No, It’s Not Better to Leave San Francisco

People have been rightfully protesting the high rents in San Francisco for many years now. With the pandemic as a catalyst, people have moved out of the area to save money or seek a different lifestyle as more companies allowed remote work. That’s great for everybody.

What’s really annoying, however, is this incessant and active persuasion that “you should leave San Francisco, too.” Because after all, look at me, I’m doing great here with my mansion and $8 gourmet pasta. It seems that to these people, as long as two checkboxes—cost of living and remote work opportunity—are ticked, they can go anywhere.

It is so, so arrogant, ignorant, and privileged.

Let’s start with family. You know what kinds of people can afford to live far away from their relatives without worries? Rich people. The American nuclear family model is enabled by wealth and comes with a host of social issues. Try living hundreds of miles away from parents who cannot afford to hire care for themselves. Or try getting free babysitting because you cannot afford a nanny and both of you have to keep working to make ends meet. Yea, I don’t think so.

Generations of families, especially among the low- and mid-income households, have built a strong support network in the Bay Area. Their friends and relatives provide the support that the privileged purchase with money. Their aunties are their therapists, cousins babysitters. They can’t afford several round trips per year just to gather. So they have to put up with the rising rents and shrinking footage. They have to put up with homeless camps and drugs and crimes.

But an even less obvious one is cultural support. No, I’m not talking about trendy clubs and Broadway shows. I’m talking about being non-white, or being a third-culture kid. To a white American who surrounds themselves by mainstream white American culture, it makes almost no difference to move from San Francisco to Austin. After all, both places offer excellent food and entertainment options. But who are those options for? Are they tailored to the 70% of white Americans, or are they for the 7% of Asian Americans?

All of these “why are you still in SF” bandwagons ignore an important fact: many of us thrive on multiple cultural upbringings. While every decently big city has a great Italian restaurant and yoga studio, only a small number of truly international cities offer enough variety for us to be connected with the other half of ourselves.

I’m a Chinese American who’s spent about half of my life in each country at this point, and I can’t imagine living in a place devoid of people with similar experiences or even just people who look like me.

And then the people around them — neighbors — started doing something strange. They brought cinnamon rolls and handwritten welcome notes.

NYT

That’s great for you, Mike Rothermel. But not everybody is gonna get that experience in places with less diversity or acceptance. We don’t have the luxury of neighbors welcoming us with cinnamon rolls wherever we go. We don’t even have the ease of mind that we’ll be physically safe in parts of this country. And the affordable places you’re talking about? Not exactly brimming with solidarity where we’d feel accepted and at home.

It’s not that I want to live in a Chinese American bubble, it’s about knowing that you’re not helplessly alone at a societal level. The feeling of belonging with people whom you don’t have to explain the dishes on a Chinese menu is incredible. It makes me more comfortable with my place in society, and counter-intuitively, it makes me more accepting, understanding, and explorative with other cultures.

To be clear, many US cities offer a colorful life for Asian Americans. And I’m not married to living in San Francisco or even within the States either. The point I’m trying to make is simple: for some, paying $4000 for a one-bedroom in San Francisco was all about the job; for others, it’s actually their best home. So please stop speaking for all of us because a decision is right for you. Less complaining, and more participating.

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