Sorting Navels from Valencias – A Case for College

Since I lived in Orange County until I was 33 years old, I am privy to what goes on in the subcultures therein. The OC is full of people: good and bad. The way they treat each other is often tacit, but the caste system is undeniable. Just like in the royal days of King Arthur, there are knights and there are peasants. Also just like I do about things in history, I question the fairness of these modern day class systems.

One thing is relatively sure in Orange County: educated people do better. If you choose college in Orange County, you can buy yourself a good 8-10 years going to school without really applying yourself to a career. Not that you would want to do that, but I find it incredibly shocking that an uneducated person can toil away for decades in a service job, a restaurant for example, and get nowhere . . . and I mean NOWHERE. I worked at a grocery store for 5 years and Pizza Hut for 10. I know the service industry well.

Just like when Orange County first began, there are still “pickers” and “growers” of metaphorical oranges. Can you see the poster printing services getting excited already? The growers have the land and the abstract dreams and the pickers have the ability to live anywhere just to make concrete survival money. Of course, many of these lower caste workers in Orange County are illegal immigrants from Mexico. We are just 2 hours away from the border and it is getting more and more common for me to come across people in my line of work (namely parents) who cannot produce a social security number. I do not judge them. I recently found out from my mother that 2 generations ago I had relatives that outstayed their visas from Germany and the rest is history. My great great grandfather is listed on his Visa as being an “itenerant peddlar.” I assume that meant he was sent out to beg for items. Far cry from any low-paying job I ever thought I suffered through. What separates me from the itenerant peddlar “O’Riley” who came over from Ireland? Education.

When in Orange County at a fancy restaurant like say, The Fisherman’s in San Clemente, I find myself asking the question: “Who is the busboy/girl? Where do they go to college? What do they want to be when they grow up?” The truth is, they are nobody in the eyes of most of the Orange County upper class. To suggest they go to school is almost an insult to them . . . in their eyes dooming them to inevitable failure. I see these folks as the little engine that could or the tortoise in the tortoise and the hare. College is one way they can win.

I’ve had a problem with this more than once . . . going through all the phone work and attempts to help someone from this realm into a college career only to find they took their free grants and went back to Mexico to aid an ailing relative or even to buy property down there. Of course this is not always the case, but I’ve seen it a few times.

In the final analysis, you are in a sense born into a caste in Orange County. Because of your raising, you know what is possible for you. You will see many in the upper caste fall and go to jail or succumb to drugs. I have known a handful of upper caste socialites who have fallen into trouble. Usually family money and housing will save these people. One aspect of the upper caste is that they take care of their own. Rarely will they fall to the lower caste. In much the same way the lower can’t function in the upper caste world, they must either get educated or find a way to toil and survive in the lower echelon.

I still say education is anyone’s best bet to having a good life. Whether you are lower or upper, legal or illegal, star-bellied sneetch or non, I say that broadening your mind in a classroom shows a lot toward one day earning a good living. All I can say is that I probably would have had a heart attack or something worse by now without college. The world is so unsure nowadays. Can you sort the Navels from Valencias in the denizens of your hometown? This is not about judging or having prejudices. How possible is it to change social class without college?

Author: Damien Riley

I'm a blogger, film critic, & podcaster with an MA in English from California State University, Fullerton. I teach public school, 4th grade as my primary occupation. My views on films and life are usually headstrong and often 'left of center' on movies and life, but I have respect for the other side. I married my high-desert princess (now my queen). We have 3 children.