Saturday, June 25, 2005


This post will be all over the place. Unfortunately, that's just part of my writing. If I edit, I think too hard, and as you will see...when I think too hard I eventually collapse in on myself.

It's been a strange day.

It's a beautiful, sunny Saturday. I have no "have tos" today. None. And while I don't like sun or heat that much, sunny days make for good exploration.

So what do I do? I think "Why what a great day to explore! I used to live up near Santa Ana, and I know there's tons of historic buildings, churches and interesting stuff up there, why not? I've got a camera and a full tank of gas."

This was a great idea, but a somewhat tragic reality.

It didn't take me long to realize that I cannot safely drive my truck through historic streets AND take pictures. There are so many one way streets, cars stopping where they should not and pedestrians shooting out everywhere that I felt like I was filming one of those movies they used to show in high school dirver's ed courses. Do they still show those?

Now, the other alternative would have been to just park and use the footmobile.

But I couldn't.

And here's where my thoughts took me for a mental ride.

Santa Ana. It's truly a historic city. And it's full of .... yes, Mexicans. I hesitate to type that, because it sounds so harsh and offensive. Prejudicial. But what else am I supposed to say? Typing immigrants, or any other "proper" word just seems like I'm dodging the words that appear in my head. So I'm going to be honest about it. And I hope that you will stick with me so I can get my complete thoughts out before you think I'm an insensitive, egotistical and snobby human being.

That city is considered "the bad part of town." The reality may be that it is no more dangerous than my own neighborhood, but shamefully, I've soaked up enough media stereotyping about this city to allow it to affect my ability to park the truck and walk amongst those who live there.

And even if I'd braved it, my white girl nievete would have been the biggest insult I could have unintentionally thrust upon these people. This world is only a 30 minute drive from the mailbox in my front yard...but it might as well be a different country. Actually, that's not true. If it were a different country and I were a tourist, the dynamic would be different.

The spoken language and all of the signs are Spanish. The Catholic influence is unmistakeable, from the Catholic weddings letting out on one side of the street to the Virgin Mary paintings on nearly ever business on the other side of the street. The cowboy hats and 5 children per couple that are stereotypes certainly aren't absent from this place.

I'm incredibly ashamed to admit it, but I am scared.

I have no business being there. I'm a white girl who happens to live in a city that's considered "new, safe and clean." I know from remote experience that my presence can and likely will be perceived as "Some high falutin white girl, must be lost. Thinks she's better than all of us."

And that makes me sad. Sad that I'm forced to realize I'm letting stereotypes control my actions. And I'm talking stereotypes from both sides of the coin here. Them towards me "and my kind", and me towards them. Even saying "them" and "my kind" makes my stomach turn so slightly.

And here's the other thing.

While I can and did return here to my safe little picture perfect street (except for our yard, of course), I'm not comfortable with what I've become.

I don't always feel like I've earned the home and comfort I enjoy. In fact, this city that C and I live in has it's very own sterotype of residents who have ample disposable incomes, white collar jobs, nice cars ... maybe the better way to illustrate it is this: Whenever we are questioned by people as to where we live, and we answer them, we often get the question: "How did you afford that?"

And that's a question I ask myself A LOT. Fact is, we both came from middle class families. I don't know, perhaps our families are considered upper middle? I don't know. But we were taught to work hard at our jobs and just try to live within your means. At the same time, there was the subliminal message that eventually we'd grow up and obtain our own middle class lives.

And here we are, apparently.

Without even realizing it happend.

We bought this house from friends who lived here first. We'd always loved this house. When we offered to buy it upon learning that they were buying another house for their own expanding family, we were half convinced the people who control home loans would laugh us out of the County. But they didn't.

And prior to living in this city, we had discussed the need to avoid it and it's steril atmosphere. We didn't want to be "one of them." We now comfort ourselves by saying "it's not the City we chose, it's the house." And that is true, to a point. Because if this very house had been in another city, we'd have bought it.

But here we are.

It is what we know. It is what we were raised in.

It scares me that most people don't question what I'm doing here.


Kathy said...

I understand the dilema you faced yesterday morning, completely. I think you made the right decision. It didn't have anything to do with being had to do with safety. Self-preservation. Had the worst case scenario taken place - God forbid - the headlines of that story would not have been pretty. And everyone would have wondered what could have possibly possessed you to go there.

And maybe everyone in your neighborhood feels the same way? Perhaps they all feel like they're playing dress up and living in fantasy land? Therefore if they questioned you...they'd have to admit to themselves...they shouldn't be there either.

I think it's marvelous you're living in a great a great house!

ZooooM said...

Thank you so much Kathy. You give me the perspective I lacked: "maybe everyone in your neighborhood feels the same way?"

See there? I was doing to my own neighborhood the very thing I was complaining about.

Thank you for that.

Chuck said...

Hi zoooom,

I really enjoyed reading this post. You touched on so many extremely complex issues, things that are very difficult to sort out in even the simplest of scenarios.

It's disrespectful to waltz into someone else's reality and walk through like a tourist, snapping pictures of their day-to-day reality, turning their lives into nothing more than eye candy. But how do we go about learning of new people, cultures, and towns, unless we're willing to risk offending the locals and go in and make connections?

I don't know the answers. I struggle with it a lot on my own site. It's a bit different for me, because I'm describing what I see with words instead of photos, but I'm still reducing the people I encounter to mere characters for my stories.

Even though I live in the neighborhood I write about, there is still the fact that I could, with a relatively minimal effort, pack up and move to the middle class town with the nice houses and the sterile atmosphere (except it isn't really that sterile under the surface, because every one of those houses has a guy who is filled with delight because he fixed his favorite fan and a girl who walks around the local Mexican restaurant with a napkin stuck in her shoe). I'm living here because it was the best investment opportunity I could make with the money I had. But the people I write about aren't investing in this part of town, they're here because they can't make an escape, they can't up and move to a nicer part of town or else they would have done it years ago. And that makes me a tourist, too, I just happen to blend in a little bit better than a solo white girl in the midst of little Mexico.

I'm not sure what my point is. I just wanted to tell you that I appreciate what you wrote, and I appreciate the dilemma you faced as you drove through Santa Ana. I'm glad I found your site, and I look forward to visiting more frequently!