i-215_ol_exit_020a_021A couple of weeks ago I did an interview with the Magna Times, my “hometown” newspaper. And by “hometown,” I mean “town of my youth.” And I don’t mean “town of my youth,” really, either, because I grew up in West Valley City, not Magna. I did go to high school in Magna, though, proudly wearing the blue and gold of the Cyprus Pirates.

The essence of the interview was this: How did it affect you, growing up here? Your sense of self, your goals, the things you choose to write about? At first I found it a tricky conversation because, while growing up in WVC and attending high school in Magna influenced my life in plenty of positive ways, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that, for many years, I lugged around some baggage related to my “West Side Girl” roots.

Even if you’re not from Utah, many members of the church have ties to Utah and probably know something of the East Side / West Side identity politics that have been going on ever since certain rabble rousers and non-Mormon military were relegated to the west side of Redwood Road in the 19th century. My parents moved to WVC (then Hunter) when I was four years old, building a small split-entry house in a new neighborhood just off of 6000 West. My dad spent most of his adolescence on Salt Lake’s East bench and had never even considered living west of 700 East. My mom grew up in Oregon, but remembers when my family drove out to our new home’s lot for the first time, we started driving west and kept going, and going, and going . . . she never knew Salt Lake County kept going like that, and wondered if she’d ever feel at home way out on the “boonies.” But my dad had recently been hired by the Salt Lake City Police Department, they had three small kids to take care of, and the houses on the West Side were affordable and new.

We were home.

I spent elementary school, junior high and high school in that house and neighborhood and ward, and it was a great place to live in many ways. At that time, the neighborhood was nicely kept, and most of the homes were occupied by young families just like mine. There were tons of kids to play with. Most of my neighbors were solidly middle-class: my friends’ dads were teachers and insurance salesmen and electricians (although one family we were good friends with was pretty wealthy and had an outdoor swimming pool and a trampoline built in their giant family room—you could take the trampoline off its hinges and a big hardwood floor would rise up out of the ground to take its place).

There was some real poverty—my own husband, whom I met in high school, was poor enough that one year he got a book of Lifesavers for Christmas, and nothing else—but back in the 70s and 80s, I didn’t find West Valley to be the rough, “scary” place that some people assumed it to be. I enjoyed my childhood. I also enjoyed a lot of other benefits from my West Side upbringing that I didn’t realize until later. I hadn’t learned to be materialistic. When I was a cheerleader in 9th grade (okay, okay, YES I was a cheerleader, but not a very good one). ANYWAY . . . I remember the group of us deciding to get our cheerleading shoes at Payless because they were cheapest there, and none of us had the money for anything fancier. And it was totally fine.

The fact that I even was a cheerleader also attests to another benefit: I had lots of opportunity. People’s parents didn’t start grooming them at age five to be on the tennis team or first chair in the orchestra. Generally speaking, at Cyprus High if you wanted to do something extracurricular, you could, no matter how much money or time your parents had invested when you were a kid. (I say “generally,” though, because certain key areas, like boys’ sports and drill team, were pretty dang competitive.) There was also a good amount of racial diversity. My friends—and boyfriends—were Asian and Polynesian and Hispanic (although there weren’t many African Americans in West Valley in the 80s, and as far as I know, there still aren’t).

But just as I didn’t feel the positive effects of my hometown until later, it wasn’t until I went away to college that some of the negative effects really showed up. Not only did I seem to see my estimation (and IQ) drop a few percentage points whenever I told classmates at BYU where I went to high school, but I’d unconsciously begun to believe my own bad press. I was one of only a handful of my graduating class who ended up at BYU. Most of my good friends went to Salt Lake Community College, although a few went to Ricks. This wasn’t because my friends couldn’t hack it at BYU, though. Many of my friends had, like me, done well on the PSAT, so their mailboxes were stuffed with literature from colleges all over the country. Really GOOD colleges. But there was this sense that the good colleges weren’t really for “us.” I felt like I was pushing my luck with BYU, even. Never in a million years would I have considered the honors program at BYU. That was for the *really* smart and talented kids. You know, the ones who went to Brighton High.

It wasn’t until my late 20s—until I’d moved away from Utah entirely—when I started to figure out that the tiny sliver of the world’s population who happened to live east of 700 East in Salt Lake City, Utah, had not, in fact, been dusted with an extra helping of intelligence and beauty and creativity and wit by the magic East Side Advantage Fairies. In fact, the only difference between them and me and all my friends was that (again, generally speaking) they had more money. And that was about it.

I feel lucky to have figured it out, though. I know firsthand that the stories you tell yourself about yourself—and the stories that other people project on to you—have real and lasting effects. Although I’m grateful in many ways for my childhood, a part of me feels like I had to work extra hard to overcome some of the weight of negative stereotypes, and I have childhood friends who have yet to overcome those stereotypes and still consider themselves somehow “less than,” just because of an address.

And speaking of addresses: my parents sold my childhood home about seven years ago and moved to South Jordan. After my Magna Times interview, I decided to drive by the old homestead. It looked terrible. Grass and weeds growing knee high; dirty blinds hanging crookedly in the window; and old rusty car sitting in the driveway. It had been a lovely home when I was a kid. And now it was every negative stereotype of West Valley City. It made me want to cry. When I looked around and saw the homes that were still making a go of it—lush green lawns, beautifully manicured flower gardens, fresh coats of paint—I didn’t know if I should be proud of them for sticking it out even when the neighborhood had gone so obviously kaput, or if I should wish for them to get away before the neighborhood took them down with it.

