An Open Letter Not to Seattle
I’m good at writing letters. I find it easier than writing in general. There’s something communal about writing a letter. The process enables me to be open and vulnerable with someone. Unlike a thoughtless tweet that takes little effort, a hand-written letter represents the opposite.
My letters are long. They tend to be upwards of three pages. My handwriting is also very small, which means the letter is long. I write in cursive because I am proud that I can. It looks nice. I could stare at my finished letters all day long. I spill so much into them.
Letters are about all I write nowadays. They’re intentionally emotional.
Have you ever felt filled with emotion in a setting hostile to the expression of feeling? That’s what it’s like to be in Seattle. Emotions are as muted as the gray skies and the muffled sound of steady rain. They easily get lost in the sea of white. Letters help me feel what I need to feel.
Seattle is famed for an anti-social phenomenon known as the Seattle Freeze, an atmosphere in which locals are chilly to newcomers. It’s hard to be me in a city that doesn’t know how to make friends. All I want is to make friends, true friends. I think that’s why my writing has sucked for the better part of the last two years. I can’t write about the things around me because everything feels dry and devoid of human warmth. The upside of this chill is that my letters have grown generous. Lovely. I carry so much on a day-to-day basis, writing letters is my way of releasing it all. They feel more real than anything else I could have written.
I started writing letters for Christmas when I was about 21. I was too broke to buy my family anything, but I wanted to give each of them something nice. So, I got to writing. It felt like giving them a bit of my brain: “this is what I think about you, this is how I feel about you, why don’t we talk more?” I got to be candid. In the end, I wanted them to feel held by my letter. Touch is such a commodity in this city, a rare one at that.
I relive moments of cultural clarity in letters. I think about the things that make sense. Those experiences are worth everything. They keep me sane. They feel real and honest. That’s probably why I thought letters would make good gifts.
It feels unreal to be in Seattle. And not in a good way. I feel like I’m going mad. It’s hard to experience the kind of genuineness that I am looking for in a city that prides itself on being so awkward. Some people will disagree with me. That’s OK. These naysayers are probably the type who will bail on your long-planned party at the last minute. Most Seattleites are this type. They’re OK living small, exclusive, and irrelevant lives without any consideration for those around them. But they vote Democrat so that makes them OK.
If I could write a letter to Seattle, I wouldn’t.
I only write letters about or for people I care about.
I don’t think Seattle cares about me.
I was at a bar the other day watching people. Everyone sat in their little cliques and huddled, backs against backs, never leaving their little circle of comfort. Typical. I, on the other hand, sat by the entrance. My friend was working so I texted her songs to play throughout the night. In return, she gave me free drinks. I danced by myself and knew people were side-eyeing me.
A big group of Latinos came in and stared. I stared back, but they quickly looked away.
This city is socially inept, maybe even rude, and I see it every day.
I kept dancing and watched, keeping an eye out for the single person trying to break out of their colonial politeness and social awkwardness. A bachata song began to play. A girl with long dark hair and glasses stood and tried to get a guy to dance with her. Of course, he refused. I quickly approached her and took her hand.
Now, everyone was watching.
As I guided her hips to swing and dip from side to side, she seemed surprised. I was moving her the way one is supposed to move to bachata. Nothing special, but in a white bar just blocks away from Amazon’s sprawling headquarters, it is.
¿De dónde eres? I asked.
“I was born here, pero my family es de Guadalajara,” she replied with a thick pocha accent. She reminded me of myself, and I wondered if that’s what I used to sound like.
She was young. Younger than me. I asked her if she wanted to smoke a joint.
“No,” she said and then pointed at her friend. “You should ask him. I’m trying to get him to talk to more girls.”
This exchange was more evidence that Seattle is killing Latines ability to be friendly. Human. I felt it was my duty to show this kid there’s nothing scary about being friendly, not just with girls but anyone.
I asked the kid if he wanted to smoke. He agreed.
We walked outside and I got to know him a bit. He struggled through his words, both in English and Spanish.
“I grew up in Renton,” he said.
The conversation was forgettable except for the part that he said he went to Mexico and dined on the best tacos there. Even a pocho Mexican knows Seattle tacos suck.
The way that I felt bad for them is similar to the way I feel bad for myself.
This city doesn’t know what we need; it can’t offer us the upbringing our parents or our grandparents had. The city can barely offer reliable tacos. This city isn’t designed to encourage community. White people don’t know the meaning of “mi casa es su casa.” All these “refugees, immigrants, trans are welcomed here” posters don’t mean shit, and I am sick of seeing them. Maybe I should go around knocking on these doors to see whether these people would commit to inviting me over for coffee on a weekly basis. I doubt it. Forced friendship is the last thing I want, but I don’t want to be alone either.
For years it’s just been me in my casa hoping someone, anyone will take the bait and really feel like this is their casa. They don’t. Seattle, city of hermits.
I write letters when I’m lonely. That means I write letters often.
I write letters to my mom. I am not sure if she reads them. I’ve given her a book of letters. She’s never mentioned them to me. I don’t want to ask and make her feel bad.
Recently I’ve been writing letters to my fiancé in Mexico. He tries to read them, but to him, my cursive looks like glyphs.
I think I am mostly writing letters to myself. It seems I’m the only one who understands them. They make me feel good. I get to recall things that made me happy once.
Whatever this city can’t give me, I give myself in the letters: love, understanding, warmth, jubilee.
Seattle doesn’t deserve letters. But I do.
Agueda Pacheco Flores is a burned-out journalist in Seattle. She prefers to write about love, Mexican-American culture, and life as a Latina in the Pacific Northwest. Find her on Twitter @AguedaPachecOH