This post is a bit of a departure from my writings about writing, but I thought you might enjoy some thoughts on a small town I lived in a while ago.
The Three Napas
When Emily and I moved back to our native California, we moved in with Emily’s parents living in the picturesque town of Napa. While I had visited Napa on a few occasions, Emily’s parents moved to Napa shortly after we moved to France, I had not spent much time in this community prior to moving in with my in-laws. With time and some cultural exegesis, I have concluded that there are in fact three distinct societies, three Napas, existing within this physical town.
The first Napa is Wine Tour Napa. When outsiders think of Napa, this is the version they picture: beautiful vineyards nestled between rolling hills with ornate wineries offering wine tastings. Wine Tour Napa is focused around having a good time and enjoying this town’s famous cultivars. This Napa is composed of not only wineries, but also the shops, art galleries, hip restaurants, and other enterprises which center around entertaining the tourists who flock to the world-famous Napa Valley. To those outside of Napa, Wine Tour Napa eclipses the other two Napas.
The second Napa is Hispanic Napa. The residents of Hispanic Napa work the vineyards that the residents of Wine Tour Napa own. Beyond vineyard workers, Hispanic Napa consists of the various Hispanic supermarkets and stores which dot this town. Emily’s parents live in a neighborhood of Hispanic Napa where the neighbors blast mariachi music on the weekends and elote vendors patrol the streets. True to its roots, Hispanic Napa is often friendly and inclusive.
The third Napa is Small-town Napa. If not for wine, Small-town Napa would be the dominant culture in the valley. Small-town Napa exists on the streets where tourists rarely go. It’s comprised of stores and businesses which do not pertain to the tourist. It’s the hole-in-the-wall restaurants which have not been discovered by the latest Napa tour guide writer. It is the local pride cheering for the high school sports team and the neighbors seeing each other around town.
Unlike the ostentatious Wine Tour Napa, there is a fair amount of crossover between Hispanic and Small-town Napas. It could be argued that these two Napas are just one town with different subcultures, and without Wine Tour Napa’s role perhaps this would be true. But the residents of Small-town Napa do not work the vineyards of Wine Tour Napa like those living in Hispanic Napa do. Small-town Napa is separated from Wine Tour Napa in all the ways that Hispanic Napa is connected to it. Also, including Hispanic Napa within Small-town Napa risks having small-town white culture overshadow the unique aspects of Hispanic Napa. Instead of merging these two distinct Napas into one, I think it is best to recognize and celebrate their diverse cultures.
A funny anecdote to illustrate the three Napas converging: on my way to Starbucks (when I first started writing this blog post), I was stuck in traffic waiting for the Wine Train to pass by. When I arrived, I had to wait in line behind the throngs of high schoolers who had just walked here from Napa High down the street. As I sat down, the couple at the table next to me were discussing their day in Spanish.
This phenomenon of multiple towns or communities coexisting simultaneously is by no means unique to Napa; I am just sharing my observations of a place I lived. I hope this will inspire each of us to examine our own neighborhoods and see what we can discover about the cultures living around us.