Once again, conflicted feelings about the place I used to call home.

This kind of stereotyping doesn’t happen just in Salt Lake County, of course. How has your hometown affected your life and identity? How does the place you live shape who you are and who you’ll become . . . or does it?

44 Comments

  1. Tay

    June 18, 2009

    I grew up on the other side of the table. My parents were/are by no means wealthy, I just went to the school that was looked at as the “rich” and “privileged” school. But I felt the same way you did. That the BYU Honors program was for the other kids (the ones in my classes in high school that were the overachievers) and definitely not for me. I felt out of my league to be going somewhere other than the Community College. Yes I took the hard college prep classes, but I still felt like I wasn’t smart enough or hard working enough to be doing anything like the smarter kids did in college. Now I’m realizing that I could do those things just as easily. My grades were good enough for other colleges. I could have done study abroad (if I wanted to go into debt, haha). It’s horrible what that one school does to the whole community, giving the aura that nobody is really good enough, that all should be intimidated by its mere presence. I guess we’ll just have to help our children overcome the feelings we felt faster than we did, let them know and help them understand that where they live and the people around them do not define them.

  2. she-bop

    June 18, 2009

    Interesting post. I think this can happen anywhere. I noticed it when we moved to Provo with our kids to the west side. They go, and have gone, to Provo High. And I have seen some of the same sentiment – which I didn’t really expect. Hmmmm. Can’t wait to see what others write.

  3. jendoop

    June 18, 2009

    I grew up in SL valley too, I went to West High. Contrasted to East High which is now flaunted in my face in every HSM movie my preteen daughter drools over.

    The interesting thing is that during the years I went to school, West High took in a few of the Eastern areas of the valley. So I got to know people from both sides of the tracks, literally. At first it was hard to see myself, from a poor family with an inactive Dad, as being equal to those whose Dads were heart surgeons or were related to GAs. But as those friendships grew I came to realize the same thing you did, that we were more similar than we were different. It gave me a sort of sheild against being intimidated by wealth.

    Maybe another lasting effect from those exeperiences is a hint of pride at having learned from and survived my less-than-charmed childhood and adolescence.

  4. Tamlynn

    June 18, 2009

    “Magna woman, walking down the street…” Please tell me you know that song so I don’t look like an idiot.

    I went to Payson high, and I don’t think we had any aspirations to be better than any other high school. Who could we really compare ourselves to? Spanish Fork? All the Salt Lake area schools seemed like big city to us.

  5. Angie f

    June 18, 2009

    My husband was one of those (relatively) poor kids who went to Brighton High. I grew up in Virginia–west of DC with only the occasional snooty person saying I lived too far outside the Beltway to be worthy of notice. We don’t live in Utah, but when we visit and play the “where would we live if we lived here” game, I am always surprised at how adamant my otherwise mellow husband becomes about NOT living on the West Side. I have watched my aunts who grew up in the farmland surrounding Logan Utah develop West Side prejudices once they moved to SL County and I even watched once when someone my aunt knew in DC corrected her self-introduction when she told someone she was from Logan (this girl was from the town of Logan not just Cache Valley). She seemingly had no idea how provincial and small she sounded among these cosmopolitan people who’d never been to Utah let alone Logan when she told everyone my aunt was NOT from Logan she was from (derisive voice inserted here) “the County”

    Generally, I think where we grew up can have powerful weight in our definitions of self, but that once we get outside our own particular communities, the weight just isn’t there for anyone else and if we try, we can shed that weight. After going to BYU as a non-Utahn and watching how prestigious it was to live “on the Bench” any bench, so long as it was on the East Side, I served a mission in a very hilly part of Brazil where only the poorest of the poor lived in the hills. If you lived in the hills, you had no running water, sanitation, electricity or phone services. If you were hurt, the ambulance might not even come even if you could have called one. There likely would not even be names to the windy trails you lived on. Somehow the chicness of mountain living was lost there.

    Now I live in the eastern suburb of Henderson, outside Las Vegas. It is more important for me to distance myself from the global perception of sin and debauchery that is Vegas and Henderson is now a lovely thriving community. But for my friends who grew up in Vegas, their memories of the somewhat industrial backwater that Henderson used to be colors their views on the subject, even though it’s okay for them to live here now. One friend even went so far as to cross town to a Vegas address hospital to have her children, because she just couldn’t bear to have “Henderson NV” on her children’s birth certificates.

    Place is a powerful thing. It can be opportunity; it can be safety (there are pockets of Washington DC and other cities that ambulances won’t visit if called because it is too dangerous); it can most assuredly mess with your head for good or ill. Ultimately I think it’s all just a part of the human need for shorthand classification that makes it that much more difficult to cultivate charity, no matter on which side of the place definition of the hour we find ourselves, because pride from have not is just as dangerous as pride from have.

  6. Jennie

    June 18, 2009

    I grew up in Detroit, which I hated. My whole goal in life was not to live there when I grew up. I didn’t want to live someplace gritty and urban. I fantasized about cute small towns where everyone was friendly and nobody got shot.

    I haven’t been back to Detroit in 16 years. Lately, though, I’ve been a little homesick. I’ve heard from people who still live there that it’s totally different. I’d like to show my kids where I grew up, and their grandparents (and great grandparents) lived.

    I like being “from” Detroit. Especially in the church. Not many people are from there.

