Conformity is the act of matching attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to group norms.
I was so embarrassed of my car. East Texas in the 1980s was consumersville. Big malls, big cars, and oil money. Many people seemed well off and actually were. There was also an extreme contrast to wealth, intense poverty. Part of conforming in our small town, was the kind of car you drove. Before SUVs and Suburbans, there were massive gas guzzlin’ Cadillacs, Oldsmobiles, Chevys, Fords, and Buicks, American-made and built to last. I have a sordid past with the cars in my life. In the late ’80s we had a Buick Skylark. When it got cold, we’d turn on the heater, and lo and behold that Skylark would come to life, and out of the belly of the Buick, a tortuous chicken squawking sound would screech from all the vents. (Hide Joy hide, so no one knows you are being birthed from the belly of the Buick.) Once I arrived at school, I’d jump out of the car as fast as I could hoping no one would know that the car that I’d just exited was mine. (Duh, anyone with a chicken brain, knew that was your car, Joy.) As I exited, there was sea of other middle schoolers that seemed to fit in so seamlessly with the crowds wearing guess jeans and jellies. As long as you had these status symbols, you were cool. Another status symbol moment that came every year, Homecoming and along with it, the Homecoming Mum. This isn’t mum as in mom. This isn’t mums the word. This is mum, the flower. Watch the video, please. It’s a train wreck you will want to see until the end.
From the street view, they look like enormous dream catchers, right? Maybe we were trying to capture our dreams and hold them close to our chests. Back in the day, there was no cushy necklace feature that kept them mounted to your chest. We were Old School. We pinned them to our clothing. (I think I still have my mum from 8th grade safely packaged in a box in the shed outside.) My parents sacrificed to pay for my mum. No boy asked me to Homecoming. It seems crazy now, girls walking around with these larger than life mums covering their breasts, but in Texas you go big or you go home.
How do you break with these traditions?
Traditions die hard. Texans are still doing this in 2016. Yup, still.
Fast forward to 1987, our move to San Diego, California. We lived in a suburb of San Diego called National City. This town had a cholo and chola scene, gang activity, and low riders. This lil’ Texan girl sayin’ “Y’all fixin’ to go home?” didn’t quite fit in, so I ditched the accent and attempted to fit in. I started saying ‘like’ in every sentence, like everyone else in California. That was my attempt at fitting in. I went to a small Christian school during this time so I was sheltered from school interactions with the peeps in National City. However, I’d regularly go shopping at all the local shops drive around town with my parents. This was a culture that didn’t exist in Texas. It was eye opening and a little scary. I didn’t know how to connect and communicate. I quickly learned that Low Riders were status symbols in this town. At night, teens and 20-somethings would pimp out their rides and the men-boy Cholos would ‘cruise’ down Highland and ride low in the seat so you could only see their eyes peeking out above the window. From the side view they looked like alligators with their eyes just above the surface of the water. Next to them, in the passenger seat were their chola girlfriends with their prescribed look of wild bangs, dramatically sketched eyebrows and lip-lined bulbous lips. (Note to self Joy, this is how I fit in in National City.) This look never worked out for me. Since I didn’t go to the public school in National City, I didn’t feel the need to conform to the degree I might have, if I’d gone to public school during that time.
*Since my time living in National City, I’ve been fascinated by gang lifestyle. I recommend a wonderful book called Tattoos on the Heart by Father Gregory Boyle. He started Homeboy Industries in East LA. I want to meet him someday.
My senior year, yes, senior year of high school 1990, I moved to Coronado High School. Surf City, USA, just across the Coronado Bay Bridge from San Diego to the Island. I lived with a kind couple that my parents knew. They took me in and treated me as their own. Their daughter had just moved out to Biola to go to college. Each morning, I hopped on my beach cruiser and rode to school in the overcast beach air. That year, was a whole other
learning experience of fitting in and conforming. Prior to school starting that senior year, I puffed out my chest and pretended I wasn’t an introvert and strolled into the senior ‘before-school’ party. Who does this? Anyway, we hung out, and checked each other out, and I took meticulous mental notes of what the cool kids were wearing and I rode to school that first day on the Coronado Trolley with all the other seniors. I was a bad ass.
Conforming during those years was so complex and confusing. In the next few blog posts, I’ll search a bit deeper into how conformity and non-conformity formed me, Joy. It’s been a long hard road accept me, now. My issues with food, drugs, alcohol and negative relationships amplified during those years. More to come.
Until next Friday…Love you loves.