If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it's that people have a unique way of defining the places they live. Take Los Angeles, for example- busy and wild, a reflection of the ambition within those it attracts. The city itself radiates creativity, from its urban shops to its big screens and all the way down to the billboards that line the freeways. To the west, the California coastline encompasses a more relaxed mentality, free of the pressures of a loud and bustling nightlife. And further north, the suburban Santa Clarita Valley, a diverse community of families from all different walks of life. I like to say that Santa Clarita is the biggest small town in California, though I know that sounds ludicrous. With a population of just over 210,000 and a geographical area that expands 62 square miles, SCV is far from small in its respective context. However, the tight-knit community I was welcomed into two short years ago has given me a home in a place where I least expected it.
See, my family roots originally lie in Merit, Texas. Never heard of it? You’re not alone. Merit, located far northeast of Dallas, is a humble town. Primarily an agricultural community, a traveler might not even realize that the winding roads and green pastures serve as home to so few. Life runs slow in Merit, and people prefer it that way. They talk with drawn out vowels, walk in a comfortable stride, and even the cicadas take their time to start chirping after the sun falls below the horizon. One of my favorite things I’ve found about a small southern town, though, is the quiet; there is a peace in being able to be still. The silence is eerie to some, and comforting to others. Regardless, most who reside there rely solely on faith and family, and consider everything else to be a privilege of life. From a helping hand in the local grocery store, to a hot meal from a neighbor on a stormy night, it is clear through their common lifestyle that Merit is filled with people who have a deep love for not only their place, but also for one another.
When I arrived at LAX in July of 2018, I de-boarded my flight with a sense of finality. I understood that the way of life I had grown accustomed to was no longer a viable option in Southern California. I soon realized that every aspect of my life had been flipped. There were no more quiet mornings; they were replaced by the honking of commuters and the slamming of drive-through windows as they waited in line for coffee. There was no chit-chat with neighbors in the produce aisle of the store- instead, sly smiles and polite glances from strangers I knew would never see again. Greenery and fields were replaced by dull chaparral and rocky terrain. I was a junior in high school at the time, and was forced to adjust from a graduating class of 43 to one with over 500. The culture shock was jarring, to say the least. I was scared...no...I was terrified. Yet somehow, I did not feel alone.
The more time I spent in my strange new place, the more commonalities I began to find in the rhythm of each community. Farmer’s markets still opened on Sunday morning. Football never ceased under Friday night lights. I found friends quickly, and their open-minded nature invited my differences and helped me contribute to my school climate in my own unique way. I grew as a person and an individual in so many ways because I reciprocated the understanding that people showed me: different does not mean bad. I noticed quickly that Santa Clarita is much more culturally diverse in every aspect of the community, yet instead of creating conflict, those backgrounds bring people together. Yes, it may be busy and fast and loud, but I’ve come to realize that that environment encourages progress and understanding. I still feel the comforting sense of sameness and connection that I once felt in my small circle, but it’s now expanded on a scale that reaches thousands of people. I haven’t been down every street, or shaken the hand of every neighbor. But I still feel connected to them, not on a basis of values and tradition, but instead on the basis of mutual respect and appreciation for the diversity of our community.
So yes, people really do define their surroundings in so many different ways . They can lead opposite lives, hold contrasting values, and prioritize a different quality of life. Yet, in every single community I have had the pleasure to live, I recognize that unity is essential to a functioning society. If we, as a people, can strive to humble ourselves and utilize our differences rather than dispute them, we may find that understanding and empathy comes easier than first assumed. We must act on that, and bring people together through positive change that impacts not only the individual, but the collective. It is only then that we can truly make our place a home.
Abigail Royster is a freshman attending College of the Canyons. She is currently majoring in English with a concentration on Pre-Law Studies, and plans to transfer to a UC school to pursue a Juris Doctorate degree. Royster excels in creative writing, which has helped her greatly in her extracurricular activities. In the past year, she has been involved in theatre arts, and served as Editor in Chief of her senior yearbook. These have inspired her to develop her passion for networking and managing. Royster enjoys being involved in her campus community , and is excited to use her exuberant personality and leadership skills to make connections with her peers.