    I know what you mean about the west side in Utah, though. We moved to West Jordan about six years ago and got all kinds of crap for living over there. It was a mystery to me, though. We got a great house for a great price, the stores were all nice and new, not run down and old like on the East side, the traffic was better and there was less snow.

    When my husband and I were looking for houses I had one friend in particular that was horrified that we were considering a house in West Jordan. She asked me, “don’t you want an address with cachet?” Puh-lease! If I wanted an address with cachet I wouldn’t have been moving to Utah in the first place.

    What flabbergasts me is how much people still buy into that mindset. With all the fancy neighborhoods in South Jordan and Herriman, I would think it’s not even an issue any more.

    Sadly people will always find something snobby to judge each other by.

  7. Justine

    June 18, 2009

    I grew up in a wealthy area in a small and wealthy school. I think in many ways, I was dis-served by the entitlement and lavishness I saw all around me. But I also grew up thinking I could be anything, do anything, accomplish anything. There are pitfalls of both, I think.

    I remember in High School, in Government class I think, the teacher had us all stand up and he separated us into social classes. He said, “Everyone that lives in Crestwood, go stand over there; everyone else go stand over here.” Something like that. I was mortified. I went to the Crestwood side with other two kids from the neighborhood, and then stood and listened to him rant about social hierarchy and distribution of resources. He may have been a communist, now that I ponder on his diatribe. But at the time, I didn’t understand it well enough to know why I was being singled out for MY PARENTS house.

    As adults, my husband and I spent a lot of time discussing which lessons we wanted our children to have to suffer through. Because there are hard lessons to be learned on either ‘side of the tracks’, so to speak.

  8. Angela

    June 18, 2009

    Tamlyn, I’m surprised to say that I don’t know the song! Although I can imagine it’s sung to “Pretty Woman?” I remember a really terrible skit I was part of (can’t remember why) when I was in high school, “I Wish They All Could Be Cyprus High School Girls.” Oh, the horror.

    Angie, I love this comment, “Ultimately I think it’s all just a part of the human need for shorthand classification that makes it that much more difficult to cultivate charity, no matter on which side of the place we find ourselves, because pride from have not is just as dangerous as pride from have.”

    I totally agree. When I moved to MN, I was friends with people who’d gone to one of their classiest high schools, Edina High, and one thing that I noticed was how hard it was for them to feel satisfied. I’m generalizing, of course, but I feel really blessed that my husband’s salary out of college was THRILLING to me, that buying a new outfit at Target still makes me really happy, that my first modest home made me so excited I could hardly stand it. For some who grow up wealthy–or for those who grow up around a lot of wealthy people, even–the weight of expectation, that “everybody” has certain things, can be crushing at times.

    I also think there’s probably a pecking order no matter where you’re from. Even those of us from WVC held ourselves a little bit apart from those whose actual houses were in Magna or Kearns. Those uppity kids from Taylorsville, though? They were always better than me . . . :-).

    I live in South Jordan now, which is technically on the West Side. And Jennie, it amazes me too how people have West Side issues with SJ. There are million dollar homes just down the street from me. And also little rundown farm houses with goats in the back yard. But still.

  9. Kay

    June 18, 2009

    I grew up in a rough area of a large city. we were very poor even by local standards and I hated it. I was determined to get out and make a better life for myself. All through my childhood I knew that I would one day leave. I moved to London at 17 and found work. I served a mission and finished my getting my qualifications that I had missed through leaving school early. Most people left school at 16 were I came from to get a job to help support the family, it was expected. At 25 I went to Cambridge University and felt so at home there. It is considered a place for privileged people but I knew that I fitted in and that I deserved to be there. I grew up the tough way and had to learn/earn my self esteem along the way.

    Now I am married and we live in a middle class area and our children go to good schools. I want them to know that everyone has worth no matter how much or how little money they have. I also want them to know that you decide your own life by the choices you make, and that education is a key to success in many areas.

  10. Colleen

    June 18, 2009

    I’m living the Utah County version right now. We live in Eagle Mountain – the Ranches, specifically – and the reputation we’ve got! We live in a beautiful neighborhood with wonderful, educated neighbors in a lovely house. Yet due to the location – far, far west – and the bizarre press we’ve often gotten, we have a stigma akin to that of West Valley. I’d like to say I’m no snob, but I always have to specify that I live in the Ranches. Meaning that we have a golf course, an HOA to keep the neighborhoods looking nice, we’re closer to civilization than “City Center”…

  11. Sharlee

    June 18, 2009

    I probably have the hickiest background of anyone here. I grew up in the small farming community of Arcadia, Utah, located in the Uintah Basin, between Duchesne and Roosevelt. And I went to school in Myton! Those of you who have driven through that area (on your way to Dinosaur National Monument in Vernal, maybe), are saying, “Ahhhh . . . The poor thing.” 🙂

    But the fact is, I loved it. The phrase “salt of the earth people” must surely have been coined by someone passing through the Uintah Basin (perhaps someone who got a flat tire on Highway 40 and sat in a modest farm house (or even a ramshackle doublewide) eating a bowl of bread and milk (with brown sugar sprinkled on top) while the farmer (or his wife) fixed his tire).

    No one had much money where I grew up. But most people had what they needed. And everyone was willing to share. There was a real feeling of community there. As a child, I never knew we were poor. I do remember feeling positively rich though after I got married and suddenly there was enough money to buy a pair of shoes if I needed (or even just wanted) them–and this was when my husband and I were both students, working part-time jobs and living (happily) well below the national poverty level!

