Debunking Five Myths about Westchester County

Debunking five common myths about our 450 square



Sure we brought the world the Headless Horseman and a cola drink that allegedly causes death if consumed with certain candies. But did we really deserve the bad PR of all these other blatantly-untrue myths? Step aside, Jamie and Adam, we’re going Westchester mythbusting.

1. We’re all filthy—and we mean down, dirty, and positively oozing with mud-money—rich. Okay, yes, Westchester is home to many a member of the fabled (or, depending on your perspective, infamous) “one percent.” Front lawns like golf courses, and whole rooms devoted to Windex (I’m looking at you, Trump). But the notion that we all live like that is just down-and-out wrong. Nearly 90,000 residents fell below the poverty line in 2009, and nearly a third of those Westchesterites in poverty are in Yonkers. And, while we’re on the subject, no, Yonkers is not part of the Bronx. Rather, it has been part of Westchester since the county’s official beginnings in 1683. (Rye, by contrast, bounced back and forth between New York and Connecticut until 1731.)

2. We live—shivers!—“upstate.” I have to watch how I phrase this because I have family so far north in this state that they’re practically speaking Canadian. But, in a nutshell, we here in Westchester are not upstate. Wikipedia, the definitive source of all knowledge in the 21st century, considers us firmly “downstate,” so a stuck-out tongue and a raspberry right there to all my City friends who are legitimately afraid to come up here in June without a fleece hoodie on. (You’re all just haughty transplants trying to cover your Fargo-esque accents with bigotry anyway.)

3.  We’re just a commuter suburb of New York. This is the great thing about myths—their ability to coexist peacefully with myths that state the exact opposite, like the one that says we’re not enough like the City to be downstate and the one that says we’re so much like the City that we’re just where a bunch of Wall Street types sleep when they get enough money that they don’t have to pretend to find sirens soothing. The fact is, less than one third of Westchesterites work in any of the City’s five boroughs.

4. We’re the original soulless, cultureless, über-suburb of strip malls and corporate parks. Another paradox, since I’m pretty sure this notion is held by the same people who think of us as unapproachably rural. Seriously, take a drive under a hand-built stone bridge along a meandering stream through a forest of maples and oaks extravagantly dressed in reds and yellows for autumn and tell me we don’t have soul. Stop by Kykuit, the Rockefeller Estate, or Lyndhurst, or peek at a list of the artists who have moved here for inspiration and tell me we don’t have culture.

5. We all live like 1950s sitcom characters. I mean, we actually have a town called Pleasantville, right? We must be the Cleavers and match them in—take your pick—religion, race, education, etc., right? No, no, and no. In matters of religion: compared to the 48 percent of Americans who consider themselves religious, nearly 66 percent of Westchesterites do. We’re more than twice as Catholic as the U.S. as a whole, and more than five(!) times as Jewish, but less than half as Protestant. In matters of race, a smaller percentage of our population is white compared to the nation as a whole, whereas a larger percentage of us are African American, Hispanic or Latino, Asian, or multi-racial. We have far higher percentage of people born outside the United States and a higher percentage of people who have achieved at least a bachelor’s degree. The numbers get even more complex when you get to two-parent households, same-sex partners, and numbers of children, but suffice it to say that we wouldn’t fit well on a black-and-white TV screen.