Susan Birnkrant, 65
Canadian expatriate remembers arriving in Chicago
Washington Square Park
How long have you lived in Chicago?
A really tumultuous year in the city’s history.
Yes, it was. I arrived just before all the riots.
What brought you here?
I’m a political exile from Quebec. At the time, the French were trying to separate Quebec from Canada and, being half English and half French, I didn’t want to be separated. I didn’t want to have to choose between my French friends or my English friends. It was almost like blacks and whites during segregation.
So you left one politically contentious place for another. During the riots, I was actually in South America, adventure traveling. I was shocked: Chicago was on the front cover of every newspaper in Ecuador. I was aghast! The police shooting at people in Grant Park? The Ecuadorians were not very favorably impressed with Chicago. I had to defend my new city! I had a very hard time with it, too, because I didn’t quite understand what the politics were.
What’s your very first memory of Chicago? The day after I came here—I came on a Friday, so on Saturday—I was lucky enough to be sailing on a 40-foot boat on the lake. It was perfect. I felt so lucky. That’s when I knew I had arrived. The minute I got here, I met so many people who invited me everywhere, to all the parties. It was nonstop. I was busy every day of the week. I was 21. I fell in love immediately.
Well, Chicago was a great choice for me because I preferred American men. And I met my husband a year after moving here. I eventually got a degree from Loyola law school, but he didn’t want me to work. I was of the age when women stayed home, had their children.