Tiffany Walden
Walden at age 4 in front of her grandmother’s house  Photo: Courtesy of the writer

Chicagoans like to cut straight to the chase: “What part of town are you from?” If you’re from the West Side, like I am, it’s not enough to reply, “Out west,” because Chicago is a quilt of coves, each with a distinct language and identity. I grew up in K-Town, the one-mile stretch of streets between Pulaski and Cicero, all of which begin with the letter K (Karlov, Kedvale, Keeler, etc.). Just west is L-Town, where La Follette Park on Laramie Avenue and familiar stoops along Long Avenue served as summertime playgrounds. And just west of that is M-Town. My afternoons in K-Town were spent walking to the corner store for my grandmother’s favorite Chick-O-Sticks or for cheese and ground beef mixed in a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. We blurred the name of the candy Now and Later into one three-syllable word and changed the definition of “raw” from “uncooked” to “cool.” K-Town is a place where grandmothers sit on their porches and kids dig holes in the dirt to play marbles. It’s a place that nourishes Chicago’s soul. And yes, it’s a place riddled with violence. Outsiders often ask how I managed to get out, but really, I carry that village wherever I go.