I have a deep and abiding love for the places I’ve called home. Maybe this is born out of being an immigrant and having to traverse an entire ocean to get here. Maybe it’s cause I’m simply sentimental. Either way, nothing beats being home.
Home for me is a bit complicated, though. At least, what I call home. There’s the place I currently live - a nice, immigrant-centered, working class community situated in inland Southern California. There’s the place I found myself as an artist and musician, nestled at the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. There’s the land of my birth, a beautiful, if fraught, collection of islands and people.
All of them feel like home. All of them are places I love. But one stands above: a tiny little community in South Los Angeles named Hawthorne.
It’s where I spent most of my life and where I was first welcomed into this country by a community filled with love. Coincidentally, the place I live now looks a lot like Hawthorne to me from the store fronts to the people. And the deep affinity for where I am is born in large part out of the deep love I have for Hawthorne.
Its smells. Its sounds. The way the Rally’s behind my elementary school would always tempt me. The memories of using the drive-thru line at the In-N-Out as a way to decompress with my friends during our weekends away from school. The look of my neighborhood as the sun cast its last, loving touches over our homes before it disappeared. The smell of the ocean wafting in from El Segundo.
I love Hawthorne. It shaped me. And the way I am today is a reflection, I think, of where I came from.
I think about that and hometowns when I think about Trent Alexander-Arnold. The scouser on the squad. Liverpool raised. And what it must mean for him to get to don the red shirt and walk out onto the Anfield pitch every week.
Young and having spent his entire footballing development as part of Liverpool’s system, Trent is a bit of an avatar for the local lads. And being that he was raised a Red and his whole family are Reds, this pride in where he comes from runs deep.
Last week, Guillem Balague interviewed Trent for the BBC. It was a wide ranging interview that is insightful and a true delight given how wonderful Trent comes off in general. But the thing that I hung onto is how much Trent relishes and honors being a local lad playing for his hometown team.
Wonderful anecdotes litter the exchange like a young Trent being made to ensure that his studies came first before the football. Or stories of his entire family being huddled around the TV to soak in the 2005 Champions League Final in Istanbul. And the fact that the bus for the ensuing victory parade took it on a route that went right past the family’s front door. Lots of phenomenal tidbits into the life of TAA.
At various points, Trent is asked about what it means to put on the shirt and represent Liverpool having been someone who’d been on the other side of things as a fan and an academy product. The young right back went on to recount how he’d first watched a match at the age of 6 and how he long admired Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher as scousers who’d also worn the shirt.
He even mentioned how much he would love to wear the armband some day. It’s clear in his voice that there is a deep pride in the honor of getting to steward the only club he’d ever belonged to.
The quote that stuck with me, though, is how, when asked about the burdens of being so visible and reflecting on what it meant for him to idolize such players, Trent was both straight forward and courageous in his intent:
“I could never believe it myself [that people see me as a role model], but I understand that young kids in the city will most probably think of me like that. And that gives me a responsibility to be a good role model for them. There’s obviously stuff you have to do off and on the pitch to show a good example for the younger generation and encourage them to go down the right path.”
Trent clearly understands, having been once a young Scouser with posters of Gerrard and Carra in his room, that there are undoubtedly young people in Liverpool who view him with the same sense of awe and pride. And while we might talk about the value in hoisting so much onto the shoulders of a young athlete, I can’t help but think how refreshing and genuine his response is.
Because unlike other athletes who refuse to acknowledge that reality, Trent runs headlong into it. Spurred, perhaps, but the fact that Liverpool’s ethos has always been about community - a shared responsibility to each other. And one that truly speaks to the ethos of You’ll Never Walk alone.
I am partial, obviously, to people who want to speak on and represent the places they call home. And because I’ve written here about the ways in which I feel a spiritual connection between the place I was raised and Liverpool itself, I can’t help but also feel a sense of joy and warmth when encountering words like this from Trent.
Because I know, as Trent must know, how our communities haven’t always been well-regarded by people who lived outside of them. How a sports team - LFC for Merseyside and the Lakers for LA - might be a source of pride for a community that feels a bit forgotten. How regardless of choice or consent, when we venture outside of our neighborhoods, people will necessarily know of where we came from and place their own expectations about how we might comport ourselves.
The burden already exists, but I can’t help but feel it’s the smallest of things that one owes to community. A community that raised and loved you, for no other reason than you were one of its own.