    Really, it’s just been as I’ve gotten older that I’ve realized how “disadvantaged” my childhood was. Because, the thing is, it wasn’t. We always (well, okay, usually) had what we absolutely needed, and, though we sometimes ate what my mom called “Poor Man’s Soup” for dinner, I never remember going hungry. And there was always plenty of love. Love and work to do and wide-open spaces and plenty of time (after the work) to play and explore. Oh, and there was the Bookmobile! Gosh, what more could a kid want?

    Also, interestingly, I never felt inferior to anyone else. I wonder why? I can probably credit that to my amazing mother. I did go through a brief phase in college where I didn’t want people to know my background. I remember one of my professors expressing surprise when he found out that I was one of seven children of a widowed mother. He said: “I always assumed you were from a wealthy family back East!” For the most part, though, I’ve embraced and been very proud of my roots.

    And I really, really wish my kids had a cow to milk. 🙂

  12. Whitney

    June 18, 2009

    Thanks for this post. Although I grew up in Orem, I have spent most of my married life in Salt Lake County. My husband spent most of his childhood in Sandy so when we moved to Salt Lake, we rented an apartment in Murray. We loved it there and had a wonderful ward and good friends. When we out-grew the town house we were living in and started looking to buy a home we wanted to stay on the East side. We quickly saw that what our money could get us in Sandy was nothing compared to what we could get on the West side of the valley. As luck would have it, we found the perfect house in a lovely, established neighborhood in Taylorsville. We have lived here for three years and absolutely love it and know this is where we were supposed to be. I experience some funny looks when I tell people I went to college or high school with that I live in Taylorsville, as if it is a trashy place to live, but I have learned my lesson. There is good to be found wherever you are. At some point we will outgrow the house we are currently in and I am pretty sure we will choose to stay on the “West side” of the valley. We are here to stay.

  13. Angela

    June 18, 2009

    Colleen, when I was a kid I always felt a little superior about my specific neighborhood in West Valley City. We had garages while everybody else had carports! It was important to make the distinction :-).

    And Sharlee, I wonder if part of the reason you didn’t feel as much of an effect is because, to me at least, there’s a kind of romantic nobility about true country living. Whether or not it’s true, I’d always ascribed a hardscrabble, boot-strappy, rosy-cheeked goodness to people who grew up milking cows, or living in the middle of nowhere on a farm.

    Those of us from West Valley City, however, were simply from the “wrong side of town,” which is a different kind of prejudice. One of the worst epithets of my childhood was “scrounge” (used as a noun, as in “You’re such a scrounge.”) Do any of you remember that word? I remember once a second cousin at a family reunion recoiling when I mentioned my West Valley home. “Isn’t it scroungey out there?” she said.

    Although I was far from “scroungey,” as were most of my neighbors, there’s a kind of dirty/lazy/worthless subtext to some of the condescension toward Salt Lake’s West Side, as I’m sure is the case in other “wrong side of the tracks” areas in other cities. There’s “good poor”—hardworking, salt of the Earth poor—then there’s “bad poor,” the layabout, don’t-give-a-care poor. Part of the reason the now-dilapidated state of my childhood home made me so sad is because it had that particular look: unkempt, hollow, sad. Scroungey.

    That’s a hard stereotype to shake.

    And Whitney, when I was a kid, Taylorsville was the cat’s pajamas. All the cool kids lived in Taylorsville. And I know some really cool kids who live there now, too.

  14. Dovie

    June 18, 2009

    As I was reading the responses to this post the words “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” The linking of perceived worth and potential to place must be a very deeply rooted part of our fallen natures. It is such a part of history, it is played out in literature, it is played out right now around the world and in my own neighborhood. For it to even be a part of the Saviors mortal experience really speaks to me. I’m not sure what I am sensing but I feel like there is a bigger lesson here than just not letting where we come from geographically, socially or economically limit us. Something more important but I just can’t wrap my mind around it yet.

  15. Josi

    June 18, 2009

    Sheesh–you really struck a cord on this one (she says after scrolling through comments for five minutes 🙂 I admit I was raised with the west side prejudice–but realized later that the west side would have been a better fit for me–Payless was for our GOOD shoes, DI was for your everyday ones. I also didn’t know the stigma went back to pioneers–very interesting how we can be affected by those things.

  16. Dovie

    June 18, 2009

    “Scroungey” that is such a funny word. I do remember it. I do remember using it. Sometimes as a an epithet. It is amuses me all the words that I would be so embarrassed to use now. Not because they sound funny but because I didn’t know their true etymology or meaning. There were a lot of words like that in my childhood mostly because of where I came from.

    We did live in the poor part of town. My mom was single and raising four little kids. I remember going to Junior High and how painful that time was. The school had a wide gap between the rich and poor and I was definitely one of the poor ones. I might have been termed by some people a “scrounge.” That said I used the word too.

    There were mean rich kids and mean poor kids. The mean poor kids seemed more dangerous (and as an adult I realize maybe they had to be because of where they came from) but you hated the mean rich ones more because they were rich and mean. It seemed so unfair. I thought if I were rich I would not be mean. I also wondered do the mean kids get to be rich? There were plenty nice rich kids, but you don’t remember those while the mean ones are in your face harassing you. I was even friends with some of them.

    Grown up me realizes if all the good people got all the good stuff in this life it wouldn’t be much of a test. Sometimes it still doesn’t seem fair (and it isn’t). Maybe one of the lessons here for me is that the essence of mortality is learning to do the right thing in less than perfect circumstances, on the East or West side of town.

