Finding Meaning

22 Jul

When I tell people in the Bay Area that I’m moving to Orange County, they often respond with a confused look (because they don’t understand why anyone would do that), a sympathetic hug, or with a simple “I’m sorry.”

The negative reactions might have something to do with the fact that they can sense my own dread and apprehension. I don’t say “I’m moving to Orange County” with a big smile and excitement in my eyes. More like “[big sigh] Well, I’m moving to…Orange County.”

To get more honest reactions, I posted a piece of paper at a farewell party, asking people to answer this question: “What do you think of when you think of Orange County?” The responses were actually pretty positive:

warm ocean
beaches
bonfires
lemonade
Spanish language radio – makes it easy to learn Spanish
Disneyland
Rock en español
people of color majority in 10 years
sunshine
smog
Republicans
traffic on 405/5
carpocalypse
Lucha Libre at the swapmeet
Real Housewives

Some were expected and others were complete surprises, prompting me to ask myself what Orange County means to me.

First and foremost, it is my family and my roots. It is where the people who have known me my whole life live. It is where I will always have a place to stay. Where my best friend lived across the street and we would get slurpees, play games while walking to school, and have sleepovers. Where I bonded with my sisters, got fed by my grandparents, and had epic family parties. It is where I learned how to drive, went to prom, and had friends even nerdier than me. I learned to love the beach, rollerskating, and ska shows. More importantly, I learned that family equals community, how to build enduring friendships, and to care about the environment.

But it is also where the values I hold and the lifestyle I want to lead are not welcomed. Where I find people to be closed-minded and overly-protective of what they think is theirs. Where bigger, newer, and shinier is always better. Where people, comfortable in their (upper and lower) middle class lifestyles, feel justified in taking away the basic rights and humanity of people struggling to survive. Where “gay” is a slur, women get fake boobs, and no one knows where Iraq is but they can’t wait to bomb the hell out of it.

Whenever I fly in and out of Orange County airport, I find myself literally getting weepy on the plane while reading hokey stories of courage and acceptance in the Southwest Airlines magazine because it’s in short supply there.

That is the side I dread. It makes my heart hurt.

I am determined to find the other side of Orange County, to expand what it means to me. I hope to keep my self-righteousness and judgment at bay (turns out those aren’t effective strategies for building community and making friends), to leave myself open to moments of beauty and kindness, and to honor each person’s journey. Outside the shadows of Richard Nixon, Walt Disney, and John Wayne, there’s another Orange County to be found.

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