In Your Words: Who Are The Native Washingtonians?

Mad African!: (Broken Sword) / Flickr

Most of D.C.’s newcomers hail from far-away locales rather than Washington’s suburbs, according to recent census estimates. Given that, I asked last week whether someone like me, raised in Maryland but now living in D.C., gets to claim any native Washingtonian status — a title that carries weight in this transient city. A number of you chimed in, both in our comments section and on Twitter.

Some have always felt strong ties to D.C., even if they’re technically from Maryland:

@ @ Born and raised in Silver Spring, and always considered myself a "Washingtonian." Was this wrong?
Cheryl Thompson

E in Rosedale wrote:

I fall into pretty much the same category as you Elahe.  I was raised in Bladensburg/Hyattsville before moving on to other parts of the country and finally settling back in DC about 8 years ago.  I wouldn’t put myself in the same category as someone that was born in DC and never left, but I’m certainly more connected than someone who moved from Iowa 6 months ago.

Really though, what qualifies you as a Washingtonian for me is getting a license, buying a place and getting a job (in or around DC for the job).  In other words, putting down serious roots.

Alice Thornton wrote:

Most “native” Washingtonians don’t even live here anymore (native = having been born here). I stuck around, but most of my family left for other climes. We needed to bring in new people to increase the tax base. I guess with this being the Nation’s Capital it would naturally be transient…

The term “native Washingtonian” can serve as code to distinguish gentrifiers from non-gentrifiers. Mike Madden tweeted that if “native Washington” means “non-gentrifier,” then “your socio-economic status is the only thing that matters.” But, he added, if calling yourself a native Washingtonian is “simply a marker for ‘I’m not totally new here,’ then yes, growing up in the D.C. area counts.”

To that, Clinton Yates tweeted that “there was a time when native/non-native status was not a thing,” and that things changed, to an extent, when ”newcomers chose to self-identify so loudly.”

And then, of course, there were those readers who bucked against the idea that being a “native Washingtonian” should carry any weight at all: "'Native Washingtonian' carries plenty of clout in this transient city." It shouldn't. newcomers should push back
Boo, people who announce that they're native Washingtonians at political forums, booo
DC Porcupine

And Shani Hilton over at Washington City Paper wrote:

It’s pretty common for people all over the country to identify with the closest big city. I’ve met lots of people who tell me they’re from L.A. and when I press them, it turns out they mean a city 45 minutes away from L.A. But that doesn’t seem to happen here. But maybe as demographics change, so will the “native Washingtonian” identifier.

Do you think being a “native Washingtonian” should carry a special status? If so, who gets to claim it?


  • Amanda Lee

    The fact that this is an issue is proof of how serious we Washingtonians take the status. It’s no such thing as native Washingtonian, you either are or you aren’t. If you claim D.C. please be prepared to show us your SSN, ID, and DCPS transcript. LOL We do not care if you lived here and moved to Maryland when you were 8! A true Washingtonian has lived and attended DCPS their entire life. Nobody from D.C. claims Maryland or Virginia and if you meet someone that does, they aren’t from here.

  • Anne Hoffman

    E — I think growing up in Silver Spring or Rockville or Largo means that you’ve got DC in your life blood. It’s the culture of a place; it doesn’t stop once you leave the diamond and its demarcations.

  • Elle @ Chellbellz

    lol, i can’t even begin to put energy into caring about it either way. People move to DC, they move away. Yeah I grew up here, went to school here, I was born here, but does that give me any pull in life? Do I have a serious connect to DC,  No not really….will it get me a better job?  No, will it get me better connections? No I’d move if given the chance to explore other areas, but I think that people who are in Metro accessible area who can walk right across the line to DC, probably consider themselves from DC. I have more pride in where my family came from then where they ended up. 

  • Mike Licht

    If your parents moved here from elsewhere and you were born here, DC natives whose people have lived here for generations  may not recognize your Native Washingtonian status. They’ll repeat what country people say: “If your cat had kittens in the oven, would you call ‘em biscuits?”

  • Amanda Lee

    That’s the thing you have pride but it’s not from D.C. because your family is from elsewhere. I have family from foreign who care a less about this issue but on my other side my have family from D.C.,  U.S.A. who do. Would you want someone from Jamaica claiming Trinidad because it sound similar or “samething” ??!! I think notttt

  • Coco

     I’m a native Washingtonian. I was born here (DCPS graduate!).  Live here. I work here.

    To many Native Washingtonians, it is insulting that people from MD and
    VA –claim native status. This, I believe, has a lot to do with class
    and the way that MD and VA has always seen DC as inferior– growing up
    people  from outside DC would say things like “how many people have  you
    seen die?” “oh, you live in the murder capitol of the world” thus many
    Natives from DC, hold onto to their native status dearly and do not
    allow MD or VA to claim any part of it. I could go on about the way that
    the MEDIA has started portraying this region as the DMV and how much DC
    natives hate it– but this is neither the time or the place.

    My job has taken me into the depths of the gentrification/urban
    renewal– whatever you call it–  issue, and I have seen how hard it is
    for non-natives to penetrate the community. The “us” vs. “them”
    perspective is alive and well in most of DC.  This is because many of
    its native residents want to hold onto DC’s history– their native
    story– their life here  in DC  prior to renewal that is so often

     Unfortunately though, I feel that because of the transient and the 
    new  population many people believe that  the can re-write the history
    of this city and redefine something that is not theirs to redefine.