    It was hard (and wonderful) to grow up in the poor run down part of town but I think I learned some lessons about compassion there that are a priceless part of me now.

  17. Jessie T.

    June 18, 2009

    I don’t have a “hometown”. Not even a “town of my youth”. Growing up we moved nearly every school year. Sometimes it’d be within the town, sometimes out of state. So, I have no real answer when people ask “Where are you from?” The answer takes more time than the asker is willing to commit.

    We recently bought a house in Orem. We must have looked at 25 houses in Provo, but didn’t find anything we liked for the right price. We finally “bit the bullet” and looked in Orem. The first one we looked at was the perfect one for us. People in Provo looked at us with pity when we said we were moving to Orem. I didn’t realize there was that much difference…there’s pretty much no border, right? I guess Provo is the classy, BYU-ful, metropolitan area, while Orem is the “less expensive suburb”. Amazing what 2.5 miles can do to people’s perceptions of you.

  18. Sara

    June 18, 2009

    Wow, I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about in this post. Though, I have definitely enjoyed reading all the comments. It might make you feel better to know if you were to leave and move a little further out most people would feel the same as me, and whether you were from the rich or poor side would mean absolutely nothing to them and you would just be simply you!

  19. Red

    June 18, 2009

    I hate this topic because I always leave with a bad taste in my mouth, disappointed in my fellow man. I found Dovie’s comment (14) provocative, though, because it reminded me of the “chosen people” and the “chosen land” and what it means to a group of people who feel they are worthy of God’s special attention. The idea of innate superiority based on birth or location has been used to fulfill God’s purposes in the past. It is similar to what some people are trying to inspire when they call this generation of youth the “chosen generation” (however problematic that label might factually be). So does that mean it’s sometimes okay to feel special, if not superior? I don’t know.

  20. Justine

    June 18, 2009

    Sara, I’m from Michigan and New England, and it was definitely an issue both places I lived, so I don’t think it’s just a Utah thing.

    But is it more socially acceptable, at least in a ‘church’ context, to be lamenting a “wrong” side of town upbringing than it is to lament a “right” side of town upbringing? Because there, obviously, isn’t actually a wrong or right side, and there isn’t a situation that is more advantageous to be raised in. I really believe there are lots of problems and lots of positives on both sides.

    But I sometimes hear a strange kind of pleasure being derived from choosing to live on the ‘wrong’ side. Being raised poor or rich does not really ascribe absolutes to a person, although I admit there are perceptions to be overcome. I think there are probably just as many incorrect perceptions about the ‘right’ side of town as there are about the other.

    I heard horrible things generalized about me when I was a kid and youth – I think stereotypes run all directions. There will always be someone ‘different’ from us, and therefore worthy of our scorn and mockery…

  21. Katherine

    June 18, 2009

    I should have seen the Brighton High dig coming, but as a former Brighton kid, I do have to say that although there were snobs there, the east/west identity politics never meant anything to me or the people I hung around with. My family was definitely on the less wealthy end of the spectrum in that area, so maybe my view isn’t representative, but I had cousins in Magna and friends in WVC and a job in West Jordan, and although I didn’t often have reason to go west of Redwood Road, I didn’t consciously avoid it out of some sense of fear or superiority. In college I dated a guy from West Jordan/Taylorsville who liked to hold my “privilege” over my head–in reality our respective upbringings were very similar–and insist on a prejudice I never thought to hold. I don’t mean to suggest that those attitudes don’t exist, but I wonder if it’s becoming less of an issue over time (I only graduated from high school five years ago).

    Of course I’m attached to the place I’m from and defined in both good and bad ways by the experiences I had and the people I met there. But sometimes I hate admitting my background to people who know the Salt Lake-area stereotypes–I might not go down in their estimation for being from the “wrong side of town,” but I do for supposedly being an overprivileged, bourgeois snob.

  22. Angela

    June 18, 2009

    Sara, I think it was moving outside of Utah that really helped me establish an identity that had very little to do with where I was from. Instead, I felt freer to be who I was. I don’t know if it speaks very highly of me that I had to move away in order to accomplish it, but there you go.

    Red, the whole thing makes me feel disappointed too: in myself and in other people. And you’re right that identifying with our “tribe” and looking suspiciously at the other is a predisposition buried deep inside our bones. I have a difficult time with the idea of being “chosen,” too–hate how it categorizes God’s children.

    Justine, I totally hear you. I agree that prejudice runs both ways in these circumstances. I suppose that for those who grew up on the good side of town, though, it’s hard to get away with lamenting the (no doubt real) trials that come along with it without a “don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” kind of subtext. We all know that beauty, for example, can come with a whole slew of trouble, but it’s really hard for the beautiful to complain about it and get a lot of sympathy. Which, of course, is one of the trials.

    Incorrect perceptions certainly abound in all sorts of circumstances, though.

  23. FoxyJ

    June 18, 2009

    I also grew up all over the place, though mostly southern California. Never stayed in a place long enough to really get a feel for stereotypes, although the stake I lived in during my junior high/high school years did have some issues with this. The stake was pretty evenly divided between two towns: one town was richer, mostly white, and more established; the other town had the spanish-speaking ward, more working-class families, and two military bases within it. It was hard to plan stake-level activities for many reasons; for one thing, people from the one town would want to do things like waterskiing at the lake, but they had all the boats and equipment and we had nothing. Many of the families in the spanish-speaking ward weren’t even familiar with camping and didn’t have equipment for things like girls’ camp or scout camps. We were in the ward with military bases and often had many of the men deployed at a time. But some people in the stake rose to the occasion and helped out those who were needing assistance, while others sat back and made judgements (on both sides). I think that it is a “natural man” quality to always want to label and categorize people and something we must always fight against.

