Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My Hometown

My wife and I have been discussing a lot of changes lately. Mainly to revisions and updates to our short, medium and long term goals. We’ve discussed (and will continue to) about when to start having kids, when the move away from Chicago would be appropriate, career paths and of course the bolt-tightening of our monthly budget. We’ve taken a good and long look recently at what we would like our future to look like, and more importantly, what we have to do to get there. But today it’s led me to think about my past, where I came from, which might give you some insight into this particular wild and crazy Dave Ramsey nut.

I have what some may call a bi-polar love/hate relationship with my hometown. Nestled in an East suburb of Los Angeles within the San Gabriel Valley, it’s barely a blip on any radar for a community in Southern California. It’s not Newport Beach, it’s not Santa Monica, and there are no rows of palm trees or Mcmansions. On paper as of the 2010 census there’s a population of 75,390, 80% of which are Hispanic, and the medium household family income stands at just over $40,000.

Growing up there though gives you a different insight than what you can find on Wikipedia. I grew up in a place where multi-generational housing – kids, parent(s) and grandparents – all living under the same roof was normal. Kids like me, 1st generation American, spoke English fluently while our parents and grandparents did not. In this place you are more inclined to see a Mexican state flag hanging in front of your neighbors’ home, not the stars and stripes. Thanksgiving and Christmas staples included tamales and rice & beans. There were also the problems that seem to come with a community struggling to assimilate to a new country.

Drugs and gang violence stood out beyond any acts of public goodwill. A lot of what you see and expect from people when growing up in this environment stays with you. I still distinctly remember seeing tennis shoes hanging from utility wires, and being able to decipher from the type of shoe and color, which gang territory belonged to who. Although likely outdated now, I knew which colors and which professional sports teams’ logos were not acceptable on certain sides of town. Stray bullets that hit innocent people as they sat in their homes or were bystanders were commonplace, as were drug deals in parks where school children played.

My parents did their absolute best to shield and shelter me from all of this. I was discouraged from getting to know just about all neighbors and I went to a private Catholic school from 1st grade all the way through high school. Drug addiction and gang violence also showed itself on both sides of my family, I believe driving my parents to raise me in further isolation.

Looking back on it is very hard to stomach, especially in context. Adults seek out moving to America for hope, opportunity and the chance to provide a better life for themselves as well as their children. Those children struggle to assimilate. On both sides of my parents’ families, there are relatives of the previous generation that I never met, because of the aforementioned problems that were dominant in the city I grew up in.

But there are a ton of memories that I look back and find immediate glee. Time spent with my parents and siblings. The friends I made in grade and high school. The family holidays. My most cherished though have been every second spent with my grandparents.

I didn’t leave that place to see more of the world. I wasn’t looking to “make it” in a big city. I left at 18 because I did not want where I was from to define who I was or would become. The ironic thing is that I can never change where I am from. Those beginnings are some of the ingredients in who I am and who I plan on being in the future. My parents and paternal grandparents still live in that town. In a sense the very people who sacrificed, uprooted their lives to come (legally) to an unknown country, and who sacrificed their finances for me to stay away from gang influence, will live out their days in a place which I have very mixed emotions: That is bittersweet.

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