    DC has natives– people that have struggled to survive, Black and Brown
    folk, that have seen the MTP riots, the 90s crack era come and go– and
    now want their voice to be heard just as loudly as everyone else.

  • Coco

    Edit:* White, Black, and Brown
    folk I did not mean to discount the white native story… their native story is also a thriving part of DC.

  • gtsix

    Native means you were born and/or raised in the city.  If you were not born / raised in DC, you can’t be a native.  Long term resident is a person who has resided in DC for a significant period of time.

    If you were born and raised in VA, then take pride in your native VA status – don’t claim DC.  Same goes for MD.  People who live in Silver Spring cannot claim they are from DC anymore than people who live in New Jersey can say they are from NYC. 

    A resident of SS or Alexandria can easily say they are from the DC area or DC region – that is totally fine, as this is discussing an area/region and not a city. 

    There is nothing wrong with saying DC native or long term resident – it means you have been here for a long time and have seen/lived the history/changes of this city.  That is very different from moving here – neither better nor worse, but the lived history/knowledge possessed is different. 

    That saying, I do describe myself as a long term resident  but I would never claim to be a DC native.   

  • Be

    i think part of the problem is that a lot of people are ashamed at where their parents chose to raise them. yeah, who wants to say I’m from largo. very few people. to say you are native to dc means not just a passive connectedness to the vibe of the city, like, yeah i partied here and i remember ibex or the old 9:30 or whatever. but a connectedness to the land, to the schools you came up in. to the streets and parks you played in. and lets face it, it also means that you, or your parents went through and survived some really tough times.. at least for a big swath of the city. 

    being native to a place is sometimes different to where you feel at home. to me, dc is home. i’ve been here 20 years and i’m staying. but i’m not a native here. never will be. when i tell people where i’m from, i say the town. not the major city that was 20 minutes down the road. but the specific place i came up in.

  • Sally

    My father was born and raised in Washington DC, as was his father before him.  My sisters and I were all raised in DC and attended DC public schools.  Though we live outside DC today, I take great offense at someone who calls themselves a “native Washingtonian” but was actually raised in Maryland or Virginia.  My family had a perspective of Washington from the 1900′s thru the 1970′s  that few who lived outside the city could possibly identify with. 

  • Ollie Pooeater

    This issue and discussion could be the stupidest veneer for a lack of basic self esteem that I’ve ever seen. Is this seriously the best you can do? Argue about who’s “native-r”?

    No one cares that you’re a native and being a native doesn’t earn you a gold star. If it even got 1 person laid, I’d be floored.

    Is this a serious discussion blog, or a discussion for 14 year olds?

  • kelli

    what a pointlless argument to have! that’s my take. people should spend more time being kind to others and less time fussing about who’s in & who’s out.

  • Jwms922

    If you would ask any native
    Washingtonian who is the godfather of soul they would simply say Chuck Brown if
    you would ask them who is the mayor for life they would say Marion Barry if you
    were to ask them where is the big chair they would simply say good Hope road
    and Martin Luther King Avenue.  If you
    were to ask them where was new Jack city they would simply say Clifton
    Terrace.  If you were to ask them on
    Friday’s where do they hand dance they would say everybody knows at the Château
    on Benning Road. If you
    were to ask them what hospital were they born and the answer Freedmans you
    would know that they mean Howard University
    Hospital. If you were not born at a
    hospital within the boundaries of Washington, DC
    you are not a Washingtonian and if you did not go to one of the schools within
    the boundaries of DC until adulthood after being born at one of the local
    hospitals then you’re not a indigenous native Washingtonian.  Be proud of where you came from and claim the
    skin you are in.  Life is beautiful!

  • Soulshadow55

    Coco and Jwms922: I’m right there with you two.  I was born in D.C.   In my case at Columbia Hospital for Women.  I’m a third generation Washingtonian.  I grew up in D.C., went to D.C. public schools and graduated from UDC.  Although some of my family members have moved to P.G. County I’ve never lived anyplace else.  I always say they are going to have to take me kicking and screaming!!  I love D.C., I love the energy of the City, I love being able to walk anywhere I want, I love the corner stores and neighborhoods.  I love the kids playing on the streets and riding their bikes all over the neighborhood.  If you grew up in the suburbs I think it would be better to answer that you grew up in the Washington, D.C. area, but you’re not from D.C.  I was blessed to be able to buy a house in my old neighborhood and stay where I grew up.  But I know that I’m a dinosaur as all my old friends and school mates are gone.  They’ve been pushed out by skyrocketing rents and gentrification.  I think what bothers me about the attitude of some of the new people who’ve moved into D.C. is that they seem to think they’ve come to rescue D.C. from the ignorant heathens.  Now it’s their time and their responsibility to take it back.  Like the City is too good and too important to be occupied by all these black people.  Some of the new people in my neighborhood look at me like I have two heads because I’m black and still live in an area where in 1996 a row house went for $159,000 but now sells for $600,000.  I don’t care the suburban attitudes of people who think they can tell you what color you can paint your house or whether you should be able to add a second or third story to it.  Those nosy, self-important people who love to mind everyone else’s business.  Those are the people who I fear are increasingly moving into the City.  As well as the people who don’t understand that native Washingtonians have a history here in D.C. that they see being washed away.  Everyone understands that progress has and will come but the level of sensitivity and understanding lacking.