    My husband was born and raised in Hawaii and gets all kinds of reactions from people because he is white. Nearly everyone assumes he went to the rich, private school in town, but he didn’t because he was raised by a single mom who worked as a waitress. It’s funny the assumptions people will make based on where you are from.

  24. Angela

    June 18, 2009

    Katherine, sorry about the Brighton dig! I really didn’t mean anything specific about it–it was simply shorthand for the way I saw the world 20 years ago. Which is why all the categorizing is so damaging.

    The funny thing is, while I (truly) very rarely judge anybody by their address anymore, for good or for ill, when I was in my late teens I never harbored any ill will towards East-siders. I didn’t even think they were snobby or mean. I mostly looked up to them, and was a little afraid of them. Which is so funny to me now, because the truth of it was my family could have lived in the Brighton High boundaries just as easily as the Cyprus High boundaries, depending on where my parents ended up buying a house.

  25. Merry Michelle

    June 18, 2009

    Interesting thoughts here.

    I lived all over (internationally) but completed high school at Orem High. It was wonderful. I now live in Provo and there are wonderful people here, too. Supposedly Timpview is a ritzier school than Orem High, who knows–who cares.

    It’s really only been as an adult that I have even been vaguely aware of class distinction. As a child I never really lived in one place for more than 4 years. Now that I have lived in one house for almost 8 years I gotta tell ya–every neighborhood has it’s problems. And even in affluent areas they can be pretty spectacular! There may be slight differences in how “in your face” or hidden they are– but problems are everywhere. Hopefully we’re mature enough to roll up our sleeves and help no matter what side of the tracks needs us.

  26. Kim

    June 18, 2009

    This is an interesting post. I’ve only lived in the Provo part of Utah (while in school, and then later while my husband did grad school), so I don’t know much abuot the Utah boundry issues. but I think similar things do exist at some level in any large area, but it does seem to vary in how extreme it is.

    I grew up in the San Francisco area, and while yes, there were defininetly wealthy areas, and we did harbor some stereotypes about them (mainly in the way that we’d laugh when the mostly white HS’s with their all-white boys basketball team would come to play us and look scared–and lose really badly on top of it–I’ll admit that we had no respect for all white boys playing B-ball) But for the most part, our school covered such an economically diverse area that there wasnt’ a whole lot of room for that. There were the hills, which had the one really expensive gated community, and then a bunch of middle class neighborhoods, and then the flat lands where there was a big range of poor to middle class areas. We happened to live right in the middle of it–halfway up the hill, not in a “neighborhood” of any sort, with all independantly built homes that ran the whole range of size and care taken of them. And I loved that I grew up with so much diversity around me–racial, economic, social, whatever. I appreciated it on some level in HS, but it wasnt’ until I got to BYU and started learning of others prejudices and the stereotypes they’d faced when growing up that I really began to realize how lucky I’d been. Sure, at times I’d wished that I went to a really “good” school, where I could have earned 1.5 years worth of AP credit, and where we would have gone to parties like the ones HSers always seem to go to on television shows, and lived the glamorous life. But when it comes down to it, it was nice just always fitting in because pretty much everyone found somewhere to fit in. And it was nice learning to actually get to know people before assuming anything because you really have no idea.

  27. Tamlynn

    June 18, 2009

    Angela, yes, Pretty Woman tune. It wasn’t a flattering song to say the least. I think some UT djs made it up.

    Sharlee -I loved Bookmobile day!

  28. Carol Brown

    June 18, 2009

    I grew up in South Salt Lake and attended Granite High School. The school then was a melting pot with rich and poor, highly-educated and working class, and immigrants from many parts of the world. Although I was very poor as a child, I never felt excluded and had friends from all races, social classes, and educational backgrounds. Although neither of my parents had a high school education, (they were born in 1886 and 1905), they were self-educated, and I was well-prepared to attend BYU. I am SO grateful I grew up in such a diverse area and am sad that my children did not. (We raised our children in east-side Sandy. They had a great education there, but sadly the area lacked diversity.

  29. jendoop

    June 18, 2009

    While it may be sad that there are economic divisions between people (and as many other divisions as you can dream up), I feel this is a very worthwhile topic. This is part of the fallen world we live in. If we turn a blind eye to it that does not make it go away. Everyone will have to deal with stereotypes and predjudices in their lives in one form or another. At the very least, think about our children who do have to deal with this, just as we did at their age.

    As much as we might want to say this isn’t a part of who we are as members of the church and children of God, it is part of our social education. If you think you can get it completely out of your system just try burping at the table or wearing shorts to church – they’re social conventions too.

    Then there is the backwater belief of some in the church that if you’re faithful you won’t be poor. Let me count the ways that is wrong.

  30. Laura

    June 18, 2009

    this really caught my attention because I lived in HUNTER myself…went to Carl Sandburg Elem., lived right by Fasio Egg farm 🙂 then moved to Bountiful when I was `12. I absolutely LOVED my childhood there.
    Still, my husband LOVES to tease me about growing up in the “hood”.

