“You’re from Alaska?”
“Like, isn’t it…really cold in Alaska?”
We’ve all been there. Mention “Alaska” anywhere outside of the state and the person you’re speaking to will have eyes bigger than the state itself (or at least bigger than Texas). The interrogation that follows is a whirlwind that usually goes like this:
Q: What currency do you use?
A: Well, what country are we in?
Q: I thought Alaska was a part of Canada!
A: I guess that’s better than thinking we’re a tiny island next to Hawaii.
Q: Have you seen Into the Wild?
A: Actually, no, but given how many times I’ve been asked this question I feel like I should have watched it by now.
Q: Is it true that you don’t get sun in the wintertime?
A: In Juneau? It’s fair to say we get more rain than we do sun in the wintertime. Or anytime of the year, really.
Q: Do you ever need to use air conditioning?
A: I think you meant to say ‘do you ever need to use a heater?’
Q: Have you ever seen a polar bear?
A: Of course. Polar bears live in my backyard.
My favorite question is the one I find hardest to answer, the one that even 18 years of life in Alaska has not prepared me to answer sufficiently: What’s Alaska like?
No matter its source or the number of times I am asked, I’m always caught off guard. How do I explain what it’s like living on an island with 30,000 people clad in Xtratuffs and fishing gear to a stranger from the Lower 48; from Brisbane, Australia; from a village in Southeast Asia?
How would I even explain what it’s like living in Juneau to myself?
For most of my life, I never even considered myself to be “Alaskan.” In my head, a true Alaskan was an Alaskan Amber-drinking, flannel-wearing, fishing-enthusiastic marathon-runner. I spent years feeling like an outsider looking in, living in a community of people I felt like I’d never understand. As I began spending more time going to community events, taking action on local issues, and learning what it means for me to be an “Alaskan,” my preconceptions began to fade away. What makes you an Alaskan isn’t a slate of characteristics, it’s the fact that you live in Alaska. Looking out at the sweeping mountain views reminds me that to the outsider, I am an Alaskan.
Just as it’s easy for me to forget this, it’s easy for me to forget that there are people who will never know what it’s like to be a teenage girl growing in the capital of Alaska. That’s what this column is about. In “Tasha About Town,” I’ll explore and share what it’s like living in Juneau from my perspective as a recent high school graduate.
And I’ll start by clarifying — no, I can’t see Russia from my house.
• Tasha Elizarde is a recent high school graduate living in Juneau. Read her bimonthly column in the Neighbors section of the newspaper. Contact her at Tasha.firstname.lastname@example.org.