A Letter to the Small Town Girl
By Elizabeth Barrera
Dear Small Town Girl,
I, too, was a small town girl once.
I was the girl who had her first kiss outside my third period agricultural science class in 9th grade, raised livestock for the county fair, and was part of the homecoming court my senior year of high school. I was part of Future Farmers of America (FFA), Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), and played basketball and tennis. I grew up with my graduating class of 70 students, and we all went to the same elementary, middle, and high schools because we only had one of each. Once a month on Sundays, I participated in my church as a lector for the Spanish mass. I enjoyed everything I did, but it was almost forced, like I was doing things that didn’t fully identify who I was. Don’t get me wrong, I loved nothing more than the comfort of home and the loyalty my friends, family, and community gave me.
But still, I wanted more.
I dreamed of tall buildings and city lights, diverse faces and open minds. I envisioned myself surrounded by culture and ambition. I felt the hunger and passion inside me, and I wanted nothing more than to feed it. I dreamed of freedom.
Freedom to me didn’t just mean not having to come home early because I had a curfew at 10pm. It didn’t just mean that I no longer had to ask for permission before going out, having friends over, or spending the night. Freedom to me meant that I no longer had to pretend that I belonged. It meant that it was okay for me to disagree with the controversial topics that divided my small town. To me, it meant that it was okay for one of my college best friends to be gay. It meant that I could agree with gun control and not shame a woman for committing abortion. It meant that I could open my heart to compassion and respect. It meant I was allowing others to be free, too.
When I moved to the Bay Area in 2011, I realized I was free in more ways than I had ever acknowledged. The freedom that existed in me was that of a woman not scared to say hi to a stranger. I never feared that they’d want to hurt me. My idea of freedom was based on the idea that everyone was honest, everyone deserved the benefit of the doubt, and everyone was going through something just as shitty as I was. So, I smiled and wished everyone a better day. I was fearless in the sense that I was open to express the kindness that lied within me. Fast forward six years, and that hasn’t remained entirely true.
The freedom I sought was freedom bigger than that. When people ask me why I wouldn’t return to my home town, it’s not because I like to be away from my family, but because the lifestyle there seems to be complacent, and that’s not who I am. There was and is complacency in terms of how people allow themselves to be treated, what is accomplished in life, and the lack of challenge in controversial conversations. The mentality is “that’s the way it is” but nobody is asking “why”.
Why is it okay that minorities aren’t succeeding? Why is it okay for discrimination to exist in our elementary, middle, and high schools? Why is it okay to prefer one student over another based on social status?
I was a small town girl once, but because of the freedom I’ve gained, I think differently now. I was okay with everything once. Yes, I was complacent. But I was also hungry.
So no, I’m not that small town girl anymore. On paper, I always will be, but my heart has found a new home. You see, I’ve lived surrounded by tall buildings and city lights. I interacted with diverse faces and open minds. Every day, I surround myself with culture and ambition. The hunger inside of me is always being fed by my ambition, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Small town girl, don’t be afraid to run and explore diversity. Don’t be afraid to challenge mindsets, personalities, and traditions. Spread your wings and open your eyes to what the world has to offer. Keep that smile, and keep that humble and trusting personality of yours, but don’t be afraid to fly.