  31. Sharlee

    June 18, 2009

    “And Sharlee, I wonder if part of the reason you didn’t feel as much of an effect is because, to me at least, there’s a kind of romantic nobility about true country living. Whether or not it’s true, I’d always ascribed a hardscrabble, boot-strappy, rosy-cheeked goodness to people who grew up milking cows, or living in the middle of nowhere on a farm.”

    I think you’re right, Angela. I also think there’s a sort of nobility associated with being poor because your mother is a widow as opposed to just plain being poor.

    What an interesting discussion!

  32. Kristin

    June 18, 2009

    I found this to be a very interesting discussion!

    Having been raised a CA girl with a chip on my shoulder against UT (west or east side, it wouldn’t have mattered or impressed me) I found this particularly awesome:

    “When my husband and I were looking for houses I had one friend in particular that was horrified that we were considering a house in West Jordan. She asked me, “don’t you want an address with cachet?” Puh-lease! If I wanted an address with cachet I wouldn’t have been moving to Utah in the first place.”

    Now, with some years of experience and maturity, I have come to appreciate some of the things about Utah, and I did marry a boy from Utah (whose parents lived in both WVC AND Sandy). My Mom was horrified, of course.

    I grew up in the Bay Area (with a basketball team of mostly white boys) in a fairly privileged suburb. I appreciated the perspective I was raised with that I could do anything I wanted to…meaning get an education, make something of myself, etc. I do feel like I was raised to value money less for the coolness of stuff, and more for the opportunities it can buy. There were definitely snotty wealthy kids in our city, but thanks to my parents, I did learn to judge people for their choices and actions rather than their bank account or address. I have had friends from all sides.

    But…when we moved to the Chicago suburbs a few years ago, I was careful about choosing the right city for us…the family friendly one with great schools that is less expensive than those right outside the city, but still pretty expensive. And I wouldn’t have been willing to live in the city just west of us, because of the opportunities we would give up for our children there, and the safety factor too (much higher crime there). I am so grateful for what I had growing up, and I am grateful to live in a place that feels so much like that to me.

    I do think that where we live does have an influence on our perspective, but that isn’t the whole picture.

    I think there are two kinds of people: haves and have nots.

    Haves value what they have. They value any opportunity in front of them, appreciate it, and make the most of it. They believe in their ability to achieve and move forward in faith. They are self-reliant, and know the value of earning. They do not have a sense of entitlement, and do not spend their time comparing themselves to others.

    Have nots don’t have enough. They compare themselves to others, and feel shafted and oppressed when what they have doesn’t measure up to what those around them have. They feel a sense of entitlement, that others should give them what they lack because they deserve it. They see the glass half empty, and are not likely to make the most of what they have. They do not have an appreciation for the value of hard work in earning rewards.

    These are obviously broad generalizations, and each of us may spend some time on either side. But overall as I have observed people over the years I have learned that whether a person is a have or a have not actually has very little to do with what they actually have or have not. Both kinds of people live on the west or the east side. It is a mentality. At least that’s my theory.

  33. Selwyn

    June 19, 2009

    I grew up in over 30 different places all around Australia. I have no ready answer when people ask where I’m “from”. Heaven may have to be my new answer.

    Not having any particular place as my “home town” has affected my life and identity. I don’t feel obligated to return anywhere solely because I lived there once. I know that home is wherever my sons and I are. I don’t have any dreams or pulling towards “going home” or “moving back home”.

    I find that people saying that I live “in the mission field” is pretty annoying and condescending. It smacks of judgement and better-than-thou-manship. I live where I live. It should be about the people, not the address.

  34. QueenScarlett

    June 19, 2009

    There are reasons why stereotypes exist… enough of whatever classification you want to name… enough of the stereotypes are generally true – that they do stick. That’s not to say there aren’t exceptions – or that those generalizations won’t change.

    For me… I grew up with immigrant parents – I knew what it was like to wear…not just hand-me-down clothes – but a boy’s hand-me-down clothes. Yeah. Despite that my parents worked hard and we ended up living in Bountiful – in a neighborhood close to where the new temple is now.

    But then my Dad lost his job and we moved to California. We were in an old neighborhood in Campbell – but it was the school that made my parents move and scrimp every penny to put us in Cupertino…in a 2 bed 1 bath home. There was six of us in the family.

    The school was a 7-10 min walk from the tiny house. My brother… 3 yrs younger than me, would never enter the house through front door. He’d go in the house from the back – he was terrified or embarrassed that people from school would see him living there. I on the other hand didn’t really give a rat’s bum. I figured, if my friends only liked me for the house I lived in – they probably weren’t real friends to begin with. Not surprisingly – my friends who lived in LARGE homes – didn’t care.

    Eventually my parents were able to buy lots in the great area and build their own home… twice. Does it make me feel like we’re better than other people? Nope. I think of it as a lucky, they deserve it because of all the stuff they’ve overcome, language, economics…immigration.

    I think this comparison stuff only matters if it matters to you. If you’re obsessed with it – it will be a huge chip on your shoulder. If you’re constantly unhappy because you feel like outward displays of whatever make you somebody – you’ll never truly be happy. But if you know who you are outside of all that excess baggage – you won’t care – it won’t matter – because it’s not you. You aren’t defined by someone else’s metric, image, ideas. You allow yourself to be defined solely by you and God.

    I know many people are afraid to shine – afraid to offend or make people feel “less capable” whatever… and to them I say – those people who would be offended or feel less than because of your light – aren’t worth caring about. They’re too busy with their own selfishness, envy… whatnot to matter. You can’t please anyone – and you should have to even try. If people are going to judge you, get all pissy because you have, or don’t have or whatever stupid thing society likes to play – it’s just NOT worth it.

