A house divided against itself cannot stand. Lincoln knew it. Jesus knew it. It’s time for this area to figure it out.
I got a press release last week from the Buffalo International Film Festival. The subject line on the press release was “Buffalo International Film Festival is not Buffalo Niagara Film Festival.” Apparently there are two competing film festivals in the Buffalo area and they want to make sure you know that they’re not “those other guys.”
The Buffalo International Film Festival started in 2004 as an effort to promote cultural tourism through movies. Its goal was to encourage film producers to consider Western New York as a backdrop. It’s a good group … with a good goal. They’re proud of Buffalo and they think it should be showcased to the world.
But their email was a bit snarky for my tastes — especially for a press release. The line that really caught me off guard was “Apparently the ‘City of Buffalo’ is no longer identifiable to the average person as ‘Buffalo.’ Nor is the ‘City of Niagara Falls’ a proudly identifiable city: Buffalo and Buffalo-Niagara seem to have become synonyms.”
What’s wrong with that? Why can’t we just all be Buffalo? There’s nothing wrong with being proud of being from Lockport or Pekin or the Tonawandas or Ridgeway or whatever. I was born in Lewiston. I grew up in the Town of Niagara. I live in the City of Lockport. But I’m a Buffalonian. And if you’re reading this in “one of the eight counties of Western New York,” you should be, too.
Last week Niagara County Legislator Rick Updegrove raised a stink because — at Yahoo!’s request — the company will be donating $3.5 million to the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo over the next seven years.
Updegrove said, “While I certainly appreciate the fact that Buffalo is facing its share of challenges, the reality is that we need to look at a fair and equitable disbursement of those funds so that the people of Niagara County may also benefit.”
What the majority caucus leader meant was: “There’s money. It should be all ours.”
We have free live music almost every night throughout the summer in Western New York. Lockport, Tonawanda, Lewiston, Buffalo. Free music abounds. But rather than trying to promote this unique feature of Western New York, these communities fight with each other — as if what’s prevented Tonawanda from breaking free of the recession of the 1990s is Art Park.
One of the things that prevents us from moving forward is our refusal to do it together. Rather than allowing any rising tide to lift all boats, we try to drown each other in an effort to keep our own heads above water.
I’ve never liked the phrase “Upstate New York.” I don’t remember it growing up. We were “Western New York” and in my mind we still are. I’d prefer, though, that we simply replace “Western New York” with “Buffalo.” Until we do that, we might as well be West Virginia. Or North Dakota. Or any other number of places that the rest of the world doesn’t care about.
Scott Leffler is a father, a writer and a Buffalonian. In that order. Follow his tweets @scottleffler.