Growing Up Around the Country
By Natalie Hancher and Jocelyn Padilla
From the sunny deep south to the chilly New England states, kids across the United States grow up in different environments and experience different values and lifestyles. Two similar counties in different parts of the country —Wake County, a suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina, and Fairfax County, a suburb of Washington DC — can serve as examples of the cultural and childhood differences within these different environments. Both counties consistently elect Democratic-leaning candidates in presidential and smaller races and have populations of over one million, the main difference being their locations.
DC Suburb (Natalie Hancher)
Growing up in a county within four metro stops of the nation’s capital, everyone around me was as liberal and democratic as one can imagine. My five-year-old self supported Obama in 2008 when I didn’t even understand the president’s power or what the election meant, and supported him again in 2012 when I could only somewhat understand parts of the news. I was even arguing with Republicans on Facebook by the time I knew how to use it. All my left-leaning ideas were never refuted by my peers or the adults around me.
Raleigh Suburb (Jocelyn Padilla)
In a southern county like Wake County, people's mindsets generally reflect their parents’, both in and around my town. I am the child of immigrants, and it was interesting to see how different my perspective on politics was from that of my peers. My parents are liberals and instilled their values in me. Although the county reports voting liberally, my peers were all conservatives and as I got to high school, I found most of my teachers were as well. I even subscribed to pro-life ideology at one point because everyone else around me felt that way, and often pushed it onto me. Even today, I continue to find myself being the only person with left-leaning political views in my high school classes.
Although over 61% of the Fairfax county’s population is white, I never personally experienced a lack of representation around me. My elementary school was predominantly populated with students of Indian heritage, and my classmates and I were able to learn about their customs and culture. The talent shows held at every level consisted of beautiful Indian classical dances and additional performances put on by many different cultures. In this way I was lucky to experience the traditions of many people outside of my own culture. Still today, there are many different people around me daily, allowing me to learn about
I grew up as one of the only latinas surrounded by white peers. 67.9% of the population of Wake County, North Carolina is white. Growing up, all my teachers were white. As I got to high school, all my friends were either white or Black. When I was 15, I had my quinceañera which is a celebration of entering womanhood for fifteen year old latina girls all my friends that attended were either white or Black. My friends were mesmerized by my culture and I had one friend even write an essay about how my quinceañera was a culture shock to her. Though my community did not have a lot of exposure to other cultures, they were eager to learn about them.
Most, if not all, teachers in my school district were left-leaning, even if not outwardly. I learned about climate change in sixth grade, and every election cycle, I learned the platforms of each candidate. When major political events occurred — such as the January 6 Capitol insurrection — teachers allowed for time to discuss and reflect. We’ve been exposed to various presentations and videos explaining the harm white supremacy and anti-Semitism cause. Teachers were more than willing to lead conversations about everything they could, helping us to connect with each other on how we felt.
Politics was an untouched topic in elementary school. However, middle school coincided with former President Trump’s campaign and inauguration. Politics started being discussed a lot more at that point. Students began asking teachers about their political affiliation. Most teachers declined to answer, but most of my peers supported Trump openly, citing that their parents said he was going to do great things for Americans. Now I am a junior in high school, and my peers are outspoken in their right-leaning political views.
As young Americans grow up, their location begins to greatly influence their character — whether that location be a bustling city full of noise or a small farm town in the middle of nowhere. Everything from politics, to friends, to how you view the world around you can be influenced just by your home address. The key is to look and venture outside your bubble. You might be pleasantly surprised with what you find. But even if you aren’t, allowing yourself to learn and grow is the best way to become the ideal version of yourself.