A reminder that not every Berkeley is built the same.
The sky is blindingly blue and the sun tingles when it hits the freckles on my cheeks. The mile-high air is brisk. The moisture it extracts from my skin dissipates in the altitude. I’m home.
Among friends, my Coloradan identity is a joke that never gets old. I’ve lost count of the number of roasts I’ve taken about paying out-of-state tuition, having skied only a handful of times, or struggling to relate to niche childhood experiences (apparently it’s not normal to join the 14er club and scale a 14,000-foot mountain before your fourteenth birthday). Regardless, we have a common understanding that my upbringing in Denver at times feels worlds away from Berkeley. Unlike most people I interact with here, I’m one of the only students from my high school who has come to Cal in recent years; college was the ultimate clean slate for me to embark on a completely new era in my life.
At the same time, I’ve realized that in my efforts to embrace California culture, I often forget my roots. On the phone, my mom once told me that our neighbor asked how I was doing, then they ended the conversation saying, “We’ve lost another one. Once they go to California, they never come back.” Little do they know that I don’t just leave a piece of myself in California when I take trips to Denver — I bring a slice of the West Coast back with me too. As it turns out, the Berkeley name itself was a stowaway on my most recent visit. Just when I thought coming home for holidays would let me dissociate from my university bubble, I found myself still attached to yet another Berkeley: Berkeley, Colorado.
Just when I thought coming home for holidays would let me dissociate from my university bubble, I found myself still attached to yet another Berkeley: Berkeley, Colorado.
Believe it or not, our beloved college town has a charming doppelganger just northwest of Denver. The borough is nestled next to Lakeside, an infamous amusement park in the city best known for the most rickety roller coaster still standing this century (riding it and surviving to tell the tale was a rite of passage at my elementary school). Though I’ve spent almost my entire life growing up in the city, I never realized that Berkeley, CO was also home to my favorite cat café and the occasional high school tennis tournament. Revisiting the area was like reading a book after you’ve already seen the movie: the title is the same, but the artistic liberties have been stripped away. Walking the streets of the city, all that occupies the mind is which details of this Berkeley match that which I’ve resided in for the past two and a half years.
Immediately noticeable is the Colorado couture. In California, style holds unimaginable weight. Make no mistake, Colorado also has its share of clothing trends, but in the sense that Patagonia and REI prevail as the hottest, most attractive brand names. The more earth-toned and (mildly) uncoordinated, the better; after all, it wouldn’t be wrong to assume that you’ll be doing some kind of active outdoor activity later and won’t have the time to change. Simple ponytails, Subarus, and fleece are must-haves, and golden-hour photos in the foothills with a cute beanie are almost inevitable. On the other hand, in the Golden State – a haven for both influencer and hippie aesthetics – clothes are more than utilitarian. Fashion capital seems to reign in all varieties, from assorted flea market finds from Oakland to monochrome ensembles assembled online. In California, so many things can be said with garments; in Colorado, the most attention you’ll receive for an outfit is usually a passing glance or nod of solidarity for wearing a graphic hoodie. I find that in Berkeley, CO, there’s an unusual sort of fashion freedom where there are no consequences for a lackluster outfit that doesn’t break the mold or adhere like glue to that of an influencer.
Though this is only one example of the divide between two Berkeley’s, I found that the implications of these differences have myriad applications. To me, it’s the reason that homegoing is a sacred privilege; experiencing this Coloradified version of Berkeley sparked the realization that there is, in fact, a world outside of Cal that appears familiar, but may be completely unique when truly immersed in it. So often, Berkeley, CA sweeps us up in its fervor for academics, innovation, and competition – but a trip to Berkeley, CO was a reminder that we aren’t confined to this paradigm during our time here. This small neighborhood in the Rockies is proof that not every Berkeley is built the same, and neither are we.