I moved to the neighborhood in 2004. That’s the time I started working [as a science teacher] over at Northside College Prep. I used to live in Bucktown. I started working at Northside and conveniently I met my now wife, and she was the one who had a house here. So then it just kind of naturally flowed from there. I ended up staying here since 2004 ever since.
I had moved from Boston directly, so not knowing the city – well, I used to live in Madison, and I used to come down here a few times and got to know the city. But I didn’t know about North Park until I started working at Northside. So then I found this little pocket of nice bungalows and other kinds of houses.
I grew up in the Philippines. I spent my formative years there, 20 years. I came here to college in Florida, then I ended up moving to Madison for graduate school. Then I ended up going to Boston and learned how to be a teacher there. Then I decided I missed the midwest, so I’m back here. This is the longest I’ve lived in any one place.
[Do you go back to the Philippines often?] I do. My parents are still there. I have an older sister and a brother who are still there. The rest of my family is scattered all over the world . . .
North Park is a little bit more diverse, I would say. When I moved here, I always joked, “Hey, I’m not white.” And all my neighbors were white. Back then I didn’t really think about it as much. But now, with everything going on in the past 12 or 15 years and everything that’s going on with the world and our reckoning with race and inequality, you know, I’ve been more aware of that. So, then I opened my eyes to see, “Oh, there are other people who are like me in this neighborhood, right?” And so that gave me a sense of OK, this is cool, this is a good place to live. It’s diverse. One of my kids goes to Peterson, and I see the families that go to Peterson, and it’s a nice collection of different kinds of people, skin colors, cultures, languages. It’s a good place.
Back then [in 2004], not being aware of race and whiteness, I wasn’t paying attention. But now I’ve matured, I’ve grown up, my eyes are open. I see a lot more different kinds of people here, which I think is awesome and it makes this place stronger.
And it’s a lot younger. Back then, it was more . . . you know, I was young back then, so I always looked at my neighbors as older. But maybe it’s a relative thing. I’m the one getting older and everyone’s moving in and everyone’s just younger and I’m the oldest. I notice that the neighborhood has more young families with children, a lot of strollers being pushed around, kids walking. A few of the neighbors that I’ve had have gone through the school that I teach at and so they’re adults now. And I saw them when they were kids, they went through high school, and now they have their jobs, they have their life. Wow.
The meaning of the place changes as you stay in a place and keep roots and people filter in and out. It changes. Back then, I thought it’s a pretty homogeneous kind of neighborhood. As I got older, “Oh, it’s not as homogeneous as I thought.”
[Do you feel like Northside College Prep is connected to our neighborhood meaningfully?] That’s an interesting story. I mean, Ward-wise it never was. I never felt that Northside was a part of the community because people who live in the neighborhood don’t have easy access to it. Now, in the past few years, I’ve seen a lot more connections. People around the neighborhood are getting into the school . . . . But I’ve always wondered how Northside can be more a part of the community. It’s hard. It’s not like Peterson, because Peterson is a neighborhood school.
Johan Tabora was interviewed by a neighbor in May of 2022.