There are no stars or skyscrapers in the suburbs. Even as a child, it felt like an in-between place to me. Suburbs were built for commuters — they leave them to work and come back to them to sleep. Maybe that’s why garages are the focal point of most suburban homes: They’re the portal for a morning exit and evening reentry. In the movies, suburban streets are always full of children playing. That might be true in other places. I lived on six suburban streets in California and kids never played on the streets. The sidewalks were always empty.
Before it was full of commuters, Chino Hills was full of cattle. Its rolling hills were used as grazing space for Mission San Gabriel and Mexican ranchos. There’s still a hill or two dotted with cows between stoplights and drive-thrus. Between the 1970s and 1990s it went from rural to developed, which means the hills were covered with tract homes. I could find my way through town using a Southern California suburbanite’s cardinal directions — Del Taco, ampm, Ralph’s, and Jack in the Box. There wasn’t one bookstore but there were a couple of gyms. Once kids could drive, they went to the mall one city over. It wasn’t enough to sustain a girl obsessed with folkways and fairy tales.
On weekends, we’d drive out of town. Leaving was a relief. Southern California is full of different places and the people who make them. We ate at Jewish delis in Los Angeles where menus were rich with a cultural language that I couldn’t speak but could taste. We listened to music at Mariachi Plaza, the vihuela vibrating across my insides; it was a traditional melody I couldn’t play but could hear. When a high school friend invited me to a Bollywood night, I was introduced to an experience of silk and song and I knew it wasn’t mine to hold, but it made me feel.
When I was in these spaces, I marveled at whole communities sustained by the rich veins of a shared story. I couldn’t find suburbia’s shared story.
Our stories never left the house. I knew my grandpa was born in Greenup, Kentucky. When he was a child, his family left the hills of Kentucky to farm shares of other people’s land in Ohio. There’s a story my dad told over dinner a few times a year. My grandpa…