    Sure sterotypes/class classifications are there – but then let’s have a solution – let’s teach our own kids to rise above it. Let’s teach our kids that knowing who they are outside of any talent, skill, sport, etc… they are a child of God – they don’t need anything, anyone to be someone. They already are someone. If we all commit to doing that – hell – we might change some stereotypes.

  35. Kim

    June 19, 2009

    I just had to comment on the “mission field” comment–I hadn’t really heard that much until we moved to the East Coast (US). I guess growing up in CA, there were enough members that we didn’t have that church culture, but I’ve heard it several times since moving out here (and actually, I now remember that we heard it in our ward in Provo just before we moved out here, in reference to our move.) It does rub me the wrong way. And i don’t even know what it’s supposed to mean–judging by my BIL’s experiences in his mission, south SLC, there is plenty of missionary work and baptizing going on in Utah, too. Way more than we’ve seen in our ward out here this last year. . .

  36. b.

    June 19, 2009

    I’m a proud Spanish Forkian/Salemite (our house sits on the absolute border of both small towns).
    I grew up in one of the poorest houses in a wealthy ward.

    I went to drug rehab with the poor and downtrodden AND the rich, famous, and entitled. The differences in economic/social status didn’t matter much when you’ve reached rock bottom. The latter group seemed to have the hardest time with recovery.

  37. Melissa M.

    June 19, 2009

    I think that the “east side/west side” prejudices must be universal. When I was on my mission in Arequipa, Peru, one of the poorest missions in the world, I served for four months in Puno, up on the Altiplano–one of the poorest areas in my mission. I was amazed to find out that a division existed in the ward; members who lived up on the hillside were seen as being poor, while those who live at the bottom of the hill were “rich,” although they all lived in mud brick houses with dirt floors. Maybe the ones who lived at the bottom of the hill had more guinea pigs. Anyway, there was a definite class division and it caused problems amongst the ward members. It must be human nature.

  38. rk

    June 19, 2009

    I had several friends at BYU from Hunter that attended Cypress High. They were really smart, fun and cool.

    I also had relatives that lived in that area. They were always talking about the West/East side differences and felt rather inferior about it. I came from a very small town in Idaho. I could never really understand what they were complaining about. It seemed to me that they couldn’t understand that they had so many opportunities in school that I didn’t have. Their ingratitude perplexed me.

    I went to very small rural high school. Sure there was a lot they couldn’t offer, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I made up for it in college.

  39. Naismith

    June 19, 2009

    I had no clue. The Salt Lake area has always been monolithic to me, had no idea there were such differences.

  40. Sage

    June 20, 2009

    I’ve always been fascinated by this topic. I also grew up in the Bay Area–in a wealthy stake, but from a more middle class ward. Lots of the youth parties were in huge, amazing mansions–five or six times the size of my house. But I still had a party and invited the rich kids. I think I was blessed to value myself for who I was as a daughter of God and to see wealth as a temporal, temporary thing. I served my mission to Peru also (Lima East mission) and continued to learn there about wealth vs. poverty as more of a mind set. I have tried hard to learned not to judge people by their apparent lack or abundance of money. I’ve also learned to manage money! Everyone needs better financial literacy. I also have chosen to live in a predominantly blue collar neighborhood where we probably make more on one salary than many of our neighbors do on two. I don’t want my kids to feel entitlement–they have to pay for many of their own things even though we could afford to buy them more stuff.

    Thanks for bringing this topic up. I do believe that we must overcome our prejudices toward both the wealthy and the poor. Incidentally, I live in probably one of the wealthiest stakes in the US (New Canaan CT is in our stake) and so my teenager also goes to church parties in luxurious homes–probably worth 20x the price of ours..

  41. Sue

    June 20, 2009

    I grew up in California in the 50’s and 60’s and was never privy to the stereotyping you describe. In my school and community, young people were taken pretty much at face value, depending upon whatever talents and abilities they possessed.

    I’m sorry to say that I never realized how fortunate I was.

    =)

  42. mom of boys

    June 23, 2009

    Ahh, West Valley’s nothing, try living in….ROSE PARK! My WV residing Aunt was horrified when we moved there. I didn’t grow up there, but lived there as a married woman. We moved recently to a much nicer area and……I miss Rose Park.

    I used to hate the reactions we received when I would say “Rose Park” and now I hate the reactions I get to where we live now. So, you can get it on both sides. It’s unfair but doesn’t seem like we can do much about it. It’s not easy changing peoples minds. I am glad, however, that I’ve lived on both sides so I can defend them both!

    My only worry is how where we live will affect our children. No diversity, but less crime; more affluent snobs, but less gangs ; more members, but, then, sometimes that comes with its own set of problems; better schools for sure, but, but, but….I’m sure I could go on. Everywhere has pros and cons and I’m sure some day my children will gladly let me know the numerous ways I messed up, regardless of where we lived!

  43. The Normal Mormon Husband

    June 26, 2009

    Great post, big sis. You nailed exactly the way I felt about our WVC home both then and now. We had a happy childhood, a great ward, and parents who worked hard and loved their kids. What more could we have wanted?

    I remember as a 7th grader playing for Cyprus in little league football. During warmups our coach would tell us to, “Face the beautiful Oquirrhs” for a drill. Then, when we had to rotate, he would tell us to “Face the dreaded east side!” To this day I think the Oquirrhs are beautiful. Great post.

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