of the animus when I began writing and blogging about my son's likely move from Oak Park to a different western suburb.
Now to be sure, I knew that people made fun of us. John Kass, the Tribune columnist, from time to time refers to our village as "the People's Republic of Oak Park." Transgender nights at Winberie's, nuclear free zones and Salvadoran sanctuary have over the years begged for sarcasm from both those inside and outside the village. But I'm not talking about a head-shaking, what-what will-they-do-next exasperation. Reading some of the Internet chatter, I have detected something a little deeper in the animus toward Oak Park.
Some of it is obvious. People move here for whatever reason, and after a while the congestion, high taxes, parking and general urban-ness of the town get to them. Like sailboats and home swimming pools, things don't turn out the way you expect. Disappointment turns to resentment and anger when you're upside down on your mortgage, and you're now stuck in a community you no longer want to be in. I get that.
I also get those who don't like us because of our liberal politics. If the only news you watch is Fox, and you own all of Glen Beck's books, then you probably view Oak Park as Trotsky Town, ground zero of political correctness, white guilt and the victimization mindset.
But for some folks, Oak Park represents the better road taken. They have decided that higher crime rates and taxes are worth it in order to live in a diverse community. To be sure, people live here for lots of reasons other than diversity, but I dare say many of us moved here in part because it made us feel good that we not only talked integration, we walked it. It is uplifting to choose to educate our children in a place where African-American children are physically in our classrooms rather than just in a book in those classrooms.
Some people resent Oak Park because, deep down, they feel guilty. We represent a better ethos. There is actually a place where a reasonable possibility of diversity exists, and yet you choose not to live there. For these people the relentless celebration of our village's diversity is cause for at least a twinge of guilt, followed by resentment.
Granted, we contribute to the tension. We can be smug and self-righteous about our decision to live here. We are on the side of the angels. If someone we know moves out, our eyebrows rise slightly when they say they're moving because of crime or taxes. We think we know the real reason. Their decision casts a fleeting tiny cloud across our mind — that maybe the taxes and the crime aren't really worth it. We dismiss the concern, and become strengthened in our resolution and our righteousness.
Maybe people live in Oak Park because it's close to downtown and the schools are decent. End of story. But I do think many villagers also choose to live here because of its shared history and values connected to integration and diversity. We take pride in it.
And some people hate that.