I live in a small Southern community and every day is a masquerade. When my husband and I moved here a little over two years ago, we were greeted with some very personal questions: “When do you think you’ll leave?” and “Wait, you bought a house?” Additionally, we received some unsettling advice: “You will never fit in here” and “Don’t raise your children here”.
When you are a first-generation college graduate at 20 years old, you develop a sense that you can overcome adversity. In higher education it matters less about where you have come from and more about how you think. One particular culture does not dominate over all others. This atmosphere of adult open-mindedness was only validated when my husband and I moved across the country to California. There was true freedom in living in an environment that valued creative problem solving. Needless to say, I was shocked when we moved to a region within the same country that still values appearances over intelligence.
I learned pretty quickly that a small Southern town exists as a series of social circles. You never really form a core group of friends, but, instead, maintain surface-level relationships with individuals from various spheres (work, church, your neighborhood, etc.). And, just as in those stereotypical movies, you hear the same four last names over and over and over again. This is the system, and you will be hardpressed to change it. As a result, if you do attempt to think differently, you will remain an outsider.
When you are a parent, the last thing you want is for your children to experience hardship that can be avoided. Thus, because no other option exists, you put on a mask: we no longer try to share about our rich experience in California; our lives are devoid of lively, informed debates outside of our jobs in academia; and I wear considerably more makeup. The truth is, if you were not born learning to wear the mask, it will never fit.
Every now and then, I look into the eyes of my children and remember the sweet life that I once knew beyond the mask. I am left with the conviction that my decision to hide my true self from others models an identity of sameness, an identity of fear. If we parents are part of the masquerade, so, too, are our children.
My body has grown weary from the weight of deception, and life is just too short for regret. I’m ready to shed the mask.
Will you follow me?