Incline Village: Community and Hidden Problems

Kayla Smothers grew up in a beautiful place where outsiders think life is easy and everyone is rich, but she explains that could not be father from the truth for her own childhood.

A picture taken by my best friend during ‘Senior Sunset’ my senior year of high school.

I grew up in Incline Village in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

I know the first thing that probably popped into your head while reading that sentence: “oh so you’re rich and have everything handed to you”. I cannot even count on two hands how many times someone has said that sentence to me, and it could not be farther from the truth.

Tahoe is beautiful, it has perfect beaches and a crystal-clear blue lake. And though Incline is a town that is predominately run and occupied by rich white people and retired millionaires, it also has a large population of diverse working-class families

It is a place to make lifelong connections as long as you can handle the pressure of networking 24/7 and being as perfect as possible when you move there. It is a place of beautiful memories, people and community, but it also has darkness and serious problems.

Discrimination towards others was one ugly challenge.

When I was in elementary school, the population of Latinx kids was about half of the school, and every single teacher we ever had was white. Whenever my Latinx friends tried to speak Spanish they would get reprimanded by the teachers. They were not allowed to speak their culture’s/family’s language. This is never talked about.

Amid difficulties, there were many happy memories such as with her soccer team.

White students would even use their power against Latinx classmates and tell on them for speaking Spanish. I find this so ironic because once we got into 8th grade and on, Spanish was one of the only two languages offered to learn- from white teachers.

And the handful Asian students who attended my school were made fun of for acting “too white” when what does that even mean? Even if the comments towards them were all in ‘good fun’, did that impact them in negative ways?

Depending on life experience, interpretation, and perception, everything in life will be different from person to person. And if you do not excel in sports or are an honors student: you are not given any credit for the accomplishments you do have. You are given less advantages, less help from the school, and feel like you are not good enough or have as much worth. And if you are wealthy, white, and donate to the school, you have the biggest advantage.

Beyond the postcard pictures there was tragedy, and depression.

There is also a problem with opioid, alcohol, and marijuana abuse in the middle and high schools. I know that this is linked with the boredom and depression within our Gen Z population and also from feeling isolated in Incline.

More needs to be done to help with the mental health of local kids. They act out and abuse these substances because they feel helpless and not seen by their parents. They have internal struggles that need to be met with nurture and not just punishment.

I speak from experience.

My friend killed himself on his birthday two years ago. In complete honesty, for a moment, I was jealous he had the courage.

I struggled with being confined to the small town. I felt trapped. I turned to drinking, I turned to rebellion, I turned to skipping school because I physically could not get out of bed. I even turned to taking opioids to escape my pain. I wanted to leave and I didn’t care how, whether it was leaving Incline or killing myself, it didn’t matter. I even had plans and letters written. I barely ate, sometimes not eating for days, but it always went unnoticed by teachers and my parents. I was met with punishment and restriction by my parents instead of compassion and concern.

The only way I escaped my depressed mindset was leaving Incline, because a lot of people around me were also experiencing similar problems.

Incline does have its perks and beautiful sides though.

When something tragic happens within the community, we all come together even if we have left the town to be there for each other. People are there for each other, friends become lifelong, and networking is incredible.

We can walk to the lake right down the street whenever we want and have fun bonfires and celebrate birthdays there. If people are struggling, friends come together and help as much as they can. Locals are always willing to create new connections and friendships and fundraise for each other. I don’t take these aspects for granted, and still appreciate the unique experiences from growing up there.

But when I go back and visit my mom, Incline has not changed. I’m not sure if it ever will. Everyone is in this invisible bubble, and the only way to experience the world or any accepted diversity is to leave. It will always be the place I grew up, but it is not home.

Reporting by Kayla Smothers shared with the Reynolds Sandbox

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The Reynolds Sandbox showcases innovative and engaging storytelling by students with the Reynolds Media Lab.

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