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2007: “Are y’all comin’?” I yell to the kids on the playground as I run over to the swings. They look at each other and laugh, clearly making fun of the way I speak. I put my head down, embarrassed, and walk to the swings alone. I wish I hadn’t moved to Los Angeles from rural southeast Missouri, where people were more like me.
2013: My best childhood friend in Missouri, Emma, and I are spending a humid, dusty summer night at the town rodeo, and she introduces me to some of her friends. As she tells them I go to school in California, their jaws drop in astonishment. “Weird! I never knew anyone who actually lived there!” exclaims one girl. “How do you deal with all those crazy tree huggers!” says another. I bite my tongue. I hate feeling like an outsider.
My parents divorced when I was young. I moved from Missouri to Los Angeles with my mom, and from that time I have spent the school years in LA and my summers and school breaks with my dad back in Missouri.
When I was younger, I mainly focused on the downsides of this situation. The repeated switching between what I viewed as two opposite worlds felt like I was being pulled in different directions. I was figuratively living out of a suitcase, never at home in either location. When I was in one place, I felt like I should be in the other. It was difficult to maintain friendships in both places being gone so often. More troubling than my absences was the fact that I felt so different due to my unique experiences and point of view. I couldn’t quite figure out where I belonged.
As I’ve matured, I’ve reflected on how this unconventional lifestyle has impacted me. Both places have their negatives and positives, but they are part of me. I now appreciate my duality more than I ever thought I would. I can relate to people from all over because I understand how deeply location can influence someone’s views and values. I have learned I don’t always need the same perspective as someone else to be their friend. I am unique, free from expectations of either location. I have assimilated two different ideologies and lifestyles, and have used them to discover my own interests, opinions, and viewpoints.
The opportunities offered in Los Angeles have encouraged me to be more accepting, because of my constant exposure to diverse people and cultures. Whether it be a museum, a play, a neighborhood, or a friend, I am always surrounded by differences I embrace. In Missouri, I have generally experienced like-minded, similar-looking people, who don’t challenge me with innovative ideas. Yet Missouri is slower-paced, allowing me to unwind and appreciate uninterrupted conversation; I have learned to value tradition.
2017: As the food arrives at the table, the smell of fried okra and cheese grits makes my stomach grumble. I can’t wait for my friends to try my favorite foods at an amazing Southern-style restaurant in LA. “What even is okra?” wonders Elena, with a confused look on her face. Harrison stares at his plate and asks, “What is a grit?” I smile, happy to give my West Coast friends a tutorial on Southern cooking and its roots.
As the years went by and my frequent flyer miles continued to multiply, I finally learned that the core of my upbringing is actually the same as so many others. I am surrounded by people who love and appreciate me, and I love them right back. Love is love, no matter where you are. Country or city, liberal or conservative, sushi or fried chicken. The details may be different, but the outcome is the same. I grew up in two places, and while it may have been challenging at times, I would be crazy to complain.
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