I was born and raised in a city most people are only familiar with during trade shows or weekend benders. It's a place that many view as devoid of culture or substance. Most people associate it with booze, gambling and strip clubs--the fabulous city of Las Vegas.
Growing up, it was home. I loved the all-you-can-eat buffets and the arcades (R.I.P. Wet 'N Wild). I think it wasn't until I got the internet, sometime in 6th grade, that I started to realize other people's perception of Las Vegas. After given the ubiquitous greeting A/S/L? Their next question always was, Las Vegas? Do you live an a hotel?
I started to realize that most people don't think of Las Vegas as a real city with inhabitants and citizens and children and schools. It's adult disneyland. Surely, there can't be children or schools or churches. That's normal stuff for normal cities. But Las Vegas has a lot of those--especially churches.
I grew up in a master-planned community called Summerlin, it was known for its safety, its gated communities, it was essentially the best place to raise a family for the middle class. It was where I grew up, in a sub community called The Pueblo (Amongst them were The Trails, The Hills, and so forth). Practically every house looked the same with slight variations. Each neighborhood had about 4 house models, and every single house was either one of those 4 models AKA a tract home.
We were always the only Asian family for a couple blocks. Throughout elementary and middle school, I was the only Asian person in my class. It's weird growing up different because you feel your difference, everyone else is "normal" and you and especially your family are "weird." I felt weird for most of my life. I mean, I still feel weird occasionally, but in a different way.
I didn't want to feel weird. I was embarrassed by my family, their Chinese-ness, their language, customs and traditions. I didn't know what to say when classmates asked me "Why?" I didn't know how to answer those questions, their accusations and stereotypes. They would pull on their eyes and shout nonsensical "Chinese" words and I would look away and feel my face turn red.
Las Vegas is a dichotomy. There are all the things that go along with it being called Sin City but there is also a huge Christian community. Besides being the only Chinese person, I also wasn't raised with a religion. Every one of my classmates went to church on Sundays, the Mormons would have some sort of Mormon class they would go to before school, and the Catholics were always participating in Lent or catechism, and everyone was always going on retreats and church activities.
My parents were atheist to the point of being anti-theist. My mom went to a Catholic school in Hong Kong where she grew up and I think she witnessed a lot of hypocrisy and insanity. She told me stories of friends giving their lives to Jesus and sees that as them essentially giving up on life altogether. She always warned me to be careful of being brainwash, the worst thing that someone could do to you was cause you to stop thinking for yourself. When I asked her about God, she told me I didn't need to believe in anything but myself.
As I got older, I went from being embarrassed to being proud of them, their accomplishments in life, their ability to thrive in a place that was unfamiliar and possibly hostile, their morals and values. It wasn't led by a religion or something they were told, it was through their experience and contemplation. I think spirituality and beliefs are extremely important, hopefully they come from you,and hopefully they help you feel safe, secure, and better about the world. Hopefully they make you happy.
Obviously, my parents aren't perfect but I'm grateful. They're still in Las Vegas and yeah, they're still pretty weird, in other ways.