SBS 301 Cultural Diversity         Fall 2001        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Brooke VanAmburg
Green, the Color of Envy

 I spent most of my life in Phoenix, Arizona. I consider Phoenix to be somewhat diverse in socioeconomic statuses. There were wealthy people, average income homes, and lower class areas. I always considered my family to be of the average status. We had an average house, average car, and led an average lifestyle. I never felt any different then anyone at my school because most of them lived in the same neighborhood that I lived in. It wasn’t until I moved out of this “comfort zone” that I realized that I was different from others, or in other words, others were different from me.

 My family moved to Grapevine, Texas right before my freshman year of high school. High school is difficult no matter what state you live in or where you go to school. It was a time of realizations, new changes, and adjustments. I learned many things that I take with me still today, seven years later, which I know I wouldn’t have experienced if it hadn’t been for Grapevine, Texas.

 Upon arrival to the ‘great state of Texas’, I was instantly taken back by the greenness. The grass and trees were green.  This was really different from the brown color that I had grown to love in Phoenix. I didn’t realize that not only was the small Dallas suburb that I lived in green in color, but green happened to be everyone’s favorite color because it was the color of money. This is what triggered my experiences with class status.

 Class status can be thought of as related to where you live or where you work. My initial experience with class status came primarily from where I lived. Prior to moving, my mother did some research and found that some of the best schools in Texas were in Grapevine and therefore she felt a need for us to move to this area. After some research, she found that a majority of the houses in the Grapevine area were half a million dollar houses, which was nothing we could afford.

 I had never seen a gated community while living in Phoenix. The first time that I drove around the town with my mother, I noticed that every housing development was labeled with a name. People didn’t live on certain streets; they lived in a certain community such as “Thornberry” or “Lakes of Somerset”. Big, steel gates with actual people standing guard at them were the only entrances into these neighborhoods. You could see the houses from the road but that still didn’t give the full effect of actually being in the neighborhood. My mom was not affected by these communities the way that I was. I was instantly in awe of having a house of this stature. Despite not having enough money to afford the average house in Grapevine, my mom still felt that we should live in the area. She and my father decided that we should rent an apartment, which was something that I was not prepared for. I was somewhat ashamed of our apartment. When my friends’ parents took me home, I felt embarrasses by where I lived. Even though I was no different from my friends except for the amount of money our parents made, that seemed like enough difference for me. Whatever neighborhood you lived in classified what type of person you were (or so I believed).

 My mom would try to reassure me that I was no different from my friends. I would find myself constantly talking to my mother about the houses that my friends lived in. My mom would often say, “we are not high class, so why should we pretend to be.” I remember one time hearing her argue with my father when he suggested saving some extra money to get me a new car. She said, “I was not raised that like that. Brooke needs to earn money and work for a new car.” It had to be difficult on my mother and father to hear me constantly comparing myself to my wealthier friends. I know that they just wanted me to be happy, but at the time I only felt that happiness was involving money. My mom’s concern did not affect me. Instead, I learned that class status was only what we make of it through a dear friend of mine.

 I met Christie Cowan my freshman year of high school. She was definitely the ideal Texan beauty. She had long, curly brown hair and these bright blue eyes. She had the best Texan accent I had ever heard. She drove a really nice, brand new Ford Mustang. She would walk down the hallway and guys would fall at her feet. She was rich and gorgeous. I thought the two were the same. The first time I met Christie was in my freshman Geography class. She asked me where I had bought the shirt I was wearing. I had really gotten it at Target but I lied and told her I had bought it at Dillards. I did this often to people for fear that they would dislike me if I told them where I had really bought my clothes. Then one day Christie came to class and told us that the outfit she was wearing came from a nearby thrift store and he shoes were from Target. This changed my whole attitude about Christie and was a starting point to come to terms with my class status.

 I found myself not feeling so ashamed of where I lived as time went on. My parents moved us into a small house on the outskirts of town. My friends would often ask their parents for the credit cards when we went shopping. I would ask my parents for money and the insisted that I work for it. When I turned sixteen, they were eager to send me off to work. I had a job the week after my sixteenth birthday. While my friends were sitting by the pool, I was working. While my friends were getting ready for the football game on Friday night, I was begging my manager to let me out early so I could make it there by halftime. I am grateful that my parents taught me to work for my money because now I continue to work fulltime even while I am in college and have maintained a greater appreciation for money. While in high school, I could only think about the way things looked to others. I wanted to have a pretty, new sports car. I wanted to live in the house in the gated community. Now being a little older and looking back on it, I realize that I looked up more to the wealthy people and made it a bigger issue than they did. I don’t think that they ever judged me by where I lived or what I drove. I just imagined it in my head.

 I look back and feel ashamed that I ever asked my parents to sacrifice things so that I could have a new car. I feel ashamed that I made such an issue about living in an apartment. I learned about the value of money and the importance of being grateful for what you have. I was able to move back to Phoenix a few years later and I brought with me a greater appreciation for my family and how hard they work to give me the luxuries that I have (even  if it isn’t a sporty, new car).

Return to Personal Memory Ethnographies homepage