Two Communities with the Same Kind of Different
By Melanie Guerrero, Paige Chestnut and Holly Lowzik
Javian Ortiz often finds himself hearing about reports of violence that surround the Oxnard community. Ortiz believes most of these reports are being spread by people who are not from Oxnard. He thinks that if more people spent time in Oxnard, they would see what he sees on a regular basis.
During his routine drive to work, he sees drivers coming together and helping lead each other out of a messy roadblock.
Zena Taher was in middle school when she moved from Medford, Oregon with a high population of white neighbors to “cookie-cutter suburbia” Santa Clarita. Her new town provided highly rated public schools and a place for families. From the outside, this place didn’t seem to be any different for Taher. But it showed to be more accepting when Taher was offered a quiet safe place during school by her teacher to practice her daily prayers, she was brought to tears. She had hidden the Muslim part of herself in Medford, never experiencing that kind of acceptance for her religion and it filled her with hope.
Yet, she will admit that there is still work to be done in Santa Clarita for minority groups to be better represented.
Oxnard and Santa Clarita are two radically different Southern California communities. Yet, they share residents that feel that they are misrepresented in popular representation and local government. Between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles sits Oxnard, the largest city in Ventura County, and Santa Clarita, the third-largest in Los Angeles County. Both communities are regarded as family-oriented with a similar population of 200,000. Oxnard, which is an 84% Latinx population according to Census Reporter, has a reputation for being “ghetto” and dangerous. Santa Clarita is reported as having a 47% white population and 34% Latinx population and is known for being a safe, family-oriented community. When speaking to different people of both communities, they have expressed concern for proper representation since it affects community politics such as high school and City Councils. As expressed by our community members, connection and representation are important for cities like Oxnard, and Santa Clarita. Both have the same blind spot in reputation when it comes to the nonwhite population, sharing a similar sleight of misrepresentation in assumptions in their neighborhood.
“One hundred percent, people absolutely take advantage of Oxnard,” Ortiz said. “If I ever felt unsafe here it was because of people outside of my community or neighboring towns. Other than that, Oxnard is the biggest small town ever and it’s great! People know each other here and help each other here. It’s my home and I am happy to be here.”
When Ortiz was 8 years old, his family decided to move back to Oxnard because there were better work opportunities for his dad. He has lived there for 10 years. In that time, Ortiz’s family has been able to establish their own church community, friends, and constant community support.
“I was a homie still but as time went on, the resource officer… I seen her actually care about the kids,” Petey said. “One day I went up to her and I said ‘At first, I didn’t like you but now I want to thank you for changing my mind about these kids.’ She gave me a big hug and we became good friends.”
During that moment he realized the school and the Oxnard community are similar to police officers. They all have bad reputations, but that doesn’t make them bad. It just makes them misunderstood. To him, that makes Oxnard misunderstood.
“Other people describe it as its bad in Oxnard but I feel at home,” he said. “The vibe at Channel Islands (High School) is amazing. It’s like a family. Everyone gets along. You never see race against race. Everyone hangs out with everyone.”
The five-member Santa Clarita City Council is composed of one Latino and four white council members, which isn’t fully represented of the population they serve.
According to Daryl Russell, trying to find a solution to bring together a conversation should be led by someone that isn’t a part of City Council.
“The only way to really stop racism is to form relationships with others. It helps everyone understand what others see, what others experience, and forming your own ideas from that.”
Santa Clarita resident, Taher describes her community as, “very diverse.”
“There’s people who have a lot of different backgrounds and religions. I felt much more comfortable with actually expressing myself as a Muslim and not spending all my time trying to hide it for safety reasons,” Taher said. “I define myself as an Egyptian American and not just an American.”
In relation to her identity and fitting in, Taher has always felt more connected to her inner circle ranging from different nonwhite backgrounds. In Santa Clarita, she found that over time, those with varying backgrounds tended to understand her on a deeper level.
“I feel like this city, in general, is diverse and it’s inclusive,” said Taher. “It’s so nice to live here. But there is always room for improvements.”
While Oxnard and Santa Clarita may contrast on paper, to the people we interviewed, these communities are the same kind of different. Both regions share the same discrepancies when it comes to race and representation. Yet, the real reputation of these places lies within the people who live there and the stories they have to tell. If nonresidents took the time to experience places like Oxnard and Santa Clarita for themselves then what they find may just surprise them.