I have come to realize over the years that my family lives in a bubble. I did not grow up in the bubble, but education and hard work afforded my husband and I the opportunity to make a good living and provide a nice lifestyle for our family. So we moved to the suburbs and began our life in the bubble.
I first realized the downside of the bubble when my older daughter was about ten years old and we traveled to Cerritos for a swim meet. For any of you not familiar with Los Angeles and its surrounding urban and suburban areas, Cerritos is a working class area in Southeast Los Angeles. The population of Cerritos, according to the census bureau, is predominantly white, however, compared to where we live in Westlake Village, Cerritos has a much higher percentage of Hispanic, African-American and “other” citizens. I’ll never forget my daughter’s eyes as we pulled into a convenience store parking lot so we could use the restroom and grab some water bottles. They were wide with what I quickly realized was fear and apprehension and she leaned close to me as we walked towards the store and whispered, “Mom, is this a bad area?”
Cerritos is not a bad area. But Cerritos is “different” from Westlake Village. It more accurately represents the “melting pot” that is Los Angeles. The part of Cerritos where we landed that day was not pretty or well-kept. The cars in the parking lot of the convenience store were primarily pick-up trucks and older model Fords and Chevys, not BMWs and Mercedes. From this scenario, my daughter inferred that Cerritos must be a “bad” area, that the patrons in the convenience store might be criminals, and that we must not be safe.
Since then, I’ve had several of these experiences with both daughters whether traveling for soccer games and swim meets, attending events or just stopping off the freeway on the way to some other destination. And occasionally, we have visited places that truly were “bad” areas. I can recall a very sketchy spot in Long Beach, a Holiday Inn with bars on it and sirens that wailed all night. And of course, attending a concert at the L.A. Sports Arena, visiting the USC campus (Boo! Go Bruins!) or trying to find a short cut to the airport, you can’t help but go through some sections of town you’d probably rather not.
Let’s face it: most of us who moved to the suburbs did so because we wanted to raise our children in safe, pleasant areas with access to good schools, and we were fortunate enough to be able to do so. That said, I think it is vital that kids (and parents) get out of the bubble that is suburbia on a regular basis. The problem with being in a lovely, protected bubble is that it gives you the false impression that everyone lives in it and, dare I say, cultivates a sense of apathy towards those who exist outside of the bubble. When you live in a lovely suburban area, you don’t have to acknowledge that poverty and homelessness exist (save the odd shopping cart lady that roams the grocery store parking lot). You don’t have to face the reality that many children grow up in neighborhoods where just getting to school is an effort and dodging bullets is commonplace. Your are lulled into thinking that everyone must have your “first world” problems of where to book your child’s next birthday party or which high school has the best track team, whether you should vacation in Hawaii or Tahoe this year or whether you should get a manicure only or spring for the full mani/pedi instead.
I’m not saying that anyone should feel guilty for having the means to live in a nice suburban enclave. But when you live in the bubble, it’s easy to forget what’s outside of it and to have your children grow up being only vaguely aware of how fortunate they are. And when you are finally confronted with something “different” as my daughter was in Cerritos all those years ago, your reaction is usually to dislike, distrust or fear that which is different from you and your experiences. Exposing your kids to different places, cultures, races, religions and yes, economic situations, is just as important as sending them to school. If they never see outside the bubble, how will they learn to tolerate, accept and be understanding of other people and their situations?
In Los Angeles, we are fortunate to have such a sprawling expanse of humanity in every flavor and form, just a car ride away from wherever we are. Alright, so the traffic can sometimes make it a rather long car ride, but I have to say I’m often shocked when I hear suburbanites in my area tell me that they never venture farther than the next suburb over. Our city is rich with diversity, cultural experiences and educational opportunities that most of us never take advantage of, to our children’s detriment, I fear.
I know one of my resolutions this year is to get outside of the bubble more often and to see areas of my city I’ve only read about in the paper or just haven’t made time to explore. My older daughter now attends school and lives in Tucson, and given some of the less than glamorous neighborhoods in close proximity to campus, I think she has become more comfortable with the inherent heterogeneity that exists outside of the bubble. For my younger daughter who is naturally tolerant and accepting, but often harbors fears about the unknown, I’ve recognized that even a hockey game at Staples Center, a swim meet in Oxnard or a walk around West Hollywood can provide her with the valuable lesson that not everyone looks, dresses and acts like her, nor do they have access to the many resources she and her friends do. It doesn’t make these people and places “bad”; it just makes them different. It’s an ongoing process, but I’m determined to have my kids see that while it sure is great to live in the bubble, getting outside of it on a regular basis is one of the most important things you can do.