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  • Writer's pictureLaura L

California, here we come

Updated: Aug 19, 2022

My work sent me to the Bay Area, so S. took a few days off work in order to tag along. California... a place I've long loved but have never managed to live in... always shrouded in a bit of a mystery for this Midwestern girl.

It wasn't easy growing up in the Midwest as a (very) low-income Asian female. I always imagined that my life would have been so much better -- I would have fit in so much more and had a better time -- if my parents had moved us to California. But after visiting, I'm not so sure.

The weather was perfect and the physical surroundings were beautiful. We visited Muir Woods the day we arrived, and that turned out to be a fantastic place to get some exercise in after a long cross-country trip. It was eerily quiet and calm, and the tall trees seemed almost majestic.

The second day, we ventured to Chinatown. The food, surprisingly, was not amazing -- I've definitely had better Chinese food elsewhere in the country, including at St. Louis' beloved Wonton King. What really bothered me, though, was the state of the wait staff and others working in Chinatown. They were really, really poor, and the entire area was visibly unsanitary. I later found out many of Chinatown's residents lived in "SROs" -- dormitory style rooms where entire families cram into a single room. Some SROs do not have windows; others lack indoor plumbing. It really spooked me, as I thought I'd grown up poor... but as poor we were in Iowa, we always had indoor plumbing, a clean and safe place to live, and I attended excellent public schools. It just amazed me that here, in the most liberal city in the country, in a city of such extreme, extreme wealth (with the Silicon Valley crowd and Gucci and Prada stores), people lived like this. And not just any people -- my people. People who looked like me, visibly unshowered, walking around with torn clothes and shoes, serving crappy food to tourists. The most chilling part of the visit was when I walked by the murals of all the Asian women and girls killed in Chinatown. It was the first time in my life I felt genuinely unsafe.

The third day, we visited the suburban areas, which were much cleaner and safer than downtown San Francisco, but highly segregated in both income and race. Again, the crazy, disparate, inequality in this area was ever-prominent.

We visited a beautiful winery in Napa Valley on our last day before returning to the airport. The wine and chocolates were fantastic; our only regret was not getting to spend more time there.

It's tough to sum up my experience in the Bay Area. It was beautiful and it was heartbreaking. It hit home a little too much, and it also felt so far away from home at the same time. What I do know is this: when I stepped off that plane, I was very, very happy to be home.

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