Friday, May 04, 2007

My Oxnardian Culture

In response some recent misconceptions of American culture, I’m going to tell you about my culture. My culture includes the ideas and influences that shape my values and every day decisions. Similar to the stereotypes that aren’t always true, I can’t guarantee that my culture describes anyone else besides myself, definitely not the average American. I would say that there is no average American culture. We’re all pretty different. Even within the U.S., there are misconceptions on California’s culture. While my city, Oxnard, is turning into a suburb of Los Angeles and some of the California stereotypes do hold true, Oxnard has an interesting history, it is a unique Southern Californian city, and it is at the root of my cultural values.

In 1974, after four generations of living in San Bernardino County, CA, my parents moved two hours northwest, to the City of Oxnard. It was a much different place back then. They lived in an apartment on the beach, which was considered a dodgy area at that time. Their groceries would get stolen if they didn’t lock the car while carrying grocery bags inside. My dad was just starting a new job as a reference librarian at the Oxnard Public Library, so they didn’t have enough money to buy a house yet. Today, beachfront property is highly coveted and very expensive. They’re old apartment was certainly taken down and replaced with a multi-million dollar home. My parents eventually bought a house, just outside of El Rio, in a neighborhood that was surrounded by farmland. There were orange trees and avocado groves, but mostly strawberries strawberries strawberries.

When I was in high school, a Wal-Mart shopping center was built about a mile from my house. In some ways, I liked it because it meant there were restaurants and things to do my neighborhood. It also made it easier to describe where I lived. Many people don’t really know where El Rio is, and the only other landmarks were fields of strawberries. “Are there houses out there?” people would ask when I tried to give them directions to my house, even though Oxnard isn’t that geographically complex. However, I was also a cross country runner in high school. I had a hard time with the new traffic problems that Wal-Mart brought with it. Where I used to run for miles without stopping is now covered with traffic signals on almost every corner. There are good sidewalks if you’re running east to west, but they aren’t so continuous in the north-south directions. Prior to the Wal-Mart shopping center, this area was occupied by strawberry fields. The strawberry fields sometimes made the neighborhood smell delightful, but it sometimes smelled like fertilizer. Where I went to middle school, in El Rio, was much worse, aroma wise. Sometimes it would smell so strongly of fertilizer that my clothes would still stink when I got home!

Oxnard is located on the Southern coast of California. The average daily high temperature is 23 degrees C (73 degrees F), and the average low temperature is 11 degrees C (51 degrees), with 37.5 cm (14.75 inches of average annual rainfall. As of 2006, the California department of Finance measured the annual median household income to be $48,600. Males had a median income of just over $30,500 versus approximately $25,000 for females. According to the 2005 American Community Survey, Oxnard is approximately 70% "Latino or Hispanic." There is really good Mexican food in Oxnard and many Spanish speakers. As a bilingual public librarian, my father often helped both English and Spanish speakers find information for school work, public services, or even obtaining citizenship. My mother teaches at the high school Adult Education Center. She teaches a variety of courses to adults who dropped out of high school and are now trying to earn their high school diplomas. She also teaches ESL (English as a Second Language) to people who are learning to speak English. My parents were pretty involved in the Hispanic community in Oxnard, which may be one reason why my sister and I also learned to speak Spanish later on.

Wikipedia has a long list of famous people from Oxnard, but I didn't recognize most of them, probably because I don't watch very much TV. The most notable was Cesar Chavez, a farm worker, political activist and union leader. He lived in the La Colonia Barrio of Oxnard during part of his childhood, and later organized boycotts and marches of farm workers and laborers to protest the lack of jobs for local Oxnardian residents (1950s). Colonia is the heart of Oxnard’s good Mexican food, which I miss a lot in Finland. I wish I could a gordita right now.

After high school I moved to California’s Bay Area for University, and later on to Seattle, but those cities are very different from Oxnard. Each time I’ve moved to a new city, it’s taken a little while to adjust to the culture. For example, in Seattle, people are very friendly on the street… but there’s not very good Mexican food. In the Bay Area, I was constantly accosted by homeless people, and it seemed very interactive, yet unfriendly at a glance. However, I formed many friendships in random places in the Bay Area, like on the bus or walking home from work.

Anyway, my city is full of culture. In spite of growing up in the States, I didn't turn out rich, spoiled, or stupid. And I don't own a gun or a car. American culture can mean many different things, most of which you just can't find in the movies!

1 comment:

Laura G said...

This is great.

Now that I live in Ventura, I find it amazing how different the culture is in a city right next door